Business Mirror - - THE WORLD - AP

GENEVA—Would you accept about $2,500 from your gov­ern­ment ev­ery month, no ques­tions asked? Swiss vot­ers get a choice on Sun­day in a ref­er­en­dum that, while not spec­i­fy­ing a fig­ure, asks if they want “un­con­di­tional ba­sic in­come.”

Ex­perts es­ti­mate a min­i­mum of 2,500 Swiss francs ($2,560) per month is needed for an in­di­vid­ual to make ends meet in wealthy Switzer­land, where pri­vate-sec­tor health in­surance is re­quired and the cost of liv­ing is sky-high.

Crit­ics warn that the pol­icy would ex­plode the state bud­get. The Swiss gov­ern­ment it­self ad­vises vot­ers to re­ject the pro­posal, and polls sug­gest it will fail in a coun­try known for free-mar­ket poli­cies and a high-tech, cap­i­tal­is­tic fi­nan­cial sec­tor.

Pro­po­nents, how­ever, in­sist the time has come for a min­i­mum monthly wage as sweep­ing 21st-cen­tury eco­nomic changes, like ro­bots dis­plac­ing fac­tory work­ers make jobs more pre­car­i­ous in the dig­i­tal age. They say they’re seek­ing mo­men­tum more than out­right vic­tory.

Polls have sug­gested that only about one- quar­ter of Swiss vot­ers back the idea. Still, the ini­tia­tive cleared the bar for a vote, which in Switzer­land’s di­rect democ­racy means gar­ner­ing at least 100,000 sig­na­tures in a pe­ti­tion drive. It is one of five is­sues on the bal­lot on Sun­day, in­clud­ing ef­forts to raise money for pub­lic ser­vices and sim­plify the ap­pli­ca­tion pro­ce­dures for asy­lum-seek­ers.

Univer­sal ba­sic in­come might seem like souped-up wel­fare, but pro­po­nents say it’s ac­tu­ally aimed to sup­plant wel­fare. Ad­vo­cates in Switzer- land and other Euro­pean coun­tries also ex­am­in­ing the idea say cur­rent wel­fare sys­tems are over­bur­dened by red tape, de­ter­ring many po­ten­tial ben­e­fi­cia­ries from ap­ply­ing.

The nov­elty of un­con­di­tional ba­sic in­come is that ev­ery­body would get it au­to­mat­i­cally. It would be a floor: Salaried work­ers who earn more than 2,500 francs a month would get no ex­tra money.

Un­der a pro­posed model, each child would get one-quar­ter of the to­tal for adults—about 625 francs per month— a sum higher than state child care out­lays for fam­i­lies to­day.

Pos­si­ble ways of paying for it would in­clude fees on salaries of peo­ple who earn more than the min­i­mum, sav­ings from wel­fare pro­grams that would be dis­con­tin­ued and taxes or spend­ing cuts in the state bud­get.

Switzer­land’s ba­sic-in­come push is among the most ad­vanced in Europe. The Dutch city of Utrecht wants to start a two-year ex­per­i­ment with a sim­i­lar plan, hand­ing money to res­i­dents who al­ready re­ceive wel­fare ben­e­fits.

Ralph Kundig, pres­i­dent of the Swiss chap­ter of the Ba­sic In­come Earth Net­work, said some econ­o­mists fa­vored the idea as a way to un­der­pin con­sump­tion and sup­port the econ­omy.

“Our par­ents, grand­par­ents and beyond worked hard so that we could pro­duce more by work­ing less, with ma­chines and so forth,” Kundig said. “The only thing that they did not fore­see was that this wealth would only ben­e­fit the own­ers of the means of pro­duc­tion.”

Kundig said stud­ies and pi­lot projects show peo­ple wouldn’t just sit at home and do noth­ing.

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