Proposal to Pay People Simply for Being Alive

#Art

Fri, Nov 15th, 2013 11:00 by capnasty NEWS

The New York Times reports on a controversial proposal that made referendum in Switzerland motioning the idea that every Swiss person would receive -- "no matter how rich or poor, how hardworking or lazy, how old or young" -- a monthly income cheque, no string attached.

The proposal is, in part, the brainchild of a German-born artist named Enno Schmidt, a leader in the basic-income movement. He knows it sounds a bit crazy. He thought the same when someone first described the policy to him, too. “I tell people not to think about it for others, but think about it for themselves,” Schmidt told me. “What would you do if you had that income? What if you were taking care of a child or an elderly person?” Schmidt said that the basic income would provide some dignity and security to the poor, especially Europe’s underemployed and unemployed. It would also, he said, help unleash creativity and entrepreneurialism: Switzerland’s workers would feel empowered to work the way they wanted to, rather than the way they had to just to get by. He even went so far as to compare it to a civil rights movement, like women’s suffrage or ending slavery.

When we spoke, Schmidt repeatedly described the policy as “stimmig.” Like many German words, it has no English equivalent, but it means something like “coherent and harmonious,” with a dash of “beauty” thrown in. It is an idea whose time has come, he was saying. And basic-income schemes are having something of a moment, even if they are hardly new. (Thomas Paine was an advocate.) But their renewed popularity says something troubling about the state of rich-world economies.

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