While the US is struggling on how to solve it's budget problems the government in Switzerland is considering a very different route. The Swiss Parliament is set to debate a measure that would give every Swiss citizen a monthly check of nearly $3,000 regardless of need that's because a 100,000 voters signed a petition to require a parliamentary debate on the issue. Karl Widerquist is a political philosopher at the Georgetown University of Foreign of Service in Cutar and he writes for the Basic Income Earth Network. Okay I don't know how to say this I will just let it come out, ‘It sounds kooky’.
Karl Widerquist: Well it is not as kooky as it sounds. Alaska is already giving every single citizen resident of Alaska a check with no conditions what so ever.
Schackter: And how much is that check?
Widerquist: In Alaska it was variable this year it was $900 for every man, woman and child but it has been as high as $3200.
Schackter: Right but from what I understand what happens in Alaska is essentially a gift it depends on oil revenues it seems to me like that's a difference. People are not relying on this for income essentially what Switzerland is trying to do is to pay people for being Swiss citizens.
Widerquist: Yes, this is. The Alaska dividend is a small step in this direction. What is being proposed in Switzerland is a much larger step . It is the idea of putting a floor under peoples income. The idea that income doesn't have to start at zero.
Schackter: What has to be cut then? If the government decides to give out nearly $3,000 . Do you say okay there's no more social services? You have $3,000 to pay for healthcare and to pay for food and all that?
Widerquist: Well it depends on the size of it. If it is a small one like the Alaska permanent fun dividend then you can't really cut anything else for that. But if you have a large one like they are talking about in Switzerland more then $2,000 a month then you can think what do we not need because of it. If everybody had a guarantee income of more then $20,000 a year we in the United States we in the United States would not need something like Food Stamps perhaps we wouldn't need as much in the way of unemployment insurance and so on.
Schackter: One of the issues is social equality one of the issues is economic reality. And I am not sure I get where the two meet?
Widerquist: Well there have been a lot of experiments in this. There were experiments done in the United States in the 1970's where they had several thousand people getting something equivalent of a poverty level based income. There was one done in Canada they had an entire town where no one was under the threat of poverty. There has been a pilot project in India and a several around Subrahara , Africa and what they find is often people increase there labor . Basic giving away frees you to improve your skills and your effort and do something that makes a bigger contribution to the economy.
Schackter: Karl , final questions. If this is going to happen on a country wide basis it seems likely that it would be somewhere in Europe, maybe Switzerland?
Widerquist: Or perhaps in the developing world, this is a live issue in Brazil, in Nebia, in India. I wouldn't be surprised if it happened first in a very poor country. It could happen in a place like Switzerland as well it is very hard to tell.
Schackter: Karl Widerquist is a Professor at Georgetown School of Foreign Service in Cutar . Karl Thank you!