Op-Ed; Opinion

Opinion: Basic Income strengthens Soft Power

In general terms, power is “to make someone want what you want”. You can use hard power – physical force or punitive measures, such as economic sanctions – to achieve this goal. However, there is another way – you can appeal to the reason of those, whose behaviour you want to change, by rewarding (sometimes seducing or bribing) means. The latter is called soft power.

In this article I use the conflict between Russia and Ukraine to show how a basic income – a regular payment to individuals irrespective of their income – could strengthen soft power.

As some of you may already know, I witnessed 2013/14 the revolution in Ukraine. Last year, right after the revolution, Crimea was illegally annexed by Russia and soon after Russia-supported terrorists have started a military aggression against Ukraine in the east of the country. As a response, the European Union, the United States and several other countries have introduced economic sanctions against Russia. This was legally backed up by the General Assembly of the United Nations, when more than 100 countries voted to affirm the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine and made it very clear that the phoney ‘referendum’ in Crimea was illegitimate and illegal.[1]

However, a group of investigative journalists found out that the realisation of the EU sanctions is not controlled. Each member state decides on its own, whether to implement the sanctions or not. As a result, almost no assets of sanctioned Russian and pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians, officers and businessmen were seized as intended by the EU. Later, the Institute for Economy Research in Vienna conducted a study on how the EU economy could be affected by their own sanctions. The findings showed that in a worst-case scenario about two million jobs and a value added of 100 billion euros could be lost within the European Union, if the sanctions were, in fact, implemented.[2] On top of that, Ukraine is far from being the only problem in Europe. The euro crisis, the situation in Greece, and a swing to the far right are setting alarm bells ringing in the EU.[3]

Thus, an euro-dividend proposed by Philippe van Parijs[4] – a similar idea to basic income – would make the unemployment issue in the EU less dramatic, because it provides a social security net. Either proposal could solve the euro crisis or the situation in Greece, and also help stop driving excluded people to political extremists.[5]

Now you may think that basic income would rather strengthen hard power than soft power, since the EU member states would get an opportunity to sanction Russia without having negative effects on their own economy. Your way of thinking is right. However, basic income does also strengthen soft power.

According to Joseph Nye of Harvard University, a country’s soft power rests on three resources: “its culture (in places where it is attractive to others), its political values (when it lives up to them at home and abroad), and its foreign policies (when others see them as legitimate and having moral authority).”[6]

Taking these resources into account, a basic income could strengthen soft power, because it makes it easier for the EU to implement the foreign policy by imposing sanctions against Russia (legitimated by the UN) and, most importantly, by having a moral authority – as the EU would show it cares about its people and does not leave them economically alone with the effects of those sanctions.


This picture, which was at the barricades on the Maidan in Kyiv, shows that Ukraine wants to go with the EU instead of being dependant on Russian gas and adopting an authoritarian system like in Russia (picture by Ralf Haska)

Thinking back how the “Revolution of Dignity” in Ukraine started, it is obvious that the EU attracted Ukrainians with its culture and political values. When the former president Victor Yanukovych refused to sign a long-negotiated Association Agreement with the European Union, it caused deep indignation among many Ukrainians.[7] Even now, when Ukraine is war-torn and facing huge economic recession, to a great extent, due to the corrupt regime of Yanukovych, the EU is still more attractive than the authoritarian regime of Russia to most Ukrainians.

However, Ukrainians have to pay an enormously high price for their European choice. Beside the fact that there is an on-going military conflict in Eastern Ukraine resulting in tragic human loses, displacement and destruction of homes and infrastructure, they have to accept painful reforms, which decrease their income. They have to face inflation, increasing costs (mainly for energy), the devaluation of the national currency (hryvna lost more than 100 per cent from its value before the revolution) and unemployment (thousands of civil servants lost their jobs in the state sector and the jobs in the private sector are not secure).

A basic income could help Ukraine solve several problems – mainly related to corruption and social politics.[8] Ukrainians are not job-, but rather “income-less”: myriad volunteers have been helping and supporting more than a million internally displaced persons, the army, bereaved family members of killed or wounded civilians and soldiers all over the country. Even the most needy Ukrainians are willing to share what little they have to help and defend their country. The question may arise: what for?

If the EU is selling its moral values by caring more about the welfare of its economy and defending its assumed status quo rather than caring about the well-being of its people, it might lose its soft power by disappointing not only Ukrainians, but also its own people. Therefore, I think a basic income could strengthen soft power – by being attractive through common shared values and bringing back the end of the community of states to its origin: keeping peace within and among countries and in the world.


[1] Samantha Power, answer at Facebook, approximately 2:30 minutes, 16. May 2015

[2] Video of Joerg Eigendorf (English, approximately 3 minutes), Die Welt, 19. June 2015

[3] “Strange Bedfellows: Putin and Europe’s Far Right”, World Affairs, by Alina Polyakova, autumn 2014

[4] Video of the lecture by Philippe van Parijs: “No Eurozone Without a Eurodividend” (approximately 1,5 hours), BIEN-Congress in Munich 2012

[5] Interview with Guy Standing (approximately 2 minutes), 14. February 2010

[6] “The Future of Power” by Joseph S. Nye, chapter “Sources of Soft Power”, PublicAffairs, 2011

[7] “Opinion: Basic Income and the Ukrainian Revolution” by Joerg Drescher, 30. December 2013

[8] “Opinion: Universal and Guaranteed Income? A Matter of Basic Rights” by Emanuele Murra, 30. April 2012

Further readings on soft power:

A Theory of Soft Power and Korea’s Soft Power Strategy

About Joerg Drescher

Joerg Drescher has written 3 articles.

The views expressed in this Op-Ed piece are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the view of Basic Income News or BIEN. BIEN and Basic Income News do not endorse any particular policy, but Basic Income News welcomes discussion from all points of view in its Op-Ed section.

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