The organisers of a public initiative that’s captured the imagination of people around the world staged a pricey publicity stunt in Zurich’s main station on Monday. CHF10 ($10) notes were handed out to crowds of eager commuters during morning rush hour.
The initiative's founders would like to see an unconditional basic income of CHF2,500 per month for all legal residents of Switzerland, and CHF625 for each child, although the initiative text does not specify an amount. The aim is to allow people to choose how they want to live their own lives, without making choices based on financial necessities.
Swiss Public Television, SRF filmed the scene at the railway station as people reached out their hands for the free money. The notes had all been stamped with the name of the initiative and the date of the vote, June 5, 2016.
You can see how the crowd reacted at the beginning of this German-language report.
Some passers-by were understandably cautious at first.
“Hello, would you like a flyer for the unconditional basic income?”
But it didn’t take long for a crowd to gather as a total of CHF10,000 was given away.
“A mammoth crush!”
The daily freesheet 20 Minuten explained the giveaway had been financed by “large and small one-off donations”. They asked a few of the recipients what they thought about the publicity stunt. A student, Daniel S. commented, “I think it’s a great thing to do. It’s the first time I’ve been given free money.” Plumber Ronny Gerber, told the newspaper “I couldn’t believe it at first, I didn’t think it was real money.”
Although the initiative campaign was launched on Monday, it’s not the first time the people behind the idea have courted publicity. In October 2013, when the signatures were first handed in to parliament to secure a public vote, a mass of CHF0.05 coins were dumped onto the square in front of Switzerland’s parliament building in Bern.
The German-language Blick newspaper spoke to a retired designer who turned down the handout on Monday, “you should work for your money”, 64-year-old Kurt Schmidt told the paper. Admittedly, CHF10 doesn’t go too far in Switzerland, but the people Blick met at the station said they would use it for anything from “buying cigarettes and an energy drink” to “putting it towards lunch”.
The paper also raised the question with passers-by of whether they had any problem with taking money “for nothing”. One young woman answered that she was happy to take money from her parents without any strings attached, but that once she had a job it might prove "difficult to motivate" herself to work if she already had a guaranteed income.
The Tages-Anzeiger newspaper reported that most of the money was gone within 15 minutes, after the stunt began at 7.30am.
The paper spoke to one of the campaign’s founders, Daniel Häni, asking him what he thought their chances of success were when the issue goes to the public vote. “I have a lot of confidence,” he replied. “There will be a broad debate. But it would be naïve to think that a vote which hinges on such a large question of principle could be won right away.”