In 1933, a time plagued with fear and uncertainty amidst the deepest economic downturn in history, the Prime Minister of France, Albert Sarraut, believed that the French economic condition could be restored by cuts in administrative expenses, lowering taxes, and increasing shares of the gold standard. However, the French economy did not recover as expected placing a huge responsibility of the global Great Depression on France. In “The Sunken Road, ” a political cartoon by Joseph Knott, featured in The Dallas Morning News, a man on horseback leading France into an “Economic Waterloo” represents the potential economic degradation of France.
Sarraut is drawn on horseback, continuing to use the gold standard, and running into a field marked “Economic Waterloo.” The cartoon suggests that the use of the gold standard was pushing France into a horrible economic defeat. This is a reference to the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 when France, lead by Napoleon, was defeated and thus ended Napoleon’s rule as emperor (Dodds). Knott’s illustration suggested that the French economy would soon be defeated as if they were in battle. Much of the humor found in the cartoon derives from the comparison to the Battle of Waterloo. In comparing the economic situation of France to a horrible French military defeat, the audience is able to find humor in the extreme comparison.
The inflated exaggeration is also shown through the startled expression on the horse’s face. The horse exemplified that the economic decisions and leadership of France were not in their best interest. France was still using the gold standard in 1933, an economic system in which the value of currency was defined in terms of gold. Most countries including the US and Britain abandoned the gold standard in the late 1920s through the early 1930s because it did not allow much economic stimulation to take place (Lars). Thus, during the Great Depression, governments were fairly powerless in the battle against the economic downturn because the gold standard was too restrictive of a grip. Despite this, France continued to use it and even increased their share of world reserves, further harming and limiting their control on the economy.
Ultimately, between 1927 and 1932 France increased its share of world gold reserves from 7% to 27%. In comparison, many other large countries were backing out of the gold standard (Irwin). France failed to monetize much of their new reserves. They placed extreme amounts of deflation on other countries and contributed a large part of why the world witnessed a period of economic downfall before World War II. This caused France to go down in history as one of the largest global contributors to the Great Depression (Lars).
The accompanying editorial that also appeared in the Dallas Morning News, “Too Many Factions,” explained that France was concerned with the possibility of one ruler taking over. Sarraut was quick to discourage this, but the public feared Sarraut’s economic ideas would not be well received, forcing the deputies to shut down the cabinet, leading to a period of economic uncertainty with a dictatorship (“Too Many Factions” [Page 2]).
France feared “the man on horseback,” that one ruler, would take over like that of Hitler’s Nazi Germany (“Too Many Factions” [Page 2]). The analogy is humorous because of the political and historical truth behind it. France had a figurative fear that Knott depicted literally in his cartoon. Because of differing opinions in the French government about how to deal with the economic crisis and despite the fact that Prime Minister Sarraut was opposed to opening relations with Germany, France was forced to look at Germany with a small amount of envy for its political unity and strength, but with greater fear that a single dictatorial rule would suppress differing opinions and actions within their government (Weinburg [Page 32]). Knott’s cartoon shed light on the economic and diplomatic issues that challenged France in 1933. These issues ultimately impacted not only the French economy, but also the World economy.
Christensen, Lars. “France Caused the Great Depression – Who Caused the Great Recession?” The Market Monetarist. 3 Oct. 2011. Web. 5 Nov. 2015.
Dodds, Lawrence. “The Battle of Waterloo, as It Happened on June 18, 1815.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group. Web. 6 Nov. 2015.
Irwin, Douglas. “Did France Cause the Great Depression?” NBER (2010) Web. 5 Nov. 2015.
Knott, John F. “ The sinking road.” Cartoon. The Dallas Morning News [Dallas] 18 Nov. 1933: n. pag. Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. Web.02 Nov.2015. <http://www.lib.utexas.edu/taro/utcah/02261/cah-02261.html>.
“Too Many Factions.” Editorial. The Dallas Morning News [Dallas, Texas] 18 Nov. 1933: 2. Print.
Weinburg, Gerhard L. Hitler’s Foreign Policy 1933-1939. New York: Enigma Books, 2005. Print.
“WHKMLA : History of France, The Economy 1929-1939.” WHKMLA : Historyof France, The Economy 1929-1939. Web. 3 Nov. 2015.