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Swiss Voters to Weigh Basic Income for All

FILE - An 8,000-square-meter poster is pictured on the Plainpalais square in Geneva, Switzerland May 14, 2016. Swiss citizens will vote on the proposal for an "Unconditional Basic Income," June 5, 2016.

The results of at least one of the ballot measures facing Swiss voters Sunday is being watched around the world: Should all Swiss citizens receive an unconditional basic income (UBI) each month?

Sunday's referendum doesn't name a specific figure -- just if they want to approve an "unconditional basic income" -- but some experts estimate the monthly allotment would be about $2,560 for each adult and $640 for each child.

The country is the first to hold a referendum on such an issue.

There are a few caveats: Salaried workers making more than $2,560 a month would not get the UBI, and foreigners would have to be residents in the country for at least five years before receiving the monthly payment.

Pros and cons

Proponents -- Basic Income Earth Network President Ralph Kundig is among those pushing for it -- say providing the income would help fight poverty and inequality. They cite the allotment as an offset to 21st-century economic changes, such as robots displacing factory workers, that make it harder to find a good job that pays a decent living wage.

Opponents -- the Swiss government, nearly all its political parties, and nearly 71 percent of respondents in the latest national poll -- are calling for voters to reject the measure, saying it would cripple the state budget.

Switzerland is one of the wealthiest nations in the world, but it is also one of the priciest to live in. Swiss officials have estimated it would take $25.6 billion to cover the annual costs of the proposal, and that would lead to deep spending cuts or significant tax increases.

FILE - Promotional leaflets for the "Unconditional Basic Income" are pictured on the Plainpalais square in Geneva, Switzerland, May 14, 2016. Swiss voters determine the referendum's outcome Sunday.
FILE - Promotional leaflets for the "Unconditional Basic Income" are pictured on the Plainpalais square in Geneva, Switzerland, May 14, 2016. Swiss voters determine the referendum's outcome Sunday.

Proponents, however, say there are other ways to pay for the initiative, such as through savings from welfare programs that would be discontinued, or including a fee on salaries of people who earn more than the UBI.

The initiative has been labeled "a Marxist dream" by its critics. They warn people would quit their jobs in droves.

"If you pay people to do nothing, they will do nothing," Charles Wyplosz, economics professor at the Geneva Graduate Institute, told AFP.

Open to entrepreneurship

Kundig disagreed, saying pilot projects showed the UBI would not lead to people just doing nothing.

He said the UBI would act as a stimulant to the economy, because people would be less afraid to take risks and more open to entrepreneurship.

A group of small businesses in Switzerland, however, condemn the proposal, writing on its website "No bread without work," and saying the idea is an "absolute danger."

Kundig replied that all such advances in society are first viewed negatively. "Everybody who resists social progress always says it can't be paid for, but that's just talk," he told The Associated Press.

While it took 100,000 signatures to get the initiative on the ballot, there is little chance it will pass. But Kundig called it a victory just to see the public debate that has been generated by the plan.

While not quite as controversial as the UBI referendum, Swiss voters also will consider four other ballot measures including speeding up the application procedure for asylum-seekers, raising money for public services, and allowing genetic testing of embryos for parental hereditary diseases.

Material for this report came from AFP and AP.