Tag Archives: Budget

“Economic Growth Seeds”

In a 2017 cartoon by Gary Varvel, President Donald Trump is depicted as Johnny Appleseed tossing around the "seeds" of tax cuts, while the Democratic Donkey questions the practicality of his actions.
In a 2017 cartoon by Gary Varvel, President Donald Trump is depicted as Johnny Appleseed tossing around the “seeds” of tax cuts, while the Democratic Donkey questions the practicality of his actions.

The issues of tax legislation and general economic ideology have dominated the political sphere of the United States throughout the nation’s history, and being central matters of debate and partisan disagreement they have carved out two primary sides of the argument over time. Today, President Donald Trump’s rhetoric regarding a tax revolution and the ensuing Legislative proposals offered by the Republican Party are characteristic of supply-side, or trickle-down, economic theory, in which business investment is stimulated by making funds more available to corporations and the wealthy, and as a result economic improvement occurs from the top-down. This policy was also a core component to the presidencies of both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Others, however, have pushed for the style of Keynesian economics, or the theory that government spending is the key to economic stimulation, as seen by President Barack Obama’s economic policies. Both theories face the issue of finding sources of funding to supplement losses of government revenue that result either due to spending more or receiving less.

Gary Varvel, an opinion cartoonist for the Indianapolis Star Newspaper, published the cartoon, “Economic Growth Seeds,” on April 28, 2017 (Varvel). The cartoon refers to President Donald Trump’s adamant announcement of his plans for the “largest tax cut in our country’s history” (Walsh). Moreover, Varvel reveals a particular case of the ongoing argument of economic policy and the question of how the government is to maintain its revenue while implementing its policy. The cartoon shows the perspective of both sides of the Trump tax cut debate and its consistency with politics throughout history, and raises the issue that there lacks a decent means in which to respond to the funding question; usually the federal budget deficit takes the hit.

Varvel’s illustration consists of two characters: President Trump on the right and a personified donkey on the left, which symbolizes the Democratic Party (Makemson 256). Varvel doesn’t portray President Trump sporting his normal presidential suit and working the Oval Office, however. The cartoon instead depicts Trump as John Chapman — more widely known as the folk hero, “Johnny Appleseed” — tossing seeds into hills of plowed fields from a large bag labeled, “Tax Cut Seeds.” Chapman, born in Massachusetts in 1774, traveled throughout Pennsylvania and Ohio to harvest apple nurseries and sharing his knowledge with settlers on the American Frontier. In the cartoon, President Trump, or Mr. Appleseed, appears to be walking with a haughty and confident posture while carelessly throwing the seeds all around. In contrast to Varvel’s depiction, Chapman planted his apple seeds for strategic economic reasons (“Johnny Appleseed”).

Such an alteration of the Appleseed story conveys a dynamic of order in chaos present in the Trump tax plan, in which his idea is that his concept would distribute growth itself. This element of simplicity may be Varvel’s reason for referring to Johnny Appleseed, who left the growth of his apple trees to nature and the people along his path whom he taught how to tend to the trees. Similarly, Trump and the Republican tax cutters are relying on and trusting the natural process of economics for their “seeds” to grow and prosper.

The other character, the Donkey/Democratic Party, is standing behind Trump’s path of travel, leaning over with his hands extended outward toward the seeds on the ground in a gestural expression of disbelief as he questions with a dropped jaw, “How are you going to pay for this?” The face of Trump appears to be whistling and completely ignorant of the donkey’s concerns. This interaction reveals a common issue in politics, in which one side questions the other’s proposal with the age-old dilemma of how to and who will pay for it; usually the party with their hands on the Congressional reigns simply ignores the opposition. Despite the cartoon’s original caption, which states, “Impatient Democrats seem not to understand the principle of sowing and reaping,” the Democrats do have a right to pose this question, especially because the idea behind Trump’s tax cuts has been seen in our country before (Varvel).

Specifically, this idea was featured in 1980’s America as supply-side economics rose to prominence. When Ronald Reagan became the 40th president of the United States in 1981, he faced a flurry of major economic issues. The country was still recovering from the Vietnam War, prices were increasing rapidly as a result of a Middle Eastern oil embargo, and a recession was well under way after a long period of stagflation in the 1970s. Thus was introduced “Reaganomics,” which consisted of supply-side economic policy — removing impediments to the supply of factors of production by implementing spending cuts to reduce the size of government and a monetary policy that controls inflation, eliminating federal regulation on businesses, simplifying the system of tax brackets and a broader base, and cutting income taxes across the board to encourage investment and allow for money to trickle down to the private sector (“Reaganomics”). The Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981 introduced a tax rate decrease from 70% to 50% for the top tax bracket and a drop from 14% to 11% for the lowest bracket (Schein 650). Soon after, the Tax Reform Act of 1986 implemented major changes to tax policy, including the simplification of income taxation to three brackets with the rates of 15%, 28% and 33%. The Reagan Tax Cuts aimed to stimulate the economy by allowing for more investment, and in broad respect succeeded in improving the economy (“Tax Reform Act of 1986”).

The Trump-backed 2017 Republican tax plan functions in a similar way, and would be the first massive tax overhaul since 1986 (Financial Advisor). It follows the supply side concept that has become a central component of the Republican Party since the Reagan Administration. Although still incomplete, Trump’s prospective bill sets out to simplify the income tax brackets for individuals and families from seven to three, solidifying rates at 12%, 25% and 35% (Bryan). However, due to criticism there will most likely be an added fourth bracket at the top (“Trump Discusses”). As a result of the proposal, more of the middle class in Trump’s plan will be paying what is currently the rate for only the lowest middle class bracket. Additionally, the plan introduces the “Zero Tax Bracket,” in which the standard deduction is expanded to nearly double what it is now, requiring that the first $12,000 of income for individuals and $24,000 for married couples be exempt from taxation. The plan also aims to lower the highest tax bracket from 39.5% to 35%. The greatest change, however, involves business tax rates. With the principle of supply-side economics at the heart of Trump’s political stance, his proposed tax reform will lower the corporate tax rate from 35% to 20% (Bryan). It would also lower the pass-through business tax rate — the rate of taxation of small business profits that go directly to individuals — from the top bracket level of 39.6% to the new middle level of 25% (Morgan).

The problem with Trump’s tax plan, and what ended up being the weakness with similar plans put in place previously, is the national budget deficit. The Reagan Tax Cuts — though not completely alone, as they were accompanied by Congress’s failure to cut domestic spending and the defense expense at the end of the Cold War — contributed widely to the $1 trillion federal deficit in the 1980s (“Reaganomics”). The Bush Tax Cuts in the early 2000s followed the same trend. H.W. Bush put in place measures to incentivize production, but while economic growth did occur, increased government spending in a time of the September 11th terrorist attacks in New York City and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan caused further depletion of the national revenue (Evans 17-19). In Trump’s and the Republican’s case, the new tax codes would cost the national revenue $4 to $6 trillion in the next 10 years, according to the Tax Foundation, and no substantial proposals have been put forth to offset this loss of revenue (Stewart). Some Republicans claim that new revenues will be gained from eliminating tax loopholes and — as per the Johnny Appleseed concept — the economy will take care of itself if investment is allowed to increase (Morgan). The tax plan will also eliminate most itemized deductions and the state and local tax deduction, which are both potential sources of revenue (Bryan).

Ultimately, the main claim of both Varvel, Trump and many Republicans is that the tax cuts alone are the seeds of economic growth; although there may be a slight deficit as the seeds solidify their presence in the ground and establish their roots, in time they will sprout and the economy will grow on its own. However, in an interview with House Speaker Paul Ryan in September of 2017, he did not promise the tax overhaul would not increase the federal deficit, and said the primary goal was to “bolster economic growth” (“The Latest”). The question of how the government plans to balance the upcoming loss of revenue is still up in the air.

Varvel’s cartoon bears several parallels with John Knott’s March 26, 1937 cartoon entitled, “The Tax Expert,” which referred to a tax remission bill proposed in the Texas House of Representatives — a topic of controversy in the state in the 1930’s (Knott). First, the bill Knott portrayed was fueled by the same idea behind Trump’s proposed tax cuts, ultimately aiming to provide the same kind of economic relief in a time of financial difficulty for citizens. While Trump today faces decade-old remnants of the Great Recession of 2008, the Texas Legislature in 1937 was caught up in the distress of the Great Depression of the 1930’s. The 1937 tax remission proposal intended to provide a tax rebate to all Texas counties, which could then use the money as they pleased to improve the conditions of their respective areas. In the same way, Trump’s plan maintains a large focus on cutting taxes for businesses with the thought that if there was more money available to be spent at the corporate level, investment would increase and thus “[extend] economic opportunities to American workers, small business, and middle-income families” (Bryan). Essentially, the overall goal of both measures was and is to to establish a fairer and more evenly distributed method of taxation by getting the money out of the hands of the government and into the control of smaller units — Texas counties and United States businesses — and trusting the basics of economics to guide the money into the hands of the people at every level below.

In regard to balancing the government revenue with the release of funds in the form of tax remission or tax cuts, both cartoons emphasize the uncertainty that comes with such measures. In Varvel’s cartoon, the donkey asks the obvious question about the course of action in place to make a tax cut feasible in terms of the federal budget. The fact that the donkey is empty-handed and Trump is only holding the tax cut seeds and no other economic measures proposes that there is not a good, tangible method made available as an offset to the revenue that will be lost as a result of the cuts, and Democratic Party is skeptical of the Republican claim that the cuts themselves will consequentially refill the revenue by means of the trickle-down model. Opponents of the Trump tax reform believe that it is likely that there really isn’t a decent way to pay for the plan and therefore a large federal budget deficit would ensue (Stewart). Knott’s cartoon displayed the same sort of doubtfulness, suggesting that the passage of the tax remission bill could not in reality stand alone without some way to balance the budget. In Knott’s view and the view of the democratic governor at the time, James Allred, the likely result of large-scale tax remission would be higher taxes for the regular taxpayer, as depicted by the legislators hand reaching into the pocket of Old Man Texas for money (“Tax Remission”).

The opposition — primarily the Democratic Party — has historically offered a different solution on the other end of the spectrum of economic policy. The concept of Keynesian economics has been the dominant force of Democratic legislation since President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s utilization of the theory in the New Deal after the onset of the Great Depression of the 1930’s, and the large amount of government spending required by World War II that proved to improve the United States economy (May 540-541). Despite being opposed to the Trump tax cuts on the basis that they will cause the deficit to bubble to an unhealthy level because there is no other source of revenue as a part of the plan, Democratic policy has been characterized by the same problem. Responding to the 2008 Recession, Obama implemented the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which largely increased the government’s spending while reducing its revenue-raising options (Sahadi). Thus, the roles of Varvel’s cartoon were reversed, as members of the Republican Party, concerned about a ballooning deficit themselves, criticized the policy with an argument similar to that of the Democratic Party in response to Trump’s plan.

Both cartoons highlight that it is extremely difficult to come up with a balanced fiscal policy. No matter the side — republican, democratic, conservative, liberal, or any other party or ideology — there will be opponents claiming that there is no way to pay for the proposed plan. As seen in both 1937 and 2017, the fight over the government’s role in the economy and ensuing impact on the federal or state budget deficit has remained fundamentally the same. The cases of Knott and Varvel portray the concept of the government placing control over money in the hands of the governed to improve their financial situation and ultimately the economy as a whole, and the opposing argument that there exists no viable source to provide those funds to the people. Yet the two sides can easily be switched when the government spends excessively. In general, the major economic ideologies of supply-side economics and Keynesian economics differ only in who is put in charge of spending — either the people or the government, respectively — but both lead to the same problem of balance. As we move forward, it is important to realize that the same problem may have many different methods for solving it, and while the economy is a massive enigma, by working together we can begin to progress toward better and better reform.

 

Works Cited

Bryan, Bob. “IT’S HERE: All the Details of Trump’s Massive Tax Plan.” Business Insider, Axel Springer, 27 Sept. 2017, www.businessinsider.com/trump-tax-plan-details-corporate-rate-individual-brackets-deductions-cuts-2017-9.

Evans, Kim Masters. “The U.S. Economy: Historical Overview.” The American Economy, 2009 ed., Gale, 2009, pp. 1-19. Information Plus Reference Series. Gale Virtual Reference Library, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=txshracd2598&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CCX1838100007&it=r&asid=78f00a60eadedfbfc5226bf27aab3d10. Accessed 23 Oct. 2017.

“Johnny Appleseed: A Pioneer Hero.” Environmental Issues: Essential Primary Sources, edited by Brenda Wilmoth Lerner and K. Lee Lerner, Gale, 2006, pp. 21-23. Gale Virtual Reference Library, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=txshracd2598&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CCX3456400021&it=r&asid=8d11bf000834a204e8cd2134997295ad. Accessed 12 Nov. 2017.

Knott, John Francis. “The Tax Expert.” The Dallas Morning News, No. 17 ed., 26 Mar. 1937, p. 4.

Makemson, Harlen. “Cartoonists, Political.” Encyclopedia of Journalism, edited by Christopher H. Sterling, vol. 1, SAGE Reference, 2009, pp. 253-261. Gale Virtual Reference Library, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=txshracd2598&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CCX3202300070&asid=0be6461c4df61d0480aca18fc13115d5. Accessed 14 Nov. 2017.

MAY, DEAN L. “Keynesian Economics.” Encyclopedia of the Great Depression, edited by Robert S. McElvaine, vol. 1, Macmillan Reference USA, 2004, pp. 539-541. Gale Virtual Reference Library, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=txshracd2598&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CCX3404500304&it=r&asid=55eeb9551783fd782464aa2fc29212f7. Accessed 12 Nov. 2017.

Morgan, David, and Richard Cowan. “Trump’s Plan Calls For 25% Rate On Pass-Through Entities.” Financial Advisor, Reuters, 27 Sept. 2017, www.fa-mag.com/news/trump-s-plan-calls-for-slashing-taxes-on-businesses–the-wealthy-34898.html?section=3&page=2.

“Reaganomics.” Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History, edited by Thomas Carson and Mary Bonk, vol. 2, Gale, 2000, pp. 863-865. Gale Virtual Reference Library, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=txshracd2598&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CCX3406400794&it=r&asid=ae58407f5b57e4de68e6663b23ec3dd3. Accessed 23 Oct. 2017.

Sahadi, Jeanne. “Tax the Rich: How Obama Will Pay for His Stimulus Package.” CNN Money, Cable News Network, 12 Sept. 2011, 6:42 PM ET, money.cnn.com/2011/09/12/news/economy/stimulus_package/index.htm.

Schein, David D. “Economic Recovery Tax Act (ERTA).” Encyclopedia of Business Ethics and Society, edited by Robert W. Kolb, vol. 2, SAGE Publications, 2008, pp. 649-650. Gale Virtual Reference Library, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=txshracd2598&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CCX2660400267&it=r&asid=f225e93d831cfe85ea2d3ba30438de9b. Accessed 25 Oct. 2017.

Stewart, James B. “Economists Fear Trump’s Tax Plan Only Heightens a ‘Mountain of Debt’.” The New York Times, The New York Times Company, 27 Apr. 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/04/27/business/economy/trump-tax-plan-deficit-column.html.

“Tax Reform Act of 1986.” Gale Encyclopedia of American Law, edited by Donna Batten, 3rd ed., vol. 9, Gale, 2010, pp. 483-484. Gale Virtual Reference Library, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=txshracd2598&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CCX1337704281&it=r&asid=b919f3118192207fdebadc599bf3c91e. Accessed 25 Oct. 2017.

“Tax Remission.” The Dallas Morning News, No. 177 ed., 26 Mar. 1937. Dallas Morning News Newspaper Archive Database, Readex, infoweb.newsbank.com/iw-search/we/HistArchive/?p_product=EANX&p_theme=ahnp&p_nbid=Q56N4FQEMTUwODI5MTEzOS41MDQ0OTc6MToxMzoxMjguNjIuNjAuMTA1&p_docref=v2:0F99DDB671832188@EANX-10425A715CE83A7F@2428619-10425A7265F96F45@27pp. 28–28.

“The Latest: Ryan Opens Door to Tax Cuts Adding to Deficit.” US News, The Associated Press, 13 Sept. 2017, 5:31 p.m., www.businessinsider.com/trump-tax-plan-details-corporate-rate-individual-brackets-deductions-cuts-2017-9.

“Trump Discusses New Tax Plan, Texas And Florida Hit By Job Loss.” The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, 23 Oct. 2017, publicpolicy.wharton.upenn.edu/live/news/2177-trump-discusses-new-tax-plan-texas-and-florida-hit.

Varvel, Gary. “Cartoonist Gary Varvel: Economic Growth Seeds.” Indy Star, USA Today Network, 27 Apr. 2017, 4:09 p.m. ET, www.indystar.com/story/opinion/columnists/varvel/2017/04/27/cartoonist-gary-varvel-economic-growth-seeds/100989380/.

Walsh, Kenneth T. “The Path to a Deficit.” US News, US News & World Report L.P., 29 Sept. 2017, 6:00 a.m., www.usnews.com/news/the-report/articles/2017-09-29/trumps-tax-plan-could-lead-to-a-huge-deficit.

The Shrinking Royal Navy

 

A man in 17th century naval dress stands on a raft that is sinking in the middle of the sea. He wears a hat that reads, “From Nelson to Nothing in 200 Years.” As the sun sets behind him in a rowboat a sailor says, “The boy stood on the budget deck, the unrealistic commitments around his neck.”
A man in 17th century naval dress stands on a raft that is sinking in the middle of the sea. He wears a hat that reads, “From Nelson to Nothing in 200 Years.” As the sun sets behind him in a rowboat a sailor says, “The boy stood on the budget deck, the unrealistic commitments around his neck.”

 

The Shrinking Royal Navy, a political cartoon by Iain Green, was created on July 30th, 2013 in response to the news that the Royal Navy was letting go of their commitment to NATO because Great Britain’s budget could not afford it. As Horatio Nelson, a symbol of the once powerful British navy, is sinking, the sailormen of today salute him in farewell. Although the budget of the Royal Navy was continuing to weaken, Great Britain was losing control of their commitments as their ship, or raft, was going under.

The cartoon shows a man in 17th century naval dress, Horatio Nelson, standing on a raft that is sinking in the middle of the sea. The man has three medals hanging around his neck that appear to be weighing on him and a “For Sale” badge on his chest. He wears a hat that reads: “From Nelson to Nothing in 200 Years.” Behind the man, sitting in a rowboat are three faceless naval sailors. The sailor in the middle holds a small blue flag with the letters RN on it, meaning Royal Navy. The two sailors on either side are each holding their ores in attention, as the middle sailor says, “the boy stood on the budget deck, the unrealistic commitments around his neck.” Behind them, the flag of the Royal Navy called the White Ensign flies at half-mast mourning the death of the once greatest navy. In the background, many 17th century style ships line the horizon as the sun sets on them.

The commitments hanging around the naval officer’s neck are the Med, the Mediterranean Sea, the Atlantic, the Atlantic Ocean, and NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. “Defence ministers have admitted the UK has been forced to pull out of key NATO naval defence groups in a sign of just how stretched the Royal Navy has become.” This quote from an article published on July 30th, 2013 in The Scotsman, Scotland’s National Newspaper, explains how the Royal Navy was no longer fulfilling their commitment to NATO in 2013. Further investigation revealed that they had been failing to provide their promised ships to the maritime group in the Mediterranean since 2010 (Maddox). The navy that once ruled the seas could no longer keep their commitments.

The Royal Navy has been around since 1660, and became recognized as the world’s dominant naval power after the Battle of Trafalgar led by Horatio Nelson on March 15th, 1805 (“Royal Navy History.”). In response to budget cuts in 1931, the Washington Post published a piece on the discontent saying, “For the first time in centuries the crew of a British fleet became recalcitrant this week on account of a reduction in pay, and put a stop to projected maneuvers” (“Britain’s Navy.”). This was not the last time that great Britain balanced the budget at the expense of the navy. In fact, the royal navy has been in a steady decline since the 1930’s (Kuehn). In 2013, when the cartoon was published, there were more admirals then ships (Gallagher). 

The Shrinking Royal Navy shows what has come of the Royal Navy since the start of the navy’s decline in 1931. John Francis Knott’s cartoon titled, “Well, I’ll Be Blowed!”  mocks the situation that Great Britain was in when their navy first started declining due to the budget cuts during the Great Depression. 

The cartoon, The Shrinking Royal Navy, pulls humor from Great Britain’s desperate pride of the navy that they used to have. It is humorous because people find the misfortune of others to be amusing as is explained by the Superiority Theory of Humor. Not only is the idea itself comedic, but the way it is portrayed. Green painted the greatest sea power sinking into the ocean as the sun sets on it’s reign. He also uses bright colors, rhyming in “deck” and “neck”, and the alliterations of “nelson” and “nothing” to make the situation seem trivial. All the way to the “For Sale” sign on his chest, mocking the cuts in the budget and with the flag at half-mast, the sailors in the background are in mourning of their precious navy.

Once the world’s greatest naval force, Great Britain’s sea power is not what it once was without the resources needed to fulfill their commitments and stay afloat. But as the sun is setting on the British sea power, the beauty of what once was shines reflected on the water.

 

Works Cited

“Britain’s Navy.” The Washington Post (1923-1954) Sep 17, Washington, D.C., 1931. http://ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/150090962?accountid=7118. Accessed 29 Nov. 2016.

Gallagher, Nicholas M. “When Britain Really Ruled the Waves.” The American Interest. The American Interest LLC, 14 Nov. 2014. Accessed 29 Nov. 2016. http://www.the-american-interest.com/2014/11/14/when-britain-really-ruled-the-waves/.

Green, Iain. “The Shrinking of the Royal Navy.” Cagle.com, edited by Daryl Cagle, Cagle Cartoons, 4 Aug. 2013, www.cagle.com/iain-green/2013/08/the-shrinking-british-royal-navy. Accessed 29 Nov. 2016. Cartoon.

Kuehn, John T. “The Decline and Fall of British Sea Power May Not Be Over.” War on the Rocks. War on the Rocks, 05 Dec. 2015. Accessed 29 Nov. 2016. http://warontherocks.com/2015/12/the-decline-and-fall-of-british-sea-power-may-not-be-over/.

Maddox, David. “Royal Navy Pulls out of Nato Commitments.” The Scotsman. Johnson Publishing, 30 July 2013. Accessed 29 Nov. 2016. http://www.scotsman.com/news/politics/royal-navy-pulls-out-of-nato-commitments-1-3020604.

“Royal Navy History.” Royalnavy.mod.uk. Royal Navy, 2014. Accessed 29 Nov. 2016. http://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/news-and-latest-activity/features/history-timeline.

Militarist Nation, Coming and Going

militarist nation coming and going

Amid shifting political powers and tense foreign relations of the early 1930’s, both France and Japan faced the challenge of balancing their budgets between the economic depression and the necessity of increased military spending. An editorial, written by an unknown author in 1933 in the Dallas Morning Newspaper, “Troublesome Budgets”, explicates the larger political stakes at play. It reveals the French government, urged by Premier Daladier, has increased taxes to offset the budget deficit and that while the Japanese Parliament is not currently in session, they will soon face the same dilemma. Frances is pressured to give out loans to the Japanese territory, Manchukuo, and that Japan is under pressure to forge a diplomatic agreement with the Soviet Union. Due to the debts and future responsibilities of both these countries, they cannot truly afford a full-scale war without assured bankruptcy, so they must remain open to political agreements with Germany and other potentially hostile nations. While admitting the concerning nature of these events, the author is optimistic, as these concessions may lead to the prevention of a massive, global war (Troublesome Budgets).

In the accompanying political cartoon, Militarist Nation, Coming and Going, John Francis Knott, a prominent cartoonist of the era, satirizes the precarious political situation of the French government in 1933, challenged with maintaining military strength in the wake of the devastation of World War I and facing the economic downturn of the Great Depression (Knott). The illustration depicts the front and back of a French soldier representing the two opposing sides of the interwar French government. His front, a crisp and well-maintained uniform with the words “Millions For Armament” on the ammunition pouches, is the paragon of military ideals, the image France wanted to convey to Germany as part of their defensive mentality. The back, however, is in tatters, covered with patches stating “taxes”, “unbalanced budget”, “defaulted debts” and “reduced wages”. The implied pacing motion of the soldier could be interpreted as a metaphor for France being on guard, a sentry keeping an eye out for possible warlike advancements by Germany. The soldier is wearing prototypical uniform of the World War I era, complete with an Adrian helmet, made of steel, and only issued to soldiers in heavy combat (Suciu). The defensive nature of the soldier’s uniform, as well as his worried expression is parallel to the apprehensive, tense nature of France during the interwar period. The patches on the uniform represent temporary sacrifices that are meant to fix the holes in the economy. This exposes what is underneath pretense of the supposedly formidable French Armed Forces: a weakened economy and divided populous.

The events leading up to this period in French history are crucial for understanding and interpreting the mentality of the French government and people. The French and global economies were still recovering from the devastation of the first World War, ending in 1918, with a victory by the Allies (Britain, France, Russia, Italy and the United States) and the creation of the League of Nations, aimed at preventing another worldwide military conflict. Germany, due to the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, was mandated to make war reparations, however because of their ruined economy, were unable to complete the payments, leaving France to fend for themselves, who in turn had to repay war debts to the United States. France had to spend large sums of money on reconstruction to repair the damage to the infrastructure and the ingrained societal systems (Hautcoeur 9). In 1924, taxes were too low to balance the budget, but instead of raising taxes they lowered the interest rate on bonds, which led to a decrease in the purchase of bonds which worsened the recession. In 1926, Prime Minister Raymond Poincare was given nearly absolute power over the economy and repaired by implementing new sales taxes and trimming the fat off the bureaucracy (Beaudry 16). While this left the economy in relatively good shape, the shock of World War I had created a defensive mentality in France. The resulting turmoil led to support for extremist groups and split France into two diametrically opposed, radical political alliances: The National Bloc, the right, who advocated for business, the army and were hellbent on revenge against Germany, and the Cartel des Guaches, a coalition of leftist parties who lobbied for the lower-middle class and were in favor of a foreign policy of security by negotiation.

The differing economic policies of the alignments came into play in 1931, when the Great Depression began to affect France. The Depression was not as consequential in France as it was in the United States; the French economy was mainly self-sufficient and relied on smaller business and local economies (Beaudry 12). The mentality towards depression was different than that of the United States; it was seen as a necessary evil to purge excess money and to send indebted companies, barely staying afloat, to failure. A success of the government was that they maintained a restrictive and procyclical policy, meaning that in a recession, they reduced government spending and increased taxes, which helped them avoid the full implications of the depression (Hautcoeur 7).

In 1933, the year of the cartoon, radicalistic Prime Minister Edouard Daladier, in an effort to avoid repeating the mistakes of the 1920’s, made the argument to Parliament that the augmentation of taxes is needed to offset the necessary military spending (Troublesome Budgets). This request is granted, demonstrating that they have learned from their past economic mistakes, however, in his cartoon, Knott outlines all their new errors. While Parliament is focusing on armament and defensive foreign policy, they are ignoring the crucial implications for their own economy. The largest militaristic expenditure was the Maginot Line, proposed by André Maginot, the French Minister of War, at the cost of 3 billion francs, a tactical defensive perimeter that spanned eighty-seven miles of the German-French border (Wilde). This dismal financial situation left France struggling to maintain insecure political relations and commit to defensive military tactics, while feigning to have the upper hand. Their financial difficulties made them receptive to Japanese and German demands, for treaties and military movements.

The irony in Knott’s cartoon is apparent in that things are not always what they seem on the surface. The title, Militarist Nation, Coming and Going, while fitting the illustration, seems to also imply the inevitable fall of France as an imperialist empire, in part due to its unrealistic budget priorities. Before the first half the 20th century, French was a prominent and influential player on the global stage. However, the two World Wars left the economy, politics and infrastructure of France devastated, and France was never able to return to its former status as a major power.

 

Works Cited

Beaudry, Paul, and Franck Portier. “The French Depression in the 1930s.” Review of Economic Dynamics 5.1 (2002): 73-99. Web. 20 Nov. 2016.
Hautcoeur, Pierre-Cyrille, and Pierre Sicsic. “Threat of a Capital Levy, Expected Devaluation and Interest Rates in France During the Interwar Period.” SSRN Electronic Journal (n.d.): n. pag. Web. 20 Nov. 2016.
Knott, John. “Militarist Nation, Coming and Going.” Dallas Morning News 19 Oct. 1933, 19th ed., sec. 2: 14. Print.
Kuttner, Robert. “The Economic Maginot Line.” The American Prospect. N.p., 11 Aug. 2011. Web. 20 Nov. 2016.
Suciu, Peter. “The First Modern Steel Combat Helmet: The French ‘Adrian’ – Military Trader.” Military Trader. N.p., 2011. Web. 20 Nov. 2016.
“Troublesome Budgets.” Editorial. Dallas Morning News 19 Oct. 1933, 19th ed., sec. 2: 14. Print.
Wilde, Robert. “The Maginot Line: France’s Defensive Failure.” About.com Education. N.p., 2016. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.

 

U.S. Military Spending

wolverton-cartoon

In recent decades, the American government has been harshly criticized for their increased military spending at the expense of other public benefits and programs. The 2004 Monte Wolverton cartoon titled “U.S. Military Spending”, mocks this issue, depicting a caricature of George Bush as president, obediently shoveling piles money into the gaping maw of a US military officer, entitled “U.S. Military Spending” that is demanding “FEED ME!” (Wolverton). While this cartoon takes a decisively negative stance on U.S. budget priorities, an argument can be made that it was necessary, as the heightened military spending is in response to a complex and precarious political balance, beginning near the turn of the millennium.

In the 1990’s, President Bill Clinton presided over an unexpected period of economic prosperity and budget surplus. While the United States had recently exited the Cold War, there were no prominent military conflicts, and it was at the height of its imperialistic power, and the nations’ influence was far-reaching and authoritative. However, during George Bush’s presidency, a tragedy occurred. The terrorist group, al-Qaeda coordinated and executed four catastrophic attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people and wounded over 6,000 others. Monetarily, they caused over 10 billion dollars in property damage and 3 trillion dollars in total cost to the United States (Bram 2). The September 11, 2001 attacks on the twin towers fundamentally changed the outlook and temperament of the nation. There was a palpable shift towards anxiety and paranoia in the mindset of the collective American citizenry, and a movement greater defense spending and heightened airline security. Even as early as early as 2016, the history of the culture and actions United States can be divided into ‘pre’ and ‘post’ 9/11 (Butler 4). At the time fear mongering and threats from Middle Eastern nations made it easy to convince the United States population that the military spending was imperative.

The resulting Afghanistan war was a response to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, beginning in 2001 when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan. The purported goal was to remove al-Qaeda from a position of power, by eliminating the Taliban, a fundamentalist Islamic movement that wanted to implement Sharia law (Santos 148). To date, it remains the longest U.S. military conflict in its history (Kim 16). The following period was a time of strained political and societal tensions, characterized by an increase in government military spending. Following the conflict in Afghanistan, anti-Middle east sentiments carried over into the Iraq war, which began in 2003 with the invasion of Iraq and lasted the better part of the next decade as the U.S. remained in the country to destroy the government of Saddam Hussein and oppose the resulting insurgency. In 2003, approval ratings of the war with Iraq were high, as the attacks on the twin towers had renewed patriotism and nationalism, and the public was hungry for revenge. However, as the war dragged on, enthusiasm decreased, and the war, as well as president George Bush, faced widespread criticism. For some, the reasons for entering the war, the supposed existence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, were not sufficient (Santos 145). These arguments have merit, as the war was a significant military expenditure, with the total cost estimated to be $1.7 trillion dollars; however, the long term economic effects were estimated to be more than ten times this (Donovan 4).

The contemporary controversy over the U.S. military budget stems from different views about the purpose of the U.S. military. Some believe that our military serves a fundamentally different purpose from that of the armed forces of all other nations, such as that of China and Russia. They believe that the U.S. has and should take on the role of “world police”, that out military’s purpose is to fight terrorism and intervene on the behalf of our allies. For these people, the fact that the United States outpaces all other nations in military expenditures seems logical and necessary. Others however, believe that the U.S. should only enter conflict if it is a direct attack on the United States, by another nation.

In 1933, John Francis Knott, a historically famous political cartoonist published Militarist Nation, Coming and Going, in the Dallas Morning News (Knott). The drawing depicts the front and back of a French World War 1 soldier: the front of the uniform pristine and reading “Millions For Armaments”, while the back is tattered and worn, with patches which portray the problems that the unbalanced budget faces, such as “taxes” and “defaulted debts”. Knott satirizehe duality of the predicament that France faced at the time: having to maintain a facsimile of military strength, while facing economic crisis and outstanding war debts.

In comparing these two cartoons, it is evident that while they share the same subject matter, a criticism of a military overspending in a nations’ budget, the approach taken by each cartoonist is different, to better represent the nation at hand. In Knott’s cartoon, it can be inferred that the French have put up a façade of a strong military and keep their budget constraints and struggling economy under wraps, while the United States is almost unapologetically gluttonous in their military spending, even when the popular opinion it that it is entirely unnecessary. While the French soldier is depicted as strong and well kept, the commander in the Wolverton illustration is cartoonishly obese, implying that the French expenditure was costly, but necessary, while the United States spends out of greed and pride. The cartoon also implies that Bush is an obedient, mindless servant to the military-industrial complex. He simply is shoveling money into its “mouth”, without closely figuring out how much it would cost or paying any attention to balancing the budget. The Wolverton cartoon is more explicit in its intended point than the Knott cartoon, guiding readers towards the rhetorical question “Enough money left for everything else?”, while Knott assumes the reader has the relevant context and can correctly infer the point.

The implications of the French cartoon, as well as their political and economic situation at the time, are much further reaching than may initially be perceived. The French prewar period, prior to World War II, hallmarked by uncertainty and augmented military spending, can be compared to the period of political instability that currently threatens the United States. At the time, the French did not know for certain of the inevitability of the World War II, an event which justified their increased military budget during the interwar period. World War I was denominated “The War to End All Wars”, the worst war that had happened or will happen, and critics of the French budget priorities claimed nothing on this scale could ever happen again. Yet, within 20 years, Germany had once again become an aggressor, sparking the terrible conflict of World War II. The critiques of the current United States budget claim it is preparing for a conflict that will never happen. However, the contemporary United States doesn’t have the benefit of 80 years of hindsight to determine whether their unbalanced budget will be the most advantageous solution for the current predicament. Unprecedented military and cultural instability in the Middle East, as well as political conflict in Europe, is provoking a period of uncertainty, as there is no way to tell whether our nation is heading towards another ruinous global clash or total disarmament. It could also signify the loss of the United States’ status as the dominant global power, just as France lost its political status after the second World War.

Works Cited

Bram, Jason, James Orr, and Carol Rapaport. “Measuring the Effects of the September 11 Attack on New York City.” Economic Policy Review 8.2 (2002): n. pag. Social Science Research Network. 13 Sept. 2005. Web. 20 Nov. 2016.
Butler, Taryn. “The Media Construction of Terrorism Pre and Post-9/11.” McKendree University Scholars Journal 24 (2015): n. pag. Web. 11 Nov. 2016.
Donovan, Jerome Denis, Cheree Topple, Vik Naidoo, and Trenton Milner. “Strategic Interaction and the Iran-Iraq War: Lessons to Learn for Future Engagement?” Digest of Middle East Studies 24.2 (2015): 327-46. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.
Kim, Youngwan, and Peter Nunnenkamp. “Does It Pay for US-based NGOs to Go to War? Empirical Evidence for Afghanistan and Iraq.” Development and Change 46.3 (2015): 387-414. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.
Knott, John. “Militarist Nation, Coming and Going.” Dallas Morning News 19 Oct. 1933, 19th ed., sec. 2: 14. Print.
Santos, Maria Helena De Castro, and Ulysses Tavares Teixeira. “The Essential Role of Democracy in the Bush Doctrine: The Invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.” Revista Brasileira De Política Internacional Rev. Bras. Polít. Int. 56.2 (2013): 131-56. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.
Wolverton, Monte. “Military Spending.” Political Cartoons. Cagle Cartoons, 2004. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.