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UBI pilot in Geneva: BIEN.CH invited to a hearing by the parliamentary Economics Commission

Grand Council - Economic Commission - Members present
Grand Council - Economic Commission - Members present

Mr. Ralph Kundig and Mr. Gabriel Barta, respectively President and Vice-president of BIEN Switzerland, were interviewed on 22 November 2021 by the Economics Commission of the Grand Conseil of Geneva. This committee is currently examining the proposed motion, “A pilot experiment of unconditional basic income (UBI) in Geneva”. The hearing, which lasted nearly two hours, was divided into two phases: a visual presentation (FR) of the project explained (FR) by Mr. Kundig, followed by a discussion.

The presentation recalled the founding principles of UBI, how it differs fundamentally from a social benefit, its support from personalities of all political stripes, its main advantages, how it fits into existing personal incomes, the application and financing model of BIEN.CH (Martino Rossi's net-value-added model, FR and other sources), the solution it could bring to the problems of the fourth industrial revolution or crisis situations, and finally the reasons and practical considerations for a pilot in Geneva.

The numerous questions from the members showed their interest and sometimes their good prior knowledge of the subject. Among the topics raised about the UBI itself, the MPs wanted to know more about the changes it would bring to the social system and which benefits would be abolished or adapted. Our speakers indicated that the UBI would only replace certain social benefits and only up to the amount of the UBI. In cases where the UBI was not sufficient to fulfil its purpose of enabling a dignified life, it should be supplemented by a complementary social benefit on the same principles as those that already apply to old age pensions or invalidity benefits.

Members also raised the objection that millionaires such as Mr Blocher did not need the UBI. We replied that it was the unconditional nature of the UBI that was the real novelty, that practically everyone in Switzerland already receives a basic income from one source or another, and that it was the universality of the UBI that established it as a fundamental right that removes any stigma or guilt for its beneficiary. Finally, if high-income earners were to receive the UBI as well, for them there was no advantage in the transaction because they would contribute more than others to its financing.

Questions were also asked about the issue of immigration and workers commuting from abroad. BIEN.CH representatives indicated that for these groups we propose a form of conditional basic income (CBI) paid by the employer for cross-border workers and new immigrants during a waiting period of three to five years. This is because the basic income is a component of the total income, to which the income from the activity is added, and that each person should experience the same conditions on the labour market.

The question of inflation was also raised. The answer given was that, since the UBI does not consist of extra money overall but simply guarantees the part of the income necessary to cover basic needs, there was no reason to be concerned about this. This remained true because in Switzerland there was enough competition in the supply of everyday consumer goods, even though a different distribution of income was expected to the advantage of the middle classes and the working poor.

Finally, the practicalities of a pilot experiment in Geneva were discussed. On the question of sampling, it was recalled, as already explained in the proposed motion, that the participating population should be sufficiently numerous and diversified, in terms of age, gender, occupation, income level, etc., so that the experiment could provide a convincing result and avoid the bias of other experiments such as in Finland, where only people outside the labour market were included. This was to ensure that the experiment could produce a convincing result and avoid the biases of other experiments such as those in Finland, where only people outside the labour market had been selected. It was recalled that, as shown in the preliminary presentation, limited supplementary costs could be expected for the experiment, because only a fairly modest income supplement was required to simulate the economic advantage of the UBI in the lower wage range.

Many members of parliament present at the hearing showed a real interest in the subject of the UBI, which explains the length of the session and the number of questions asked. However, the doubts they expressed show that a great deal of study and experimentation is still needed before the UBI can be introduced in practice, in order to assess all the possible consequences of such a radical economic change. Although a pilot experiment could indeed contribute to this by allowing certain individual behaviours to be assessed, it will by no means be able to measure the significant societal, cultural and macroeconomic changes brought about by the UBI. However, in any case, such an experiment would give the various institutional actors the opportunity to better understand the subject and potentially lead to other experiments or in-depth academic studies in sociology and economics.