Talk by Otto Lehto (NYU), 7th of March 2024: “Universal Basic Income (UBI) as a tool of adaptation and discovery”

In November/December 2021 Otto Lehto, an associate Junior Researcher at FRIBIS, joined us in Freiburg as a visiting researcher at the Götz Werner Chair of Economic Policy and Order Theory. On 7 March 2024, he will be giving a lecture on basic income “as a tool of adaptation and discovery” at the London School of Economics.

The event will be online and is open to the public.



Many of its proponents argue that UBI gives recipients “real freedom” (Van Parijs), consumer sovereignty (Friedman, Hayek), or increased protection against domination and exploitation in the labour market (Pettit, Standing, Widerquist). At the same time, many critics worry about the costs of the program. Assuming that UBI indeed has freedom-increasing properties, and that it can be implemented in a fiscally sound manner, how attractive a proposal (if at all) is UBI as “real freedom”? Issues of justice, fairness, and efficiency must all play a part in the debate. However, my talk argues that the best case for UBI-as-freedom lies in its capacity to act as a tool of adaptation in the face of radical uncertainty, social complexity, and emerging crises (like pandemics and A.I.). The increased autonomy that UBI gives to people may facilitate more creative and decentralized ways of solving problems. If the incentives are properly aligned, the decentralized actions of free and autonomous citizenry will lead to more innovations and more productive uses of resources. This benefits society on the whole. Of course, without sufficient safeguards, UBI-as-freedom may lead to various undesirable social outcomes, including a host of antisocial, unproductive, and destructive behaviours and attitudes. This means that UBI should be integrated into a broader institutional perspective that interferes minimally with the real freedom of the citizens but indirectly guides people’s actions towards the public good.

Speaker bio

Dr. Otto Lehto is a philosopher and political economist whose current work focuses on PPE, complexity theory, evolutionary theory, political philosophy, ethics, basic income, social epistemology, human enhancement, and naturalism. He is currently a postdoctoral research fellow at NYU School of Law (2022-) and an affiliated Junior Researcher at University of Freiburg’s FRIBIS Institute (2021-). He gained his PhD in Political Economy from King’s College London (2022) on the topic of Complex Adaptation and Permissionless Innovation: An Evolutionary Approach to Universal Basic Income. He also has a BA in English Philology (2009) and a Master’s Degree in Social and Moral Philosophy (2015) from University of Helsinki. He is the recipient of the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) LAHP studentship (2017-2019), Adam Smith Fellowship at George Mason University (2019-2020), and a Templeton Foundation Grant at King’s College London (2020). He is currently writing a book about basic income, innovation, and freedom. His website is


Thomas Straubhaar’s lecture now on YouTube: „Die 3-E des Bedingungslosen Grundeinkommens aus ökonomischer Sicht: einfach, effektiv und effizient”

On 11 January 2024, Prof. em. Dr. Thomas Straubhaar, one of the leading UBI proponents in the economic debate within the German-speaking world, came to Freiburg to give an evening lecture at the invitation of FRIBIS. “Die 3-E des Bedingungslosen Grundeinkommens aus ökonomischer Sicht: einfach, effektiv und effizient” (“The 3 E’s of Basic Income from an economist’s point of view (easy, effective and efficient). In his lecture, he gives insights into his relationship with Freiburg as well as the personal experiences and research findings that have made him an advocate of the UBI.

The Freiburg Connection

Prof. Straubhaar began his lecture by emphasising the important role that Freiburg has played throughout his academic career. As a young research assistant he had the opportunity to edit the galley proofs of Alfred Müller-Armack’s works, which were published by the Rombach publishing company in Freiburg. Müller-Armack’s vision of a social market economy that strives for a harmonious balance between market efficiency and social justice had a lasting impact on his economic ideas.

His time, in 1991/92, as a deputy professor at the Freiburg Chair of Economic Policy, known as the Friedrich von Hayek professorship, also left a lasting impression on a very personal level. The experience of having a significant part of his gross salary reduced by deductions for social security made it clear to him how much of a financial burden the existing social security system was. This personal exposure to the costs that employees bear without feeling any direct benefits reinforced his thoughts on alternative forms of social security and strengthened his interest in the concept of a basic income.

The Importance of a UBI

In his lecture, Straubhaar explains why, in his view, a UBI is not only an innovative response to current socio-economic challenges but also the logical consequence of the ordoliberal principles advocated by the so-called Freiburg School of Economics. He argues that a basic income can create the ideal link between individual freedom and social security by providing every citizen with a financial safety net, without hindering the dynamics of the market.

Competing perspectives: Bernhard Neumärker and Giacomo Corneo on the basic income on

An article published on 30 January 2024 by, a German platform that aims to promote sustainable lifestyles, came up with two opposing positions on the Universal Basic Income. Economists Bernhard Neumärker, Director of FRIBIS, and Giacomo Corneo, Professor of Public Finance at the Free University of Berlin, each put forward their arguments. And despite their differences, they agreed that the existing social system needs to be reformed.

Bernhard Neumärker on the potential of the UBI

For Bernhard Neumärker the UBI is far more than a mere response to “wage slavery”. Instead he sees it as a catalyst for a fairer and more productive economy. The UBI would give workers in the low-wage sector an “exit option” which could lead to fairer wages and make society as a whole more productive as people would have the freedom to choose work that suits their inclinations. Neumärker argues that the UBI would reduce bureaucracy, increase individual freedom and allow people to refuse morally dubious or exploitative jobs. A UBI could respond more flexibly and purposefully in times of crisis than means-tested systems, such as Hartz IV (the German unemployment benefit and social security system). Here he highlights the positive effects on mental health, based on experiments, in Finland, for example.

Basic income sceptic, Giacomo Corneo

Giacomo Corneo, on the other hand, is critical of the introduction of a Basic Income, arguing that a UBI would be divisive. It could, for instance, lead to some people living exclusively from the basic income while others continue to work and have to pay tax on a large proportion of their income in order to finance the basic income. Here, Corneo sees the danger of an “exploitative relationship”. As an alternative, he envisages a “stock market socialism” in which bigger companies are to a large extent (at least 51%) publicly owned and their dividends are used for a form of social dividend. This would, however, be lower than a UBI.

For more about the arguments and responses of Prof. Neumärker and Prof. Corneo, see the article here (in German).


Recently published: anthology on ‘future narratives’ of the Universal Basic Income

FRIBIS is pleased to announce the publication of a new anthology: Politische Partizipation und bedingungsloses Grundeinkommen –,Narrative‘ der Zukunft ( Political Participation and Unconditional Basic Income – ‘Narratives’ of the Future), edited by Leon Hartmann, Sebastian Kaufmann, Bernhard Neumärker and Andreas Urs Sommer. It deals with topics that are key to the work of the FRIBIS team, “Participation and UBI – ‘Narratives’ of the Future” (PartUBI) and contains contributions from both academics and activists. The contributions are both in German and in English. 


This volume is based on the work of the Large FRIBIS Team Participation and UBI – ‘Narratives’ of the Future (PartUBI). Like all FRIBIS teams,  it   includesboth researchers and activists. This interdisciplinary research team focuses on the relationship between Universal Basic Income and political participation from a cultural-philosophical and cultural-poetological perspective, particularly in the context of ‘narratives of the future’. The Transfer Team is politically committed to the introduction of a UBI, which it sees as a participatory lever for citizens to become more involved in democratic processes. The latter also builds bridges to a politically committed theory of visual art.



The volume is now available for € 19.90 and can be ordered from the LIT-Verlag website.

Prof. Sophia Seung-Yoon Lee presents her new book and the key concept of “melting labour”

On January 24, Sophia Seung-Yoon Lee, Professor of Social Policy at the Department of Social Welfare at Chung-Ang University in Seoul, Korea, presented her new book, Varieties of Precarity. Melting Labor and the Failure to Protect Workers in the Korean Welfare State to the members of the FRIBIS Junior Research Group (JRG). At the same time, she introduced the novel concept of “melting labour”. The development she is trying to capture with this term is that traditional, stable employment relationships in South Korea are becoming increasingly rare, while the boundaries between the different types of work and jobs are becoming blurred. She thus draws attention to forms of precarious work that currently exist in South Korea — despite the economic successes and the presence of the welfare state.

We asked her how she felt about the discussion after her lecture:

„An opportunity to deliver a lecture on my newly published book, Varieties of Precarity: Melting Labour and the Failure to Protect Workers in South Korean Welfare State at FRIBIS was an enriching experience for me. The atmosphere during the event was invigorating and intellectually stimulating, underscored by the participants’ enthusiasm and the depth of the discussion. It was particularly impressive to see the audience’s level of interest and understanding regarding the labour market and social policy in Korea, as well as the insightful inquiries about the research methodologies employed. Such interactions are invaluable, encouraging a multidisciplinary approach to tackling complex social issues.“

About Prof. Sophia Seung-Yoon Lee

Sophia Seung-Yoon Lee, who has a PhD in Social Policy from  Oxford university, is a respected expert in the field of East Asian welfare states and labour markets as well as precarious work. Her expertise has made a contribution to European researchers’ understanding of the challenges of precarious work and protective measures in East Asian countries.

FRIBIS Best Paper Award 2023 for young researchers goes to Franziska Leopold and Tobias Jäger

We are delighted to start the new FRIBIS year with the FRIBIS Best Paper Award. The FRIBIS Board of Directors pays tribute to the PhD candidates, Franziska Leopold and Tobias Jäger, for their excellent contributions to the second FRIBIS Annual Conference (2022) “Basic Income and Development”. With their contributions to the anthology, Basic Income and Development. Proceedings of the FRIBIS Annual Conference 2022, Leopold and Jäger have made a significant contribution to both basic income research and the civil debate.

In her paper, I Would Like to Continue to Advocate for the Basic Income, BUT… Barriers to political UBI-participation in German-speaking countries, Leopold examines the crucial role of political education and information in basic income from the perspective of non-profit organizations, against the backdrop of the opportunities and limitations of advocating for a universal basic income. Based on an analysis of qualitative interviews, she examines the socio-demographic profiles of volunteer workers and the hurdles they face, some of which have led to the end of activism in some cases.

In his contribution, In the Face of Double Crises: Crossroads for Social Protection, Tobias Jäger expands on the idea of a universal basic income in the face of current and future crises, referring to Ugo Gentilini’s (World Bank) presentation, Lessons from cash transfers during Covid and implications for the UBI debate, which was delivered at the FRIBIS 2022 Annual Conference. The paper focuses on a discussion of changes in the social protection policies of various countries during the COVID-19 crisis. Leopold points out that the coronavirus crisis has not brought about any new trends in social protection policy but has reinforced existing ones instead.

We would like to thank all the authors once again for their contributions and congratulate Franziska Leopold and Tobias Jäger in particular.

FRIBIS Annual Conference 2023: Care & Gender – Potentials & Risks of UBI

The 3rd annual FRIBIS conference was held in Freiburg from October 9 to 11, 2023. It focused on two often overlooked aspects in the universal basic income (UBI) debate, namely, gender and care as central dimensions of social coexistence. The conference aimed to explore the potentials and challenges UBI offers for care work and gender-related issues, such as gender roles and equality. A key emphasis was placed on understanding the interplay between care and gender within the context of UBI. This event was organized by the FRIBIS teams care and UBIG (UBI & Gender).

UBI as a solution for care gaps? New perspectives and challenges

It is becoming increasingly clear, especially in Europe, that care work is one of the fundamental prerequisites for a functioning society. In view of increasing life expectancy and falling birth rates, we are confronted with the fact that the need for care will increase significantly in the future. Accordingly, the conference focused on formal and informal care work as well as the phenomenon of “care gaps”: gaps in care or welfare that arise when the need for care and nursing services (such as childcare, care for the elderly or the sick) exceeds the available capacity. The participants discussed the personal and institutional framework conditions necessary to close care gaps and the role a UBI could play in this.

We asked Prof. Klaus Baumann, a member of the care research team, about his impressions as a conference participant.

How did the conference influence your perspective on the topics of care/gender/UBI?

The numerous international contributions on care and gender with regard to the potential of a UBI made it clear how important both topics are; not surprisingly, they overlap time and again. The conference gave me and our care team a lot of encouragement: research is needed, the development of perspectives and their communication in academia, civil society and politics is becoming an increasingly urgent task, not through polarisation and over-simplification but through sustainable arguments and serious narratives.

Klaus Baumann

How did you benefit from taking part in the conference?


The conference was of great benefit in terms of exchanging ideas and questions, learning from each other and, in particular, for the diverse encounters and opportunities to get to know each other personally. It was very pleasing to see the willingness of international and German-speaking contributors from academia and civil society cooperating with our FRIBIS care team. We will provide more details once these initial discussions turn into firm commitments.

Bianca Blum, Christine Rudolf, Klaus Baumann

What new ideas or collaborations have emerged?

One new idea was to introduce the term “care ecology” to the Care Panel discussion, a concept that we will continue to develop and expand. After all, our common “house” (oikos) that we inhabit – the planet – can only be protected with thoughtful “care” for the current challenges and sustainably preserved as a life-friendly world for future generations. This will also include making a qualified contribution to the potential of the UBI. The approach will also encompass making a substantial contribution to understanding the potential of Universal Basic Income in this context.

Bianca Blum, Klaus Baumann, Ronald Blaschke

Gender and basic income: Intersectional perspectives at the annual conference

The gender part of the annual conference was characterized by intersectional-feminist perspectives Universal Basic Income. Among other things, the focus was on how the UBI could influence traditional roles in the world of work (production) as well as the private sphere, such as family work and raising children (reproduction). Feminist perspectives, which have been neglected to date, were given greater prominence. Ben Trott’s exciting keynote shed light on basic income from a queer perspective, while Almaz Zelleke’s keynote impressively showed how varying social and control systems shape different genders in different ways. The other presentations also encouraged participants to think about the role of a basic income in a possible social reorganisation based on feminist considerations of the economy and politics.

We asked keynote speaker Prof. Almaz Zelleke about the impressions the annual conference left on her.

My two-week stay in Freiburg began with the third annual FRIBIS conference—the first basic income conference, to my knowledge—with a thematic focus on gender and care. It was energising to attend session after session in which these issues, and their connection to basic income, were prioritised. The experience led a few of us to create a Gender and Basic Income network to collaborate on future conference panels and presentations, research, and publications. In this way I expect the conference’s thematic focus to have far-reaching implications for basic income research and activism into the future.

It was another new experience for me to be in a space like FRIBIS, where there are so many researchers working on basic income in close proximity. I spent time with Professor Neumärker and the doctoral students there, learning about the different projects they’re involved in and the range of methodological approaches being used. I was particularly intrigued by the ordoliberal/contractarian approach being taken in a number of lab experiments to determine the agreements citizens are likely to make on a range of issues related to distribution, redistribution, and basic income.

Beyond the formal conversations in the conference, workshops, and research presentations, perhaps my favourite part of the trip was participating in an informal “Basic Income, Bier, and Bratwurst” conversation on the relationship between basic income and work. This is a great FRIBIS tradition, and one I look forward to participating in again when I am next in Freiburg.

Almaz Zelleke

Almaz Zelleke, Jurgen De Wispelaere


The FRIBIS Annual Conference 2023 was an excellent opportunity for international participants to engage in an interdisciplinary exchange on care and gender in the context of the UBI. The future collaborations that are being established will undoubtedly help to anchor the topics of care and gender more firmly in the basic income discourse. We would like to thank all participants for their enriching contributions and look forward to continuing the discussions in the coming year.


Presentation by Prof. John Davis: Technological Unemployment Creates a New Kind of Collective Property that Can Fund Basic Incomes

Since the industrial revolution, technological innovation has led to loss in Jobs on a grant scale. Until now, at least the same technologies have created different jobs that ultimately offset these losses. But will this trend keep true?

Prof. Dr. John Davis thinks it might not. In his view developments in the fields of AI and robotics are encroaching on tasks previously only humans were thought able to.  On the 20th of November, he visited FRIBIS, giving a talk on the ethics of private and public property in the aforementioned context. He argues that, when trough progressive automation humans are pushed out of the job market with no future employment in sight, it might be ethically acceptable or good to fund a basic income from the increased profits of “the capitalist”. These profits he claims further are a new form of public property. Instead of falling back on established schools of anticapitalist thought, he structured his argument in a conversational style directly engaging with justifications offered by defenders of the status quo.

Coming to Freiburg to get an economic perspective on his thesis, he entered a productive discussion with the listeners. Although there was much agreement, some points were discussed from both the viewpoint of economics, social science in general and ethics. We thank Prof. Davis for his presentation and look forward to reading the paper that he is planning to publish on the talk’s subject.

Learn more about Prof. John Davis publications here.


Looking back at the FRIBIS workshop ‘Universal basic income as an economic narrative?’ (September 20-22, 2023)

When it comes to ‘narratives’, at least in the German-speaking world, the term is considered an empty phrase by some while others don’t think twice when using the term to explain social phenomena. And while some talk about opposing ideas being “mere narratives”, others claim that we “need new narratives”. In the basic income discourse, in particular, the concept of narrative plays an important role. Is UBI for example a “mere narrative” or is there a need for new narratives, such as a counter-narrative to the idea of performance in order to give basic income more social acceptance?

Begrüßung durch Prof. Andreas Urs Sommer

About the event

The FRIBIS team “Participation and UBI – ‘Narratives’ of the Future” (PartUBI) organised a workshop from 20 to 22 September, 2023 to shed light on the topic. The event, in German, was organised by Leon Hartmann, Sebastian Kaufmann and Robert Krause and was entitled “Universal Basic Income as an economic narrative?’’ (original title: “Das bedingungslose Grundeinkommen als ökonomisches Narrativ?”). Among the speakers were both young researchers and well-known scholars from a number of disciplines (click here to find the programme).

The most obvious differences between the speakers were in their methodological premises and use of the word ‘narrative’. Some, for example, adopted methodological meta-perspectives to address the connotations and denotations of the term ‘narrative’ and its use in particular discourses. Others were less interested in analysing discursive practices than in the social phenomena around basic income, which they were trying to grasp analytically using the concept of narrative. Despite these differences, the fact that both sides entered into dialogue with each other in the course of the conference proved to be extremely fruitful.
Conclusion and further proceedings of PartUBI

In the course of the workshop it became clear how seminal the topic of narratives is in its connection with basic income and how decisively the concept shapes current social debates. The members of PartUBI were therefore encouraged in their aim to further investigate the use of the concept and the function of ‘narratives’ in the context of culture, science and politics.

Next up is an anthology in the FRIBIS series in which the final papers from the workshop participants will be published.

Prof. Dr. Michael Roos

Interview with Toru Yamamori (Doshisha University) from the Gender-Team on his stay in Freiburg

On a sunny Tuesday afternoon in Freiburg, Professor Toru Yamamori presented his paper as part of his guest stay at FRIBIS: Is a penny a month a basic income? A historiography of a threshold in basic income to the members of FRIBIS, as well as external interested listeners. The professor of economics at Doshisha University in Kyoto won the essay prize of the renowned journal Basic Income Studies for this paper for the second time.

As part of his work as co-chair of the BIEN working group on the clarification of basic income definitions, Toru Yamamori posed the question of whether a threshold for basic income should be included in the definition of basic income and gave an overview of the development of implicit and explicit definitions of basic income. The lecture, with the title kindly adapted to the German audience Is a cent a month a basic income? was followed by a lively discussion that continued into the evening hours during the subsequent joint dinner. We would like to thank Professor Toru Yamamori for his stimulating lecture, the professionally exciting and pleasant conversations during his stay and his work for the FRIBIS Gender Team, which after years of online meetings could finally meet partly in person.

How was your stay in Freiburg/at FRIBIS?

It was really great. I have been in UBI and Gender research team and have known Jessica and Clem for a few years, but this is the first time to meet them in person. Also, the head of FRIBIS, Prof. Neumärker, and the people in FRIBIS are friendly and made me feel like I am at a home institution.

What suprised you or you expected as a reaction to your lecture?

People listened to my lecture attentively and gave me important feedback. It is a shame I could not stay longer to communicate more, but I would like to come back to Freiburg again.