Otto Lehto (KCL) - 2017-18 Students

Universal Basic Income: Philosophical Justifications and Institutional Robustness

Universal Basic Income (UBI) has been transformed from a marginal idea to a centerpiece of global debate. However, a lot of uncertainty and confusion lingers about the feasibility of UBI.

I aim to provide critical tools to assess the economic and sociological viability of various UBI models and thereby offer a robust institutional framework for welfare reform. My framework is closely linked to the Robust Political Economy (RPE) framework of Pennington (2010) and the political theory framework of John Tomasi (2012). It analyses the governance dilemmas facing existing social welfare models and explores the political economy of UBI schemes in addressing these dilemmas. My research fits naturally into the paradigm of PPE, at the intersection of philosophy, politics and economics.

My tentative hypothesis is that a robustly designed basic income guarantee might allow welfare states to better survive the emerging global challenges. UBI could transform technological progress and the opening up of global trade into a positive-sum spiral that leaves nobody behind, since it would safeguard basic economic security even if low-skill (but also increasingly high-skill) jobs are outsourced to poorer countries or replaced by machines. UBI could, in theory at least, compensate citizens for the collateral damage of the “creative destruction” of capitalism.

Further, I investigate whether UBI could improve the following three types of social capital among poor people: 1) trust in the social institutions, 2) security in the face of social transformations, & 3) autonomy over one’s actions. In what ways could universal basic income provide a realistic blueprint for a new social contract that combines the “wealth dynamo” of the market with a robust social safety net?

My hypothesis is that UBI needs to be embedded into a broader institutional framework that is attentive to these questions and concerns.

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