The Swiss people didn’t re-invent the wheel in Sunday’s votes on a basic income, asylum and public services – and that’s as it should be, the country’s media agreed. Meanwhile, the international press latched on to the unconditional income idea, despite its rejection by Swiss voters.
“Switzerland didn’t re-invent itself yesterday – but it also didn’t have a reason to,” the Blick tabloid commented. “Whoever wants to earn money will show up to work today. Public services will function as normal. And asylum seekers will continue to be treated fairly. Nice and boring? Very reasonable.”
The Tages-Anzeiger saw voters “going the walkable path” on the issue of the asylum law revision, stating that “the clear ‘yes’ is a decision governed by reason”, despite the conservative right Swiss People’s Party’s efforts to bring the issue to a referendum and have the law overturned.
The Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) said voters were “not playing with fire” and “had no desire for experimentation”, especially when it came to the vote on public services like trains, post offices and telecommunications.
And the French-language Le Temps newspaper saw Sunday’s votes as a referendum on government spending, arguing that citizens “prefer financial stability” because “the victims of [too much government spending] are always the same: education, research, agriculture and the social safety net”.
Financial efficiency was a driver in passing the asylum law, the paper argued, and both the basic income and road spending initiatives died over anxieties that the federal budget would be stretched too thin.
The exception to this rule was Geneva’s decision to build a new transport link across the lake, with the Tribune de Genève newspaper pointing out that “the canton alone cannot pay for it” and will be dependent on the federal government for funding aid. But the paper’s commenters also aren’t confident in the project’s speedy completion, as a similar idea was first proposed in 1998.
“There is an ocean separating the idea adopted on Sunday and its implementation,” the paper commented.
Sunday’s referendums were also an indication of the Swiss people’s trust in their government, many papers pointed out, with all national votes going the way of the government’s recommendations. When it came to voting, again, on a law regarding the testing of embryos for genetic abnormalities before they are implanted, the Tages-Anzeiger said that “the people trust the law” – even if “the boundaries of pre-implantation diagnostics will remain an issue, also because other countries continue to allow more than Switzerland”.
What do Switzerland’s neighbours think?
On the basic income issue:
“The result was clear: the-oh-so-confident advocates of an unconditional basic income did not even achieve moderate success. The 20% in favour were only of those who turned out to vote, so it can’t seriously be argued that the time is ripe for a departure from the current system.” – Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung
Austria’s Kronenzeitung newspaper pointed out that basic income is being talked about around the world and is even being set in motion in countries like Finland and the Netherlands – and the time is right. “The Fourth Industrial Revolution will render unnecessary around seven million conventional jobs in major developmed and emerging economies, while creating two million jobs with new requirements at the same time”, it pointed out.
Papers in France found that "the government and most political parties denounced a utopian and costly project," in the basic income scheme, as remarked the Libération publication. And Le Nouvel Observateur recalled that "in 2012, worried about reducing their competitiveness internationally, the Swiss had already refused to increase their paid leave from 4 to 6 weeks." Same story in Le Figaro: "For the majority of Swiss who worship the value of work, receiving money for nothing is inconceivable."
And Italy's Corriere della Sera said the introduction of a basic income would represent a challenge for wealthy Switzerland; a country where it points out there exists a large disparity in salary levels.
“Direct democracy dictates that every loosening of the law will have to be weighed carefully when it comes to this ethically difficult issue.”
The comments on Switzerland's rational voting weren't limited to the domestic press - an article in China's Beijing Times quoted Yi Xian Rong, a professor of economics at the University of Qingdao who said that "the Swiss people followed the government's recommendations because they have developed a cautious attitude, the habit of reflecting on issues and a global consciousness, thanks to their long tradition of political participation".
Basic income – a ‘high-profile airing’
The Swiss public also followed the government’s recommendation on voting overwhelmingly against an initiative to give everyone in the country a basic income, but that didn’t stop the international press from calling it a bold experiment in wealth re-distribution.
“The outcome was never in doubt…[but] the significance of Sunday’s vote – which the plan’s backers ensured by collecting the necessary 100,000 signatures – was that it gave a high-profile airingexternal link to an idea that has gained traction among economists in Europe and the USexternal link in recent years,” the Wall Street Journal wrote.
The New York Times agreed that the issue was about more than just Switzerland, saying that “the current discussion, in Switzerland and elsewhere, has been not only about wealth redistribution but also about how modern societies can continue to create jobs while pushing technological advances such as factory robots and driverless trucks”.
And Britain’s Telegraph newspaper pointed at the fact that Swiss voters rejected an idea that Britain’s Labour party has also been seriously considering, with one of its leaders recently saying that basic income “is an idea Labour will be closely looking at over the next few years”, and would involve the government giving a fixed amount of money to every person, regardless of earnings.
Even the Russian newspaper "Wedomosti" weighed in, saying that supporters sold the basic income scheme as "a better alternative to the current Swiss social security system, which has become incredibly bureaucratic, expensive and incredibly confused. Nevertheless, the voters did not agree to forgo the tried and true. The unemployment rate is in Switzerland at historic lows, and the strong franc seems to be a much more important issue for citizens."
Our editorial staff looked at the results of all five Swiss votes on Facebookexternal link – here’s the analysis.
Tell us your thoughts in the comments – did Switzerland go the “reasonable” path on Sunday? Will this basic income vote launch a larger discussion, despite the outcome?