Cap & Share and Basic Income


The Basic Income or UBI (Universal Basic Income) movement is gathering strength and political visibility, with advocacy movements and experimental trials in various countries around the world (see the BIEN website).

The idea of a UBI is to provide a basic income to all adult citizens; this would be the same amount for all people regardless of wealth, status or employment. People could earn more, of course, in which case the UBI is just additional income, but the UBI would also provide an alternative source of income for those wishing to devote their time to child care, volunteer and community work, or even academic or artistic pursuits. It could largely replace a raft of welfare payments.

One motivation for considering the issue is that paid employment is disappearing with increasing automation, so people need another source of income. This is the logic of Peter Barnes' book 'With Liberty and Dividends for All', where Cap & Dividend (see the Variants page) is seen as one source of the dividends we should all reap from 'the commons' (the 'commons' are things like the atmosphere which belong to us all rather than to any nation or group of people).

What UBI shares with C&S

It's clear that a basic income and C&S fit well together, for all sorts of reasons.

Firstly, the 'share' part of C&S is an obvious source of (at least part of) the UBI income.

Secondly, both policies aim to work on common problems with an explicitly common mechanism. This encourages everyone to see our common problems as things to be tackled by joined-up, commonly-owned policies, rather than as things best left to 'others' or 'experts' - or individuals 'doing their bit' in isolation.

Thirdly, both face the objection that "you shouldn't give people free money or they will just sit around all day, or spend it on drink." Now it may well be that this argument is most loudly made by those who happily accept free unearned money themselves (from tax breaks, subsidies, inherited wealth and the like), but it's still an argument that needs an answer. One response is that you get the income (from C&S or a UBI) as a right, just like freedom of speech, or the right to vote - not in exchange for 'doing' something, but for 'being' something: a citizen or, more fundamentally, a human being. Another response is to look at what actually happens when trials take place - people simply don't sit around all day.

Finally, C&S and UBI are powerfully simple, and appeal to very deep basic notions of fairness. Both potentially have huge psychological and political leverage.

National or Global?

There's also an interesting parallel in the way that both UBI and C&S could operate on a country-by-country basis or as a single, global system. If UBI were to operate as a global system (as advocated by the World Basic Income group), it would have the same advantages as global C&S: on a practical level it bypasses negotiations and squabbles between nations; on a psychological level it talks in terms of 'fair shares' and 'equal rights' as opposed to 'national budgets' or 'aid'.

As with C&S, national UBI schemes would be a start and could then morph into a global system.

Different Emphases

Despite their commonalities, the C&S and UBI proposals come from different starting points, and so frame the issues slightly differently.

UBI supporters are largely motivated by economic issues and social justice; the environmental agenda is not in evidence. There is no 'natural' level of UBI: it's simply a matter for political debate (in this last respect it is similar to 'Fee and Dividend'; see the Variants page).

C&S supporters are primarily advocating a tool which delivers a carbon cap to help avert climate chaos. The equal, universal carbon cashback payments or 'share' provide a mechanism for delivering this tool. While the social justice consequences might be welcome, one could say that there is a more pragmatic motivation: the simplicity and fairness arguments help with the politcal feasibility of introducing C&S and hence of getting a carbon cap in place. Furthermore, C&S comes with a particular level of payments attached, determined by the cap (of course there is still some room for debate regarding the required speed of climate action; see 'Moving the Climate Lever' on the Details page).

Despite this, UBI and C&S have things to offer each other. UBI offers C&S an ally in promoting equal universal payments, which make C&S look much more mainstream; C&S offers UBI a source of income and the possibility that as recipients of UBI we might come to think of ourselves not just as recipients, but as 'solving the climate crisis together'.


In facing the urgent global problem of climate change, it's clear that political and psychological factors hold us back more than technical ones. We need to change mindsets, and UBI is a powerful tool here, in addition to its intrinsic economic merits. UBI would be a good step forward.