Two years after the people of Switzerland overwhelmingly voted against establishing an “unconditional” Universal Basic Income (i.e. ‘free money’ for every man, woman and child in the country of roughly 8 million), one village has decided to go ahead with the experiment.
Per Bloomberg, the village of Rheinau, which is situated on the banks of the Rhine river roughly an hour’s train ride from Zurich, is planning to hand out 2,500 francs ($2,750) a month to every inhabitant. But for the program to move forward, more than half of the village’s residents had to say yes.
A village in Switzerland has decided to go ahead with an experiment on basic income, with a payout of 2,500 francs ($2,570) per month.
More than 50 percent of the inhabitants of Rheinau, close to the German border, signed up for the project, according to the organizers website. At least half the 1,300 inhabitants needed to say ‘yes,’ and the count stood at 692 on Monday.
And according to the most recent count, they have, according to the initiative’s website (however, these figures still need to be checked against the village’s voting records). Nearly 700 Rheinau residents (out of the village’s population of 1,300) have signed up for the plan, which was organized by filmmaker Rebecca Panian. Panian ultimately hopes to make a documentary about the experiment (a film that, we imagine, will be among the most expensive documentaries ever produced). To be sure, the Rheinau plan will differ markedly from other UBI experiments in that earnings and government benefits will be deducted from individuals’ payments, which should make the project exponentially easier to finance.
Rheinau (courtesy of Bloomberg)
Like other UBI “experiments,” including one that began this year in Stockton, Calif., the money for the initiative must come from “private” sources (the village plans to launch a crowdfunding campaign to help finance the “experiment).
Given growing wealth inequality across the developed world, support for a UBI has increased dramatically in recent years, a phenomenon that analysts have also attributed to rising fears about the potential job-killing impact of automation. Tech executives including Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg have also publicly expressed support for a basic income, while several countries – including Finland, Canada, Kenya and the Netherlands – have launched experiments of their own. But unfortunately for everyone who dreams of one day living a life without the burden of work, the results of these experiments have been mixed: Finland recently abandoned its UBI pilot program after two years when the government rejected requests for additional funding.
But assuming Panian and the village’s residents succeed in raising enough money for the payments (still a big if), the program’s success is far from assured. As some economists have suggested, handing out free money to residents could spur unprecedented inflation, negating some or all of the program’s benefits.
If this does come to pass, perhaps the international army of democratic socialists who have vociferously supported the program will realize that building a Marxist utopia is easier said than done.