One of the most striking scenes in the award winning series House of Cards is when the president comes out with his new plan to reduce unemployment. But instead of just promising job creation and unemployment benefits, he pulls out the big guns. He tells people to get off their ass, dream big and take responsibility for their life.
The American dream has failed you. Work hard? Play by the rules? You aren’t guaranteed success. Your children will not have a better life than you did. Ten million of you can’t even get a job, even though you desperately want one. We’ve been crippled by Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, by welfare, by entitlements. And that is the root of the problem: entitlements.
Let me be clear. You are entitled to nothing. You are entitled to nothing. America was built on the spirit of industry. You build your future. It isn’t handed to you. And the problem with Washington is that we haven’t given you the tools to build it. The only way for us to serve you is to give you the means to serve yourselves. Well, that’s exactly what I intend to do. Not handouts. Jobs. Real paying jobs. [FULL SPEECH]
For most of my life, I have been mostly left-leaning, meaning I wanted the government to just help people as much as possible. I wanted the government to give away benefits to those who need them. But over time I am starting to recognize the importance of responsibility and order in my life and in the process inspired to help people discover the same thing for themselves. That’s why I think the words of the president in the speech are very very powerful. There is no way that the government can help you feel more powerful, feel like you’ve taken responsibility for your life and feel that your life is now in order.
The government can help but they should really just be tools to get you started. By definition, you cannot get the feeling of accomplishment from a received benefit or entitlement of some kind.
I am in no way arguing that government programs shouldn’t exist to help those who have fallen down and are having trouble getting up. Not at all. In fact, in the show, the speech was actually introducing government funded work projects similar to the post Great Depression New Deal to help get the economy on its feet.
In the coming years, as the world economy shifts and changes due to ever increasing digitization and automation, we should really think about whether we want to use government as a massive redistribution operation or a lean toolmaker, which helps people believe in themselves and believe in their dreams. Maybe we should rethink how we give out benefits and whether we give out cold cash or make smart investments in people.
And maybe people who want to get elected might want to start asking “What tools do you need to build your future” instead of “What should I give you to make your miserable life more bearable”. Because when I listen to people who want to get elected, it is more of the latter than the former.
We are entitled to nothing but I sure hope that in the 21st century, governments will give us better tools to make something of ourselves. I don’t know what these tools might look and some might say that all we need is for the government to get out of the way. I’m not so sure.