The Whopper

“The Whopper”, by Nate Beeler
A cartoon by Nate Beeler that shows the reasoning behind Burger King’s move to Canada.

“The Whopper” is a political cartoon drawn by Nate Beeler in 2014 for The Columbus Dispatch and caglecartoons.com. It is about Burger King’s 2014 merger with Tim Horton’s, during which Burger King considered moving its headquarters to Canada. The main reason for the move, despite Burger King’s claims, was likely to significantly lower the amount of corporate taxes that Burger King would need to pay. Consequently, this cartoon is related to the Knott cartoon “Hunting Easter Eggs” and the Dallas Morning News editorial “Political Tax Bill”, since all of these portray corporate taxes as overly limiting for businesses. Specifically, in “The Whopper”, corporate taxes are shown through graphic symbolism as harmful and unreasonably high.

In August 2014, Burger King announced its intentions to buy Tim Horton’s, a large Canadian coffee chain. This deal would represent a merger that would, in addition to merging the two companies, move Burger King’s headquarters to Canada. (Hartley 1). This potential move was very significant, since the change in location would lead to Burger King paying taxes based on Canadian rates. The United States has some of the largest corporate tax rates in the world, while Canada has comparatively very low tax rates. According to The Washington Post, the move would have ended up saving Burger King 1.2 billion tax dollars over three years (Ferdman 1), in a highly disputed tax inversion.

A tax inversion is “a transaction used by a company whereby it becomes a subsidiary of a new parent company in another country for the purpose of falling under beneficial tax laws” (“Tax Inversions” 214). Tax inversions, along with other corporate actions that shelter companies from taxes, are very controversial. Tax sheltering schemes like tax inversions have effectively cost the U.S. Treasury billions of dollars over the years, which has escalated the federal deficit (Farell 63). Inversions have been so much of an issue that in early April 2016, due to concerns partially inspired by Burger King, President Barack Obama proposed new rules that would prevent U.S. companies from moving abroad to avoid taxes. “The measure appeared to end the proposed merger of U.S. pharmaceutical corporation Pfizer with Ireland’s Allergan Plc, which would have represented the largest tax inversion” (“Tax Inversions” 214) on record.

Such rules were not yet in place in 2014, so Burger King would have been legally allowed to carry out the merger. However, upon announcement of their intent to move to Canada, there was massive controversy, as expected from a tax inversion measure. Obama called companies like Burger King “corporate deserters who renounce their citizenship to shield profits” (Hartley 1), and both he and the Treasury Department began preparing bills and plans to prevent such inversions in the future, such as the aforementioned 2016 rules. In addition, consumers had historically responded unfavorably to previous corporate tax evasion. In 2013, “Starbucks saw its sales dip in the United Kingdom after the public learned the company was using complex accounting methods to pay less in taxes in the country” (Ferdman 1). Had the merger actually completely happened, it is likely a similar effect would have occurred in the United States.

Due to the massive backlash at their announcement, Burger King announced in late August that they would not move after all, and would simply share common ownership with Tim Horton’s. This was true to some extent-their headquarters did remain in Miami, the original location, but since the new parent company of both Burger King and Tim Horton’s, created by the merger, was still in Canada, Burger King still saved much tax money. Nevertheless, the maintaining of the headquarters’ location was enough to quell most of the controversy, and Burger King remains a very strong and successful company today, perhaps partially because of the money saved.

In “The Whopper”, Beeler illustrates his view of the Burger King controversy primarily through visual symbolism. Burger King’s intentions are directly shown by a Whopper, Burger King’s signature product, with a flag reading “Canada or bust!”  Meanwhile, the implied reason for the move, America’s corporate tax rate, is represented by a much larger burger, full of garbage, dangerous glass and poisons, and other disgusting objects. By using such a large and repulsive symbol for the tax rate, Beeler shows his opinion of the American tax rate, namely that it is far too high and very harmful to companies. In addition to the immediate meanings of the symbols, their juxtaposition adds more meaning to the cartoon. Most noticeably, the “Whopping American Corporate Tax Rate” (Beeler 1) contains a pun on Burger King’s signature Whopper that serves to enhance the humor of the cartoon and thus make it more accessible and entertaining for readers. More significantly, however, the burger representing the tax rate is significantly larger than the actual Whopper, which symbolizes the dominance of corporate taxation over Burger King and other corporations in general.

The entire situation, and the contemporary cartoon’s depiction of it, has some relation to the Knott cartoon “Hunting Easter Eggs” and its accompanying editorial, “Political Tax Bill”. Knott’s cartoon and the editorial both are critical of the Undistributed Profits Tax, which was a bill that charged massive corporate taxes on unspent reserve funds. Like the Knott cartoon and editorial, “The Whopper” also criticizes large corporate tax rates, even if the modern rates are general rather than for reserve funds specifically. All of the works seem to be in favor of the corporations, and show business taxes as a negative burden on businesses.

“The Whopper” provides an interesting glimpse into 2014’s business situation and the overall impact of corporate taxes on business. This cartoon is particularly of interest because of its unique viewpoint. As mentioned earlier, Burger King’s announcement was met with severe backlash, being heavily criticized by both ordinary Americans and powerful government officials. In the midst of this backlash, it is odd to see a cartoon that supports Burger King and depicts the move as a valid response to a greater issue, that issue being the massive corporate tax rates in the United States. Whether or not one agrees with this view of the controversy, it is still very useful to analyze, in order to further understand the attempted Burger King merger and the controversial general issue of corporate taxation in American. After all, taxation is an inevitable part of life in the United States, and it will always be a hotly debated issue. It is critical to have resources to understand it.

Works Cited:

Beeler, Nate. “The Whopper.” Cagle Cartoons, 27 Aug. 2014, caglecartoons.com/viewimage.asp?ID={4B1BCF82-33A5-427F-97C7-308C2F888F39}.

“Tax Inversions.” American Law Yearbook 2016: A Guide to the Year’s Major Legal Cases and Developments, Gale, 2017, pp. 214-215. Gale Virtual Reference Library, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=txshracd2598&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CCX3633800089&asid=af2451534afde7cb4a29adfbab2337ad. Accessed 17 Nov. 2017.

Farrell, Keith C. “Corporate Tax Shelters.” Encyclopedia of Contemporary American Social Issues, edited by Michael Shally-Jensen, vol. 1: Business and Economy, ABC-CLIO, 2011, pp. 59-67. Gale Virtual Reference Library, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=txshracd2598&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CCX1762600013&asid=cf85dfda1e7d01d522d806af2cb3db16. Accessed 16 Nov. 2017.

Hartley, Jon. “Burger King’s Tax Inversion and Canada’s Favorable Corporate Tax Rates.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 26 Aug. 2014, www.forbes.com/sites/jonhartley/2014/08/25/burger-kings-tax-inversion-and-canadas-favorable-corporate-tax-rates/#2ec8c4f53ed7.

Ferdman, Roberto A. “We finally have an idea of how much money Burger King will save by moving to Canada.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 11 Dec. 2014, www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/12/11/burger-king-could-save-a-whopping-amount-of-money-by-moving-to-canada/?utm_term=.51d85676f585.

Jacobson, Louis. “Burger King says it’s ‘not moving’ and ‘will continue to pay all’ of its taxes.” Edited by Angie Drobnic Holan, Politifact, 29 Aug. 2014, 5:29 pm, www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2014/aug/29/burger-king/burger-king-says-its-not-moving-and-will-continue-/.