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Yanis Varoufakis: "Vote Yes!"

Former Greek Financial Minister and European Activist Varoufakis Speaks Out in Favor of a Basic Income in Swiss Newspaper "Tagesanzeiger" and on "Future of Work" Conference in Switzerland

Interview originally published at Swiss newspaper "Tagesanzeiger" under the title: «Switzerland is ideal for experiments with the Basic Income»

You are an advocate for the unconditional basic income that Switzerland is voting on in June. Why is that?

This is the first time in the history of technology that more jobs are being destroyed than created. Technological progress has led to a decrease in well-paid jobs, which decreases the middle class. That again leads to even more concentration of income and wealth in the upper class. That is why I fight for sociopolitical reforms such as the basic income.

That sounds rather theoretical. When will this development be seen in Switzerland?

It has already begun. These developments aren't noticed at first – and all of a sudden it is too late. The robotization [sic] is already happening, but robots don’t buy products. In order to cushion this development and to stabilize a society's increasing inequality of wealth, a basic income is needed.

The other day I was getting my mail from the mailbox in the late morning on my day off and my neighbor (a pensioner) put me on the spot: «What is wrong with you?  Don't you have a job?» Swiss people are suspicious when it comes to new ideas such as the basic income.

The basic income does not lead to unemployment, nor has it got anything to do with people sitting at home and doing nothing. In a representative poll in Switzerland only 2% said they would quit their jobs. Even if it were more than that, the basic income does not make people lazy. Experiments that were done on this subject, for example in Canada in the 1970s, prove that. Would you quit your job?

It has to do with something else: The unemployed in Switzerland are quickly put under pressure – in contrast to southern Europe, where people seem more used to unemployment.

I agree, Switzerland is wealthy, has a low unemployment quota and well organized unemployment insurance. But there are a lot of people in Switzerland today who don't work at all or only very little: the wealthy. 

That won't convince the Swiss voter. Switzerland is one of the wealthiest and economically strong countries in the world. 

Exactly. Because Switzerland is doing so well, it is ideal for experiments with the basic income. But don't forget, in spite of the wealth, the quality of life is decreasing. What good is a well-paid job if you are scared to lose it? This constant fear paralyzes people and makes them ill. Switzerland should see the basic income as an investment in the future. 

Economiesuisse, the most influential Swiss business organization, warns that many people would gear down and choose the «sweet life of doing nothing».  Doesn't that make sense?

Well, that is easy to say for Economiesuisse. It is a pity that they have such a negative picture of the people of Switzerland. And obviously Economiesuisse has no problem with the offspring of wealthy factory owners and managers choosing the «dolcefarniente» lifestyle, living off their inherited wealth. Those people don't work in order to survive, they work for their self-realization. For example, by being active in foundations and projects, or by continuing their education in first-class schools. Why should children from less privileged circumstances not get a fraction of these chances? Less competition and less existential fear makes people creative, and that creates wealth.

And in the end there is peace on earth – didn't socialism fail on this route already?

No, the basic income is the biggest support program for entrepreneurs that could be created. In Silicon Valley they speak of it as «Seed Money for Everybody». We can also call the effect of the basic income «justice of chances». And that, by the way, is a deeply liberal concern. That is why even liberals have to agree. A basic income gives everyone the chance to make use of her or his freedom to say no, regardless of the financial consequences of such a decision. This makes the basic income the essential building block for a social market economy in the future. 

The initiative proposes that all adult residents of Switzerland should receive 2500 francs monthly. Wouldn't that increase the number of immigrants and refugees trying to come to Switzerland?

This is a serious concern. I believe that only residents who have lived in Switzerland for a certain amount of time would receive the basic income. This could be organized elegantly by establishing a deadline. 

So you approve of a version that inhibits immigration. I assume you are also satisfied with the EU’s efforts to regulate the number of refugees seeking asylum?

The readmission agreement with Turkey is a scandal that Europe should be ashamed of. We cannot send refugees back to a country that deports them back to their homelands without giving them legal counsel or asylum procedures. 

Isn't the agreement also a big relief for Greece?

Well, we could also just kill the refugees directly. Once more: this catastrophic agreement has no place in a civilized Europe.

Won't Europe break apart if it doesn't get its refugee problem under control?

That is pure nonsense. Let me say this: After the fall of the iron curtain, a million refugees came to Greece in a matter of a few months. Those people have revitalized the country. The old Europe cannot afford to do without these refugees. To look at it rationally: Our continent is now being populated by people from Africa and the Middle East just as Europeans have migrated to their continents for the last centuries. Without this immigration, Europe will devolve into an old and sad continent. 

Not all Europeans are this pragmatic, as we can see in the rapid increase of xenophobic parties.

That doesn't have anything to do with the refugees. The reason is an economic one. And with this we can close the circle back to the basic income: the fear of refugees is also a fear of social decline. The basic income takes away this fear and promotes solidarity. 

You supported the German satirist Jan Böhmermann in the Erdogan-affair on twitter. But only last year you were upset because of a middle-finger-video. How come you changed your mind?

I haven't changed my mind. It is the noble task of all comics and satirists to unsettle and even hurt politicians like me every day. Europe will really have a big problem should this be made impossible in the future.  

Conference

The Greek economist Giannis Varoufakis was financial minister in the cabinet of the Greek Prime Minister Alexi Tsipras from January to July 2015. He was in charge of the negotiations with the partners in the Euro-zone during the financial crisis. He scandalously declared that Greece would not accept further salary and pension cuts. This coming May 4, 2016 the Gottlieb-Duttweiler-Institut (GDI) in Rüschlikon, Switzerland is extending an invitation to their conference, «The Future of Work». Besides Varoufakis, Silicon-Valley-Entrepreneur and Twitter-Investor Albert Wenger, the Swiss labor union and initiators of the referendum for the unconditional basic income will discuss why Silicon Valley and the very liberal US-Thinktanks speak in favor of such an idea and the labor union does not.

Referendum

On June 5, 2016 Switzerland will be voting on the referendum «for an unconditional basic income». This way, «The whole population shall have a dignified existence and the possibility to part take in public life». The initiators define «the population» as «everyone who legally lives in Switzerland». The basic income for adults shall be 2500 francs, and for children under 18 it will be 625 francs. Accordingly, the basic income would have cost 200 billion francs in 2012. As a source to finance this amount, the initiators suggest that salaries would be tapped up to the amount of 2500 francs (this would result in 128 billion francs) and that the current social insurances that would become superfluous, would be transferred (making another 70 billion francs). With the exception of the Green Party, all political parties are against the idea. 

Video: Varoufakis will take part at the conference "Future of Work" taking place at GDI on May 4 2016 in Zurich/Switzerland. These are some statements on the referendum and concept of Basic Income in Switzerland.

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