A bold, unorthodox Swiss initiative has reached a striking new phase: On Oct. 4, Swiss activists dumped what were described as “8 million” 5-cent coins in the town square outside the parliament in Bern—to symbolize the financial well-being of Switzerland’s 8 million residents.
Those involved in Switzerland’s Unconditional Basic Income (UBI) ballot initiative poured a dump truck full of these shimmering coins onto the pavement to celebrate having surpassed the 100,000-signature requirement to eventually get the UBI on the ballot for Swiss voters to consider in their unique direct-democracy system.
While this initiative had about 40,000 signatures by the fall of 2012, one of Switzerland’s most influential monetary reformers, Francois de Siebenthal, informed this writer Sept. 30, 2013, that 116,000 signatures on petitions calling for a UBI vote had been certified as valid.
According to de Siebenthal, the UBI, if approved, would mean that the Swiss state would directly issue the equivalent of $2,800 US (2,500 Francs) per month — on a per-individual basis, not a per-household basis—to all Swiss citizens and legal residents in what appears to be the first nationwide proposal of its kind in human history.
This concept may strike some as odd—an unlikely libertarian-socialist hybrid, perhaps. As de Siebenthal and others behind the UBI see it, there is a large shortfall between the paltry purchasing power of the average citizen and the relative abundance of goods and services. That abundance is given an extra boost by the efficiency of automation. So, the tight money supply, as the thinking goes, must catch up with production, without people having to work for every cent—a bind which embeds the cost of providing salaries and wages into retail prices. That means that the more income is tied only to labor, the more things will cost.
That paradox creates a vicious cycle. How do we overcome it? Put some spending power into circulation outside the labor racket that becomes a guaranteed income, a societal dividend based on each person’s heritage as a citizen and his or her share in the natural resources of the earth, and in the cumulative wealth wrought by inventions and labor-saving devices.
This basic idea comes from “social credit,” which was brought forth most notably by a Scotsman, Clifford H. Douglas in the early 1900s. The Swiss UBI draws a little of its spirit from this school of thought that is making a comeback, though the Swiss proposal is not pure social credit as conceived.
Maybe human beings were not meant to be draft horses toiling their lives away on a global economic plantation. To improve things, the citizenry could create a commonwealth. As natural stakeholders in their nation’s abundance, there is some logic for them to have a foundational income without a “job” having to be the only means of acquiring purchasing power.
And as de Siebenthal also told this writer, Swiss UBI recipients could supplement that foundational income with standard employment income — mindful, however, that having their basic survival resting on much firmer ground allows them to pursue their life’s passions and the employment of their choice. Moreover, automation is seen as a liberator, not a job-stealer, because a UBI — a social dividend that could reduce or even replace welfare — should be paid to all inhabitants by birthright based on all production, including the automated kind.
Mr. de Siebenthal colorfully added: “We Swiss are all Kings, and the first duty of a King is to control the money creation, actually robbed by the bankers.” One hears echoes of the late Sen. Huey Long, the Louisiana “kingfish” who terrified the aristocracy with notions of commonwealth.
Mr. de Siebenthal explained: “The popular initiative for an unconditional basic income (UBI), which in the view of its supporters should be thought of as a civil right rather than social welfare, was launched in [April] 2012. It aims to have a new clause incorporated into the Swiss constitution that the Confederation ‘shall ensure the introduction of an unconditional basic income. The basic income shall enable the whole population to live in human dignity and participate in public life. The law shall particularly regulate the way in which the basic income is to be financed and the level at which it is set.’”
Put another way, a nation should issue its own public money directly, not borrow it into existence, at punishing interest, from predatory private bankers. That way, purchasing power and consumption can be increased, in approximate balance with production data, to buy what’s for sale and spur more production. That, in turn, creates sufficient jobs but also boosts automated manufacturing. The curse of full stores and empty wallets can, just maybe, be ended.
While the UBI proposal’s signatures were presented to the Swiss chancellery on Oct. 4 and the proposal could take at least two years to appear on the ballot, Switzerland’s voters just might be onto something here. Back in March, they already approved some of the world’s strictest controls on executive pay. And, since there’s more to life than shutdowns and debt ceilings, this latest money initiative deserves close observation.
Mark Anderson is a veteran journalist who divides his time between Texas and Michigan. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From The Progressive Populist, November 15, 2013
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