Human Resources

Swiss vote on Basic Income is just the first

This week saw the Swiss vote against a referendum to introduce Universal Basic Income (UBI). 78% of people voted against the proposal which would have seen everyone residing within the country legally receive a basic income of 2,500 Swiss Francs ($2,500) every month regardless of employment status.

The mean income is above 6,000 francs ($6000) a month. Around 46% of the eligible ballot voted in the referendum. None of the parliamentary parties backed the idea, put forward by a Swiss non-profit.

The first of many

However, much like discussions over the independence of Scotland or a Brexit, this won’t be the end of discussions or votes, in Switzerland or elsewhere.

Robots and Machine Learning are poised to become mainstream, which means many of today’s jobs – from teaching and factory work to journalism and software development – will become automated. Just last week, Epson’s global President Mr. Usui said his company wants to make robots that “see and feel like humans do” so that they may “free people from repetitive manual work”.

Quite what affect this will have on the human race is unknown. Some predict it will leave us free to become more creative (assuming the robots don’t take over in music and art), while others warn of “a useless class” of human being created as a result of work being taken away.

The idea of UBI is to help create a more level playing field that prevents those most affected by automation slipping into poverty, and freeing people to pursue whatever they wish from life. The idea has plenty of backing from Silicon Valley – ironically a hotbed for automation and AI, while UBI experiments are being proposed in the Netherlands, Finland, and Oakland (backed by the Silicon Valley  startup accelerator, Y Combinator).

While it’s the Nordics and the tech hubs currently exploring UBI, it’s Africa and Asia where the idea is perhaps more urgently needed. A report from the World Bank predicts more than three-quarters of jobs in Thailand, Ethiopia, and China (where Foxconn recently replaced 60,000 workers with machines) could be made redundant by automation.

The rise of robots and automation is coming, and governments will be forced to act eventually. Is Universal Basic Income the answer? Perhaps, perhaps not. But if no action is taken, millions of poor, unemployed, and mostly young people are unlikely to sit quietly at their parent’s houses twiddling their thumbs.


Also read:

Epson’s 10 year plan involves making you more eco-friendly

Can teachers be replaced by algorithms?


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Dan Swinhoe

Dan is a journalist at CSO Online. Previously he was Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect.

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