House of Cards and the Singapore Budget 2015?

We finally finished our House of Cards Season 3 marathon over the weekend. Frank Underwood’s first season in the White House was unleashed in the midst of our Budget 2015 announcement and debates and we can’t help by draw associations and parallels.

Yes. For the first time, the politics in House of Cards felt closer to home.

First of all was the speech that Kevin Spacey delivered as Frank Underwood to propose a radical new policy, America Works. It sounded authoritarian, pragmatic – hard choices to keep you going.

“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…. We’ve been crippled by Social Security. By Medicare. Medicaid. Welfare. And entitlements. And that is the root of the problem. Entitlements. Let me be clear: You are entitled to nothing. You. Are entitled. To nothing.”

Underwood argues that the social security system in America was broken – and that the only way this could be fixed was to use the social security budget to pay for jobs.

“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.
Not handouts. Jobs. Real paying jobs.”

The equation is not a difficult one to understand. In Obama’s State of the Union Address 2015, reducing unemployment was chief of his concerns. Since the turn of the century, unemployment in the US has reached a high of 10%.

Equally worrying was the long term cyclical unemployment. Since the 1970s, long term unemployment rates increased. In other words, people were finding it more and more difficult to find a job the longer they were unemployed.

US Unemployment

The politics and solution with America Works is obviously made up – but the context with which it was dreamt up wasn’t. Long term unemployment has created problems in most Westernized economies and skyrocketed income inequality. This has been a three decade long trend. 

Globalisation of the marketplace has meant that international capital has a strong influence in demanding short term profits. These profits, found in quarterly earnings report are generally tied directly to a CEO’s performance. A lot of distributional factors that used to be handled in the marketplace is thus eliminated, resulting in the average person not feeling any benefit.

This is the nightmare scenario that forms the basis of the politics and struggle of House of Cards this season.

This is the nightmare scenario that our Budget 2015 seems to want to preemptively avoid. A record SGD$79.9Bn was passed, with a lot being spent in Education ($12.1bn), Public Transport ($10.9bn) and Healthcare ($9.3bn).

Upgrading skillsets to mitigate potential longer term unemployment. Improving infrastructure to improve mobility and opportunity to jobs. Progressive taxation to lower income inequality. Sounds about right in nutshell.

In a show that envisions a desired economy that is no longer a welfare/retirement system but a basic income system that is eerily closer to our Singaporean one; and a market that will not pay for these things – we are glad that our Budget can.


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