The Welfare State as a Discovery Procedure: Basic Income and Social Evolution

The Freedom Center Spring 2020 Colloquium Series presents Otto Lehto, PhD candidate in The Department of Political Economy at King’s College London.

Otto Lehto is a PhD Candidate in Political Economy at King’s College (BA and MA from the University of Helsinki). He primarily studies Universal Basic Income, Classical Liberalism, and Evolutionary Economics. Besides his academic research, Otto also composes music and actively participates in Finnish politics.

ABSTRACT: Poverty relief entails the provision of goods and services. As such, it seems like a simple matter of redistribution. However, according to the liberal interpretation of evolutionary economics, as exemplified by e.g. F.A. Hayek and J.S. Mill, governments must overcome knowledge problems that limit their competence. In this view, efficient poverty relief should function as a discovery procedure that takes advantage of bottom-up experimentation and evolutionary learning. The goal of welfare policy, then, is to fumble in the dark in order to answer the question(s), “What do poor people want? And how should it be given to them?” To this end, Universal Basic Income (UBI) has several design features (e.g. its rule-based delivery and non-paternalism) that make it theoretically promising as a tool of welfare discovery. But it is also expensive, strange, and unpopular. Can it pass the test of comparative institutional analysis?

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