In November and December 2021, philosopher and political economist Otto Lehto came to Freiburg as a FRIBIS visiting scholar. We asked him how basic income research has changed in recent years, what he had gained from his time at FRIBIS and about the research topics he hopes to focus on in the future.

Where does basic income research stand today?

“Basic income research has matured into a diverse, interdisciplinary field. More people than ever are now conducting top-notch qualitative and quantitative research. And valiant efforts are being made to harmonize economic, philosophical, and political considerations with each other. However, the subject tends to attract supporters of UBI more than those are who critical or neutral towards it, so researchers should be wary of motivational bias. There is also an excessive focus on short-lived RCT experiments and other forms of discretionary policymaking that, in my mind, undermines the viability of UBI as a long-term institutional reform of the basic human rights framework.”

What did you gain from your stay at FRIBIS?

“Freiburg is a lovely city. Aside from that, I valued my time at FRIBIS for three main reasons. First, I got to conduct research on Ordoliberalism in its birthplace. Secondly, I got to meet and work with many interesting FRIBIS scholars, including the Junior Research Group, and to conduct a series of in-depth discussions with Enno Schmidt. Thirdly, thanks to a shared passion between myself and Prof. Neumärker’s for J.M. Buchanan, I got to run a workshop on constitutional approaches to UBI, which hopefully will spawn more theoretical and empirical research on constitutional UBI.”

What will be the focus of your future work on UBI?

“There are three strands to my future work on UBI: 1) To study the link between UBI, social change, and “Permissionless Innovation”, i.e. the capacity of (poor) people to experiment and innovate from the bottom up in ways that contribute to adaptation and social flourishing.

2) To explore basic income models within the various schools of liberalism: Freiburg, Virginia, Chicago, and Vienna. 3) To explore the implementation and maintenance challenges faced by constitutional vs. policymaking UBI models in order to achieve and maintain institutional stability in a complex democratic society.”

Otto Lehto in conversation with Enno Schmidt: (Ordo-)Liberalism and Basic Income.

In an interview conducted by Enno Schmidt, Otto Lehto talks about the origins and theoretical foundations of liberalism, the Freiburg tradition of ordoliberalism and the extent to which the UBI is compatible with liberalism from today’s perspective.

Workshop on YouTube: A constitutional and contractarian perspective on Universal Basic Income

In September 2021, Otto Lehto organized a workshop for the members of the FRIBIS’ Junior Research Group, in which he discusses UBI from a constitutional perspective. (Recordings of parts of the workshop are now available on our YouTube channel.) In the first part of the video Otto Lehto talks about the importance of a constitutional and contractarian approach to the welfare state and basic income policy. In the second part, he uses James Buchanan’s constitutionalist UBI model as an example to present a constitutionalist, political economy perspective on the UBI.

We, the members of FRIBIS, would like to heartily thank Otto Lehto for his work at the Institute, from which we learned a lot, and for the wonderful time spent with him. We wish him every success on his further academic path and look forward to welcoming him back soon as a guest in Freiburg.