Initiator and promoter of the Götz Werner Chair of Economic Policy & Constitutional Economic Theory at the University of Freiburg, Prof. Götz W. Werner, has passed away

On February 8th, Götz Werner passed away at the age of 78. He and his wife Beatrice are the donors of the Götz Werner Professorship.

Prof. Dr. Bernhard Neumärker, holder of the Götz Werner Chair, remembers his first meeting with Götz Werner and the rapid development towards the foundation of the Götz Werner Chair and the FRIBIS:

Götz Werner approached me in 2018 after a lecture I gave on the Unconditional Basic Income from the perspective of New Ordoliberalism. At that time, it was not foreseeable what incredible momentum and pull his funding ideas would develop.

First, with the active support of the rectorate of the university, the Götz Werner Chair of Economic Policy & Constitutional Economic Theory was established. Subsequently, in an energetic discussion with Götz Werner and the then Rector Hans-Jochen Schiewer, it was decided to establish and generously fund the Freiburg Institute for Basic Income Studies. The result is an interdisciplinary scientific institute that directly involves the civil society actors around basic income. Thanks to his tireless and innovative efforts, Götz Werner has achieved a life’s work from which we at the Institute and at the professorship benefit considerably and from which we continue to learn.

Personally, I am grateful to Götz Werner for seeing the core of basic income research in the regulatory tradition of the University of Freiburg. I feel it is our task to successfully continue the scientific research and social shaping around the Unconditional Basic Income, and to commemorate Götz Werner in this way.

Entrepreneurship and Unconditional Basic Income

Götz Werner’s tireless advocacy for Unconditional Basic Income was rooted in his “evidence experiences” from his entrepreneurial activities. “Your work, and the work we all do,” he called out to the audience of a thousand students, “can never be paid for. But an income makes it possible.” For him, seeing work and income separately was a necessary step in our time. For him, ideals and entrepreneurial practice were not in contradiction. “People are not the means but the end of our efforts”, “People are the goal”, This was lived by the employees of the “Working Community” dm Drugstore Market through many measures in the company at all levels and could also be experienced by customers in the shops.

In the last years of his life, he expressed the wish that “my ideas as an entrepreneur and advocate of the unconditional basic income continue to have an effect and contribute to a world worth living in.” With the founding of the Götz Werner Professorship and FRIBIS, he made a major contribution to enabling others to act in the spirit of his wish.

Bianca Blum, Research Associate at the GWP, on her personal impression of Götz Werner:

You should do two things in life: That which you are good at and that which you burn for. With his entrepreneurship and his work on the basic income, Götz Werner has combined exactly these two things and recognised the value of combining skills and passion. With his life and work, he brought us closer to the realization of how meaningful and driving self-determined work is. I am very saddened by his death. I got to know Götz Werner as an admirable man who embodied many values that I share. I am proud that we at the Götz Werner Professorship and FRIBIS can not only keep his name alive, but also his values.

Enrik Lauer, GWP staff member, was ghostwriter of the book ‘Income for All’ by Götz Werner. On the occasion of the death of Prof. Götz W. Werner, he reviews some experiences and results of working for many years with him:

I was deeply saddened to hear of Götz Werner’s death in the early evening of February 8th.

We had not spoken personally since the founding event of FRIBIS, but I knew from friends that his health had not been very good for some time. Now I am not a particularly spiritual person by nature. Ideas of “energies” that spread in space and time – apart from purely physical phenomena – come to me most readily as literary metaphors. But it seems that the universe has recently been making more and more attempts to convince me of the opposite. Which is why I will leave open what energy drove me on Sunday afternoon to once again reach for the second, heavily revised edition of `Income for All’ and read the introduction.

Already during the formulation of the first edition of the book mentioned in almost all obituaries in 2007, I and my colleague Regine Müller had provided editorial support to Götz Werner. During the “application” for this project (which three or four publishers were interested in realizing at the time), everything was completely different from what is commonly known. We were not faced with a single “client” who explained to us, preferably with the tape recorder running, exactly what had to be written down and how. Rather, we were received by a whole – should I say “impressive” or “intimidating”? – committee, which included Götz Werner’s friend and advisor for decades, Dr. Benediktus Hardorp, the economic mathematician and economist Wolfgang Eichhorn and several others.

Usually, at such preliminary meetings, one is first asked what qualifications and experience one brings to the table in order to be an editor for others. “Our” editor Lutz Dursthoff also had all the strong arguments ready regarding Kiepenheuer & Witsch’s good reputation and distribution strength. For nothing. It is clear that we all know our trade, said Götz Werner at the beginning. Otherwise we would hardly have come. I probably would have grinned less sheepishly if I had already known one of his favourite quotes, which was not from Freiherr vom Stein – as Götz Werner mentioned – but from Freiherr vom Stein’s collaborator Johann Gottfried Frey, but which in any case expresses one of Götz Werner’s deeply rooted basic attitudes: “Confidence ennobles a person, eternal guardianship inhibits his maturing.”

Instead, we immediately became involved in a lively discussion on the topics of basic income and consumption tax. And again, Götz Werner did not formulate theses or opinions most of the time. Rather, he asked us to present our opinions on the topics of basic income, the welfare state and taxation – and then mainly asked questions. And rather questions in the style of Queen Elizabeth II. On the occasion of the 70th anniversary of her accession to the throne, it was reported in several articles that Elizabeth II never openly disagrees with the opinions or plans of her prime ministers, not even in the weekly private meetings. Rather, the pinnacle of criticism – albeit unequivocally – is her question: “Are you sure?”

Götz Werner held it similarly at the time. That is how he has kept it in the 15 years we have worked together. That’s how he held it in the many public lectures and discussions I was able to attend. And that’s probably how he kept it in almost all business matters. He loved the question more than the answer, he preferred the common consideration of a matter to all crisp theses and quick “solutions”. The press and television demand and award prizes exclusively for punched formulas. Books only become a medium of personal interaction between author and reader, a lively exchange of ideas and thoughts, when readers question them – and let themselves be questioned by them.

Leaving aside the main staple of academics – books – no one I have had the pleasure of meeting in the course of my 60 years of life has made me think more and more often than Götz W. Werner. With his beloved “impulse questions”. With his friendly requests to reconsider a matter. With his nonchalantly casual reading recommendations. And with his objections, if any, which were usually cunning but never know-it-all. For me, Götz Werner was and remains an outstanding carrier of concerns. Not in the usual, colloquial, but in the well-understood sense of the word. All of us who have a more or less inveterate soft spot for answers will miss him.

Alexandra Pilyus, research associate at GWP, remembers the founding of GWP and FRIBIS and how she experienced Götz Werner:

My path with the GWP began even before Prof. Neumärker’s professorship became the Götz Werner Professorship. At some point, the topic of unconditional basic income began to attract academic attention in the Department of Economic Policy and Constitutional Economic Theory. I was lucky enough to witness the GWP and FRIBIS being founded afterwards: It felt like a spring that would grow into a huge, powerful river that could propel the entire economy with its mighty waters. I still remember the day Prof. Neumärker invited me to attend one of the first meetings where the first projects were presented. Götz Werner was there and listened attentively to our reports. That day I got an overwhelmingly warm feeling that Götz Werner was giving the future with the UBI. Every new person who joins our team, every new group that is founded, every new institution that emerges, every new idea that is proposed reminds me of those first days full of bright hope for a better future for humanity. But in the face of the rejection of the UBI, mostly based on misunderstanding, and a sometimes painful ignorance of what it would mean for us and our society in human terms, I sometimes feel like despairing. In these dark hours, I then remember the trust that Götz Werner put in Prof. Neumärker and us by deciding to support the UBI research in Freiburg – and that gives a boost of energy to overcome the difficulties. I am proud to be part of this team and to have the opportunity to contribute to something big with Mr Werner’s blessing. Per aspera ad astra. Thank you for everything and rest in peace, dear Götz Werner.

Philip Kovce, graduate student at the Götz Werner Chair and long-time companion of Götz Werner:

In a sense, I owe my coming of age to Götz Werner. Somehow wedged between Marx and Schiller communist-idealist and disgusted by a seemingly alternative-less day-to-day political opportunism, towards the end of my school years in the mid-noughties I experienced the thoughts of the self-proclaimed “real dreamer” as a double liberation; as liberation from the “example trap” and the “abstraction trap”, as Werner would say.

Those who are rock-solidly convinced for a thousand reasons that the good cannot work fall into the realpolitik example trap. The utopian trap of abstraction is the trap of those who, in cloud-cuckoo land, imagine exactly how the good must function. Both lead to real utopian initiatives as the elixir of life of liberal-democratic communities being inhibited – once out of fatalism, once out of fanaticism.

The way in which the equally passionate and successful rower (German Youth Champion in the double sculls in 1963) avoided these temptations – drawing from his own experience and shaping his own concepts – inspired me. As a revolutionary theorist (“Think revolutionary!”) and evolutionary practitioner (“Act evolutionary!”), Werner always invited the listeners of his free speeches and the readers of his condensed writings to empirical expeditions and demonstrations of evidence that ultimately led the individual back to himself, indeed demanded self-leadership from the individual ego – as a prerequisite for successful cooperation. Werner was a demonstrator of self-leadership. Read more (only in German)