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Faculty of Economics

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Alves, C., Guizzo, D.

Economic Theory and Policy Today: Lessons from Barbara Wootton and the Creation of the British Welfare State


Abstract: This article investigates Barbara Wootton’s contribution to the creation of the welfare state in Britain through her interpretation and adaptation of economic theory to support social policy. It revisits Wootton’s Lament for Economics (1938) and explores unpublished archives showing her considerable engagement in public discussions on government spending, employment, poverty alleviation and her interaction with William Beveridge’s epoch defining welfare plan for Britain. We claim that her critique of economic theory for being an abstract science confined to equilibrium states, combined with her acute observation of social reality, allowed Wootton to cut free from established modes of economic thought. This laid the foundation for pioneering insights justifying an interventionist welfare state based on real-world issues and concepts of social justice, rather than self-interest and market failure principles.

Keywords: Economic Methodology, Market Failure, Neoclassical Economics, Social Policy, Welfare State

JEL Codes: B22 B31 B41

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