BIEN-Suisse, Le financement d’un revenu de base inconditionnel

Seismo, 2010, 204 pp, pbk, 2 88351 049 4, 38 SFr

We normally only review books in English, but with this edited collection we make an exception, not because it contains translations from our own publications, but because it is a sustained argument for the necessity and feasibility of a Citizen’s Income.

Peter Ulrich’s preface suggests that if Switzerland is to experience a society of citizens then it needs more equal incomes and more permeable social class boundaries. Increasing automation and the demands of sustainability will between them mean that not everyone will be employed full-time, so a Citizen’s Income will be needed to provide for the necessary more equal incomes and to enable everyone to be employed part-time. Ulrich recommends that 25% of Swiss GDP (the same proportion as is spent on income maintenance in Switzerland today) should be spent on providing every Swiss citizen with a Citizen’s Income of 1,500 SFr Citizen’s Income. Higher taxes would make a Citizen’s Income of 2,500 SFr per month possible.

Bridget Dommen-Meade’s introduction to the book summarises the chapters and links their discussions into an argument for a Swiss Citizen’s Income’s feasibility. Then come three chapters arguing for the feasibility of a Citizen’s Income in Switzerland: Bernard Kundig’s insightful study of long-term changes in the economy and in Swiss society leads into an argument for a Citizen’s Income funded by an increase in consumption taxes and flat income tax; Albert Jörriman suggests a mechanism which would result in the employed giving back an amount equal to the Citizen’s Income, and he suggests how provision for unemployment and disability might relate to a Citizen’s Income; and both Kundig and Jörriman suggest that a Citizen’s Income of 2,500 SFr per month should be feasible. [This is approximately £1,500 per month or £18,000 per annum]; and Jörriman argues that a Citizen’s Income of this level would not discourage paid employment and would encourage self-employment and co-operatives (p.81). Daniel Hani and Enno Schmidt argue for the same level of Citizen’s Income and also argue for funding by an increase in consumption taxation, and emphasise the additional labour market choices in which a Citizen’s Income would result.

The next few chapters are translations of published material about other countries. Marc de Basquiat argues for the feasibility of a Citizen’s Income of €12.60 per day in France; Ingmar Kumpmann and Ingrid Hohenleitner suggest a phased implementation of a Citizen’s Income in Germany, so that the effects on national income can be evaluated; and Pieter le Roux argues for a Citizen’s Income of R100 (about £10) per week per adult. He shows that even though a consumption tax increase considered by itself would be more regressive than an income tax increase, when considered alongside the establishment of a Citizen’s Income it would be progressive. The other two chapters are a translation of Anne Miller’s article on minimum income standards in the third issue of the Citizen’s Income Newsletter for 2009 and the Citizen’s Income Trust’s introductory booklet.

The chapters which advocate consumption taxes as a method of financing a Citizen’s Income give pause for thought to those of us in the UK who have for so long assumed that reduction of income tax allowances and possibly adjustment of income tax rates would be the best method. Also of interest are discussions about the labour market effects of a Citizen’s Income. If a partial Citizen’s Income is likely to provide greater employment market incentives than a full Citizen’s Income then it should be possible to find an optimum level of Citizen’s Income, though probably only from practical experience of different levels. As Dommen-Meade suggests, the long-term effects of a Citizen’s Income are more important than the short-term ones. She thinks the Swiss welfare system ripe for major change, and that a Citizen’s Income is the way to do it. ‘We are convinced …’ (p.27).

Perhaps the most significant finding is that in every European country studied a partial Citizen’s Income is found to be feasible. This raises again the question as to whether a pan-European partial Citizen’s Income might be possible. Not only would this offer all of the benefits which a Citizen’s Income in each country would offer, but it would also promote the efficiency of the European labour market, to the benefit of every European economy. The discussions of funding in the book suggest that such a pan-European Citizen’s Income should be funded by a European consumption tax collected nationally.

Such a Citizen’s Income would probably require Switzerland to join the EU: but that’s another discussion.