Tech: A Swiss filmmaker tried to raise $6 million for a basic-income experiment that would have given residents up to $2,570 a month

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A Swiss filmmaker has failed to crowdsource enough money to start a basic-income experiment for hundreds of residents in the village of Rheinau.

  • A Swiss filmmaker has failed to raise enough money to start a basic-income experiment for hundreds of residents in the village of Rheinau.
  • Rebecca Panian crowdsourced only $151,000 of the $6.1 million she needed.
  • About 770 of the Swiss town's 1,300 residents had signed up for the basic income program.
  • Participants ages 25 and older would have received up to $2,570 per month.

A Swiss filmmaker has failed to raise the $6.1 million she needed to start a basic income program that would provide unconditional monthly cash payments to the residents of a village.

Rebecca Panian raised only $151,000 through crowdsourcing, or 2.5% of her goal. The money would have gone to the 1,300-person village of Rheinau, where 770 people had expressed interest in the experiment.

"We knew about the difficulty of collecting so much money in such a short time," Panian wrote Tuesday on her website. "Nevertheless, we dared, because, it would have been possible and why not try. Sometimes you have to dare the seemingly impossible to make a difference."

Two years ago, voters in Switzerland overwhelmingly rejected a referendum on universal basic income, with over two-thirds of voters saying they did not support a program giving citizens unconditional cash payments every month.

Nonetheless, the so-called basic-income proposal appealed to Panian. In light of the threat of automation replacing a growing number of jobs, she decided to launch her own experiment. She told Business Insider in September that the election of President Donald Trump also contributed to her decision.

"Before that I have to admit that I often wanted to do something, but I didn't dare because there was always the voice in my head telling me: 'What can you do, honestly? And who are you anyway,'" Panian wrote in an email. "But with Trump becoming president of the U.S., I told myself: if this person gets there, if a 'Trump' is possible, I can very well look for a village to test the UBI."

Panian chose the village of Rheinau to conduct a study in which participants ages 25 or older would have received 2,500 francs, or $2,570, at the start of each month for a year, regardless of employment status. Those ages 22 to 25 would have received 1,875 francs, or $1,950, a month, with lower amounts for younger adults and children.

Participants whose income is higher than their monthly basic income would have needed to pay back their basic income at the end of the month. In September, Panian said these residents would help finance the experiment.

"In reality, the basic income has to be financed by some sort of redistribution of money," Panian wrote in the September email. "If you would pay everyone MORE you actually needed to create more money, which would end in an inflation and with that the whole UBI-thought wouldn't make sense because the amount of the UBI couldn't secure a person to live on it!"

While the national proposal rejected by Swiss voters would have been funded through people's taxes, the Rheinau experiment was privately funded. After crowdsourcing the necessary funds, Panian had planned to film a documentary and work together with sociologists, an economist, and a media linguist to analyze the outcomes, The Local reported.

Switzerland is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, and Panian told Business Insider she did not want to focus the experiment on fighting unemployment or poverty. Instead, the experiment is meant to show how a universal basic income can affect a community, she said.

The Swiss experiment adds to a growing list of basic-income trials that have not gone smoothly. Y Combinator delayed its basic-income study until next year after a pilot in Oakland, California, took longer than planned. The provincial government of Ontario, Canada, meanwhile, canceled a three-year pilot with 4,000 participants. The premier had initially promised to let the Ontario program keep running, but participants were later told the monthly cash payments will end in March 2019, one year early.

In Europe, a prominent two-year trial in Finland is ending in a few months despite researchers' interest in expanding the pilot beyond just those who are unemployed.

Other basic income pilots are still on track to provide the regular payments they promised. A pilot focusing on low-income black women is starting in Jackson, Mississippi, with 15 women receiving $1,000 a month for one year. And in February 2019, an 18-month trial in Stockton, California, will give $500 a month to 100 residents.

On Tuesday, Panian wrote that while it's a pity that her fundraising efforts fell short, the experiment was not "for nothing." Since announcing the Rheinau program, Panian said she has received requests from Portugal and Germany that could turn into their own basic income pilots.

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