Ethicist puts the case for basic income

Hans Ruh say introducing basic income would help shrink bureaucracy Ex-press

The introduction of a basic income for all will become a hot political topic over the next decade, social ethics specialist Hans Ruh tells swissinfo.

This content was published on September 14, 2008 - 10:19

A switch from the current system that provides welfare aid to the needy would be a radical change for Switzerland – a step that most politicians are unwilling to make.

The idea is nothing new: even liberal economists such as Nobel Prize winner Milton Friedman have backed it.

All of a country's inhabitants would get a basic income, money to use any way they want. There would be no conditions linked to the distribution of funds.

In its most radical form, basic income would replace the social security system and unemployment benefit.

Swiss theologian and social ethicist Ruh has been demanding the introduction of basic income for years, although he would not include children under the age of 18 and would maintain unemployment benefit.

swissinfo: Why would you exclude children from basic income?

Hans Ruh: I see it as an unrealistic measure. Personally I have nothing against it, but politically it wouldn't stand a chance even though it would encourage people to have more children.

swissinfo: Where would the state find the money for basic income?

H.R.: It would mainly involve transferring money from one spending category to another. The most important elements of social security such as pensions, social aid and student grants would be integrated into the basic income system. This would not have much of a financial impact.

The introduction of basic income would help us do away with most forms of welfare assistance. It wouldn't resolve all the problems this type of aid faces, but it would help cut down on bureaucracy.

I would also like to tie this in with tax reform. Work should be taxed less, while products that have a negative impact on health, the environment or our security should be taxed more.

swissinfo: That would mean higher levies on tobacco and alcohol?

H.R.: Yes, but there are other products that can be targeted. In the health domain, I could well imagine a tax on fats. I am also thinking of higher levies on fuel, or taxes on senseless violent video and internet productions.

swissinfo: Opponents of the basic income model would argue that it would make people less motivated to get a job.

H.R.: That's part of the idea. People who receive very low salaries are simply being exploited. Employers in the hospitality, retail and waste management sectors would have to pay more. As long as people aren't working for just SFr3,000 ($2,639) per month, that's all right by me.

I'm not saying that employers have to increase salaries since everyone would get basic income to start with. The model would give everyone the choice of not having to take the first job they are offered. They could afford to wait before they start working again.

swissinfo: The model you suggest would represent a radical departure for Switzerland. Is it politically feasible?

H.R.: After following the debate over social security in Germany, I believe that new solutions must be found. Society is changing, getting older.

Basic income without strings attached is a liberal idea. It didn't come from the left. Unions are the biggest opponents to such a move.

I expect basic income to become a hot topic in Switzerland too over the next ten years because our population is getting older.

swissinfo-interview: Andreas Keiser

Basic income

Basic income is paid to individuals rather than households, irrespective of any income from other sources and is paid without requiring the performance of any work or the willingness to accept a job if offered.

There is a wide variety of proposals that differ according to the amounts involved, the source of funding, and the nature and size of the reductions in other transfers.

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Hans Ruh

Born in 1933, he studied under the renowned Swiss Protestant theologian Karl Barth.

From 1983 to 1998, he was a professor at Zurich University and the director of the social ethics institute he founded there.

He is the chairman of Blue Value, a centre that aims to bring more ethics to the business world.

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