Andy Singer’s cartoon, Economic Fantasies, cleverly depicts both a stereotypical conservative and a stereotypical liberal and their economic fantasies. The top of the cartoon reads “Choose one:” giving the reader instructions to choose from the two options. One being the “Conservative Economic Fantasy” which is, “If we keep cutting taxes and spend less, everything will get better.” The other being the “Liberal Economic Fantasy” which is, “If we raise taxes and spend more, everything will get better.” The appearance of both of the men in the cartoon are clearly derived from stereotypes based their political philosophy. The conservative is wearing a tie as well as traditional half moon reading glasses, has a clean shaved face, and also has his suit jacket buttoned. The liberal however is not wearing a tie, has circle shaped glasses, a full mustache and goatee, and has his suit jacket unbuttoned.
The cartoon was originally published in February of 2016, and at the time the 2016 presidential election campaign had just started. Just like any other election the candidates gave their proposed economic plans. As expected from a republican candidate Trump’s economic plan was expansionary and called for tax cuts and reduced spending (Amadeo, 2017). On the other hand Clinton’s economic plan was contractionary and called for both an increase in taxes and spending (Amadeo, 2017). Both their tax plans aline with the “economic fantasies” in the cartoon, but again there comes the decision of which side to go with. As the economy is constantly changing the argument of what policy is best in terms of continuous growth and overall prosperity is inevitable.
Singer’s choice of using the word fantasy is an accurate way of putting it, because although both plans have their obvious benefits they still have flaws. Due to Trump’s plan being expansionary it was estimated to increase GDP by 11.5% and create 5.3 million jobs (Clinton vs Trump, 2016). His proposed plan would also reduce government revenue by 10 trillion dollars over the course of 10 years. Due to Clinton’s plan being contractionary, it would help reduce government debt by 191 billion after a decade (Clinton vs Trump, 2016). However it would also slow down economic growth in the form of a 1% GDP decrease and the loss of 311,000 jobs. Either way things will be better in some way but not “everything will get better.”
This dilemma of seeking a suitable economic policy has been common throughout the history of the United States. Within the Great Depression in the 1930’s, the same issue arose. Marriner S. Eccles the head of the Federal Reserve proposed an increase in tax in order to balance the budget (“Eccles Explains”, 1937). The budget was at a deficit of $26.4 billion and a tax increase was the only way to balance the budget but it also meant that the recession would continue (“1937 United States Budget”). In opposition of this proposal was that of the American government and the people of the United States, who advocated for tax cuts and decreased spending. With this plan the budget would’ve still been at a deficit but the recession would’ve come to an end. The message of Singer’s cartoon can even be applied to this situation during the Great Depression. With both plans certain things would be better but again not “everything will be better.”
With an ever-changing economy it’s not a surprise to see this issue has become so common since the government is always trying to protect its people from devastating changes in the economy. Singer’s cartoon basically sums up what the two main opposing views and how they’re beliefs are so extreme that they could be referred to as fantasies.
“1937 United States Budget.” Rate Limited, federal-budget.insidegov.com/l/39/1937.
Amadeo, Kimberly. “Deficit Spending Is Out of Control. Here’s Why.” The Balance, 2 May 2017, www.thebalance.com/deficit-spending-causes-why-it-s-out-of-control-3306289.
Clinton vs Trump – Tax Plans Compared.” Diffen.com. Diffen LLC, n.d. Web. 13 Dec 2017.
“Eccles Explains.” The Dallas Morning News, 18 March 1937.
According to the business cycle, economic activity is in a cycle that is both necessary and inevitable. The business cycle consists of expansion which is defined by increased output, employment, and profit, followed by contraction which includes decreased input, growing unemployment, and profit losses (Sherman, 2014). It is commonly accepted that this cycle contributes to the progression of a capitalist economy. Another key characteristic of the cycle is the belief that in a free market economy the government should limit its intervention and just let the cycle play out naturally. However, the Great Depression was a severe and unprecedented contraction period that lasted longer than expected, and the absence of the natural forces that led toward recovery called for government intervention in the form of expansionary fiscal policies (May, 2004).
The Great Depression started in 1929 for the United States, leaving devastating effects around the globe lasting throughout the 1930’s. When Franklin D. Roosevelt became president in 1933 he immediately took action implementing the New Deal, which involved several federal programs that stimulated financial reforms and regulations. Although the New Deal’s purpose was to ignite the economy, many of the programs and reforms proposed never came to fruition due to the conflicting views in Congress. Those conflicting views were a commonality during the Great Depression and often were expressed through political cartoons.
On March 18, 1937, John Knott’s Speaking of Raising Taxes was published in the Dallas Morning News; during that time the United States was still consumed with the Great Depression and its ramifications. Depicted in the cartoon, Marriner S. Eccles was appointed as the head of the Federal Reserve Board, under Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration. The supplemental editorial Eccles Explains, provided context for the cartoon. It stated that Eccles intended to balance the budget through an increase in taxes (“Eccles Explains”, 1937). This new tax proposal was part of a contractionary policy that would make it possible to balance the budget, which was at a deficit of 26.4 billion dollars (“1937 United States Budget”), at the cost of allowing the recession to continue. An alternative to this proposal was an expansionary policy that called for deficit spending and tax cuts in order to boost the economy onto a path towards recovery from the recession.
Speaking of Raising Taxes, depicted Eccles saying, “This is no money at all. Uncle.” in addition to holding a paper in his hand that reads “higher taxes to balance budget”. Sitting in front of him is Uncle Sam who’s saying, “Why not cut expenses and stop borrowing?” while clutching one of the many stacks of money lying around him labeled “record income tax returns.” Knott’s cartoon illustrates Eccles, the chairman of the federal reserve board, in a quandary with the Uncle Sam in trying to figure out the best means for restructuring the country in recovery from the Great Depression.
Before being appointed as chairman of the Fed, Eccles was assistant to Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau Jr. Prior to going into politics, Eccles made his own conclusions as to what caused the Great Depression. His suggestions revolved around the concept that to keep a sound economy there must be constant movement of money. By this, he meant that instead of having money just sitting under large corporations and the rich, that money should be distributed among the lower income groups. This concept was similar to the idea of famous economist John Maynard Keynes and what is now known as Keynesian Economics. Keynesian Economics calls for expansionary policy in times of recession. (May, 2004) Keynesianism generally recommends countercyclical policies. For example, in order to suppress inflation, the government can increase taxes or reduce outlays.
Within the cartoon, Knott illustrates opposing views through a discussion between Eccles and Uncle Sam. In this case, Uncle Sam represents both the national government and the American people. Eccles stating, “This is no money at all. Uncle ” justified his proposal of higher taxes. The stacks of money lying around Uncle Sam labeled, “record income tax returns” represented what the outcome of what Uncle Sam said. With taxes being cut from such high rates the returns would be massive, revealing why Uncle Sam is clutching a stack of money. Taxpayers would then be able to spend their new disposable income and boost growth in the economy. The recurrence of the dilemma on whether to choose an expansionary policy or contractionary policy is inevitable as the economy is constantly changing.
“1937 United States Budget.” Rate Limited, federal-budget.insidegov.com/l/39/1937.
Amadeo, Kimberly. “Deficit Spending Is Out of Control. Here’s Why.” The Balance, 2 May 2017, www.thebalance.com/deficit-spending-causes-why-it-s-out-of-control-3306289.
“Eccles Explains.” The Dallas Morning News, 18 March 1937.
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&it=r&id=GALE%7CCX3404500304&asid=55eeb9551783fd782464aa2fc29212f7. Accessed 8 Nov. 2017.
“Marriner Stoddard Eccles.” Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd ed., vol. 22, Gale, 2004, pp. 160-162. Gale Virtual Reference Library, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=txshracd2598&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CCX3404708008&asid=2c560e98f0e4272451e86080b7aa4db2. Accessed 8 Nov. 2017.
Sherman, Howard J. The Business Cycle. Growth and Crisis under Capitalism. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014. Web. Retrieved 9 Nov. 2017, from https://www.degruyter.com/view/product/452516
In March of 1937, tax legislation bombarded Texas politics. Fred Mauritz, a member of the Texas House of Representatives in the 45th State Legislature, proposed a bill that month, which would generalize tax remission policy. The “Mauritz Bill,” as it was referred to at the time, aimed to distribute $9,000,000 per year in state tax money amongst all counties in Texas, for five years years (“In Sales Tax Squeeze”). The bill was surrounded by political and economic stress caused by the financial needs of the the counties, the lack of revenue of the State, and disagreement between Governor James Allred and the Legislature regarding the remission of taxes — the governmental action of sending excess tax money back to the public for various reasons, rather than keeping the money in its own hands (Texas. Exec. Allred. “Senate Bill No. 114 Veto”). In his political cartoon, “The Tax Expert,” from the March 26, 1937 publication of the Dallas Morning News, John Knott portrayed the ineffectiveness and self-contradictory nature of the cycle of taxation and distribution of funding, and the motives of the parties involved in the Mauritz Bill.
Knott’s cartoon goes straight to the point, dominating the foreground of the image with two men: the one on the left labeled “Legislature,” and the one on the right labeled “Texas,” who is better known as “Old Man Texas” — a recurring character Knott featured in many of his cartoons and based off of the broad head and bushy mustache of one of his acquaintances, James A. Boyd (Administrator). The man on the left is clearly handing a document over to Old Man Texas, which contains the text, “Tax Remission — Nine Million Dollars.” While one hand of “Legislature” is occupied with passing on the document, the other hand is simultaneously reaching into the pocket of “Texas,” which is full of cash, and is identified as “New Taxes.” The Legislature man appears to be grinning as he smokes his cigar, and interestingly, the Old Man Texas’s face holds the expression of shock and worry as he holds the paper in his hands. Knott undoubtedly believed that the bill violated the fundamental concepts his famous character represented: “honesty in government, low taxes, and property ownership” (Perez).
While the man on the left represents the 45th Legislature of Texas, he also bears a striking resemblance to none other than the “Tax Expert,” Fred Mauritz (Fred Mauritz). The medium-length, wavy hair and round glasses of the character drawn by Knott and the context of the cartoon present evidence for the argument that the man labeled as “Legislature” was in fact meant to be Mauritz, but whether he was actually being represented is still up for debate. What cannot be debated, however, is the fact that Mauritz was the mastermind behind the tax remission bill displayed in the cartoon. The House member proposed the bill in response to others that were already in place and providing 40 Texas counties with tax remission, as well as the introduction of several much more specific tax remission proposals that focused only on certain counties (“In Sales Tax Squeeze”).
The cartoon’s accompanying editorial, entitled “Tax Remission,” described this as a “trend toward remission of county taxes” (“Tax Remission”). The trend had been sustained by House Bill No. 22, which extended tax remissions to Galveston County for five years for the construction of the seawall and other measures to protect the city from coastal flooding (Texas. Legisl. House.“Extending the Remission”). It was apparent that several counties needed governmental aid as their municipal funds were depleting and something had to be done to combat the destruction of Mother Nature. Following the Galveston bill were similar proposals to provide tax remission for flood control purposes to Harris county as well as the Pease River Flood Control District counties of Foard, Cottle, Hardeman and Wilbarger (“Allred Vetoes”). Although proposals such as these had good intentions, the unequal distribution of State tax money throughout the State of Texas was a growing issue. The Mauritz Bill aimed to end the discriminatory effects of specific tax remission bills by remitting taxes to all Texas counties (Texas. Exec. Allred. “Senate Bill No. 114 Veto”). It was widely supported in the Legislature, as it passed through the House, was seen with favor by the Senate State Affairs Committee, and showed promise of passing in the Senate (“Tax Remission”).
But on March 24th, 1937, as recorded in the House Journal of the 45th Texas Legislature, Governor James V. Allred declared his opposition to such bills as he announced, “We have got to stop tax remissions somewhere” (qtd. in Texas. Legisl. House. “Journal of the House 1298”). In his veto message regarding Senate Bill No. 114 — the Harris County Bill — he claimed, “I must look at the welfare of the State as a whole, and in doing that, it now becomes my duty to veto this and other similar Bills.” Allred was not in opposition to the actual projects that the proposed tax remission was to go toward, but he recognized that to provide such funds was not feasible. Feeling the effects of the Great Depression, the State was facing a shortage of revenue and could not afford giving ad valorem tax money back to the counties; doing so would both add to the state’s deficit and hurt the credit of the state. Further, the passage of a bill for one county was bound to be used as an argument for another similar bill to be passed for another county. And finally, the State was not allowed to supervise the expenditure of tax remissions, and therefore counties could easily put money towards anything they wanted no matter what was termed as the initial purpose for the money (Texas. Exec. Allred. “Senate Bill No. 114 Veto”). In Allred’s veto against House Bill No. 18, he stated, “In view of the depleted condition of the Treasury and the fact that no revenues have been raised, I have no other alternative.” The State just could not take another loss in revenue given its financial condition at the time (Texas. Exec. Allred. “House Bill No. 81 Veto”).
Allred could foresee what was to come if tax remission policy was passed into law, and he shared his perspective with Knott. Clearly, giving “excess” tax money back to the counties was not the end of the deal. In the cartoon, as Old Man Texas, ultimately standing for the taxpayer and the integrity of the state’s financial system, is engrossed in the Mauritz bill placed in its hands, “Legislature” is busy digging in his, or the taxpayers, pockets, scavenging for additional revenue. Knott showed that the proposed tax remission was really a hoax; the money would be given back to the counties by means of an illusory rebate, which would distract the taxpayers from the reality that their taxes would eventually be increased in order for the State to make up the difference. In turn, the State was to receive the same amount of money, and the counties funding that could be used according to their desires, while “Old Magician Taxpayer,” had to “produce out of his hat once more,” and “in finality pay the bill” (“Tax Remission”). The cartoon displays the political struggle of the time, in which the Democratic Party under President Franklin Roosevelt pushed for more relief programs as a part of the New Deal — conceptually similar to tax remission — while the more conservative minded, characterized by Knott’s Old Man Texas, resisted with the argument that those policies of governmental intervention went too far and would find unfavorable sources of funding; that is, taxes (“New Deal”).
In 1937, Texas taxpayers were at the time paying sales taxes, excise taxes on commodities such as fuel and oil, and local property taxes. Income tax had not even been put into place (“Texas” 864). Allred, in order to reduce the economic burden on taxpayers and particularly low-income groups, desired to keep taxes low and refrain from using a state sales tax as a means to generate revenue (Ewing). As his opinion was reflected in Knott’s cartoon — that is, tax remission would have required higher state taxes in order to be practical — the motives of the Legislature are much more ambiguous. While it could be argued that Mauritz and his like-minded colleagues genuinely wanted to assist the counties that were in need, and do so fairly, there can be little doubt that they did not not look ahead at the implications of such a plan. The grinning face and sneaky hand of the man on the left of the cartoon indicates one perception of the legislative motive: personal gain as a result of increased state revenue with the benefit of satisfying constituents. The title implies that Mauritz was a “Tax Expert,” and was therefore well aware of the side-effects of his bill.
Unfortunately, the Mauritz Bill was never put into place for us to see the result, as it was put on hold in the Senate and never made its way to Allred’s desk for signing (“In Sales Tax Squeeze”). In fact, most tax remission efforts of the 45th Legislature were unsuccessful in the end, thanks to the exercise of checks and balances in the Texas governmental structure. However, Knott’s cartoon still highlights the political conflict of the time. While the Legislature wanted tax money to be sent back to the counties so that they could aid the people at their discretion — a sort of roundabout tax cut — the question arose of how funds would be raised by the government to balance its revenue loss. The only real options would have been either the contradictory implementation of higher taxes, or the dangerous submission to adding to the budget deficit. Further, the issue surrounding Knott’s cartoon brings up another issue: the victimization of the taxpayer. As both sides of the arguments at the Capitol in the 1930’s strongly held their ground, the regular people of the state were to sit and wait without providing direct input until a bill was placed into their hands. At that point, they would have had to agree to whatever terms were decided; hence, the anxiety rather than excitement expressed in the face of “Texas” in Knott’s cartoon. As it would be seen throughout history and even today, fiscal policy such as the Mauritz Bill can fix one problem, but only by raising another; there really does not exist an absolutely sound answer to the economy.
“ALLRED VETOES TAX REMISSION.” The Austin Statesman (1921-1973), Apr 02, 1937, pp. 1, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Austin American Statesman, http://ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/1610334236?accountid=7118.
Ewing, Floyd F. “Allred, James Burr V.” Handbook of Texas Online, Texas State Historical Association, 2010, www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fal42.
Fred Mauritz. Digital image. Legislative Reference Library of Texas. Texas Legislators: Past & Present. Texas State Preservation Board, n.d. Web. 12 Nov. 2017, http://www.lrl.state.tx.us/mobile/photodisplay.cfm?memberID=1257&filename=Mauritz_F_49.jpg.
“In Sales Tax Squeeze.” The Austin American (1914-1973), Apr 18, 1937, pp. 4, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Austin American Statesman, http://ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/1611463487?accountid=7118.
Administrator, Dallas News. “John Knott’s Cartoons Were Front Page Fixture of News.” Dallas News, The Dallas Morning News, 4 Jan. 2013, www.dallasnews.com/opinion/commentary/2013/01/04/john-knotts-cartoons-were-front-page-fixture-of-news.
Knott, John Francis. “The Tax Expert.” The Dallas Morning News, No. 17 ed., 26 Mar. 1937, p. 4.
“New Deal: Reform or Revolution (Issue).” Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History, edited by Thomas Carson and Mary Bonk, vol. 2, Gale, 2000, pp. 705-707. Gale Virtual Reference Library, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=txshracd2598&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CCX3406400640&asid=0ae5ba6d78e6204ab1cc3ccaed64dba1. Accessed 7 Nov. 2017.
Perez, Joan Jenkins. “Knott, John Francis.” Handbook of Texas Online, Texas State Historical Association, 15 June 2010, tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fkn05.
Texas. Executive Department. Governor James V. Allred. House Bill No. 81 Veto Message. Austin, Texas. 23 April, 1937. Legislative Reference Library of Texas. Web. 6 Oct. 2017, http://www.lrl.state.tx.us/scanned/vetoes/45/hb81m.pdf.
Texas. Executive Department. Governor James V. Allred. Senate Bill No. 114 Veto Message. Austin, Texas. 2 April, 1937. Legislative Reference Library of Texas. Web. 6 Oct. 2017, http://www.lrl.state.tx.us/scanned/vetoes/45/sb114m.pdf.
Texas. Legislature. House of Representatives. Extending the Remission of State ad Valorem, Occupation, and Poll Taxes Collected in Galveston County to the City of Galveston to 1943. 45th Legislature. Regular Session. House Bill No. 22. Chapter 23, pp. 26-28. Austin, Texas. 4 March 1937. Legislative Reference Library of Texas. Web. 11 Oct. 2017, http://www.lrl.state.tx.us/scanned/sessionLaws/45-0/HB_22_CH_23.pdf.
Texas. Legislature. House of Representatives. Journal of the House of Representatives of the Regular Session of the Forty-fifth Legislature. House Journal. 45th Legislature. Regular Session. 12 Jan. 1937. Legislative Reference Library of Texas. Web. 13 Oct. 2017, http://www.lrl.state.tx.us/scanned/govdocs/James%20V%20Allred/1937/message032437.pdf>.
“Texas.” Worldmark Encyclopedia of the States, 8th ed., vol. 2, Gale, 2016, pp. 843-870. Gale Virtual Reference Library, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=txshracd2598&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CCX3632200053&asid=0be0d0046afca9c852120b994b14c77c. Accessed 2 Oct. 2017.
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.
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.
“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 political cartoon Unions by David Fitzsimmons uses well recognized connotations to depict civil tension that still remains today much like it did during the Great Depression. This cartoon captures how the GOP continues to take more and more from public servants, claiming everyone must sacrifice, yet the rich seem to get richer. As is reflected with the theme of the John Knott cartoon Nice Kitty, Nice Doggie, this cartoon conveys the same message as the one portrayed almost 80 years ago: socioeconomic tension leads to civil unrest.
Though the United States emerged from the Great Depression into an economic upswing (Steindyl 1). The feeling of unease seems to be a cyclical trend that political cartoonists can expound upon no matter the decade. In our current economy, public servants, such as teachers seem to be having more and more of their rights restricted. In 2015 the GOP proposed a cut of 5 billion dollars to America’s educational system (Brown 10). Yet after the GOP decided that educational funding would be cut, they also seemed to find a way to help themselves. For example, recently President Trump released a tax plan that one journalist described as a plan that “would be ridiculously good for rich people” (Carter). This new plan cuts top tier business taxes from 39 to 15%. Furthermore, it proposes an elimination of the alternative minimum tax. This would cut our own presidents federal income tax from 37 to 5 million. (Sahadi 4). The outrage of this disparity is what cartoon illustrator David Fitzsimmons conveys with his witty cartoon.
As Knott depicted the right to unionize in Nice Kitty, Nice Doggie published in 1938, Fitzsimmons depiction reflects our countries’ current economic struggles. While there are many differences between the two, there are also similarities to be found. Though much has changed in our country in the past 80 years, economic uncertainty continues to effect unions and their influence upon government (Kebbi 4). While the labor unions in Knott’s cartoon were fighting for the right to unionize, teachers unions today have used their right to unionize to influence policy and form political action comities. (Teacher Unions). It appears as though Knots cartoon highlighted the struggles of earning the right to unionize, while Fitzsimons depicts that, even though the right to unionize has been won, unions are still a threat to big government.
Comparing Knott’s and Fitzsimmons’ political cartoon demonstrates that the humor has not really changed, however the imagery used to tell the cartoonists’ story has evolved. In today’s society, poking fun at political figures as just as humorous today as it was in the 1930’s. In Knott’s cartoon the image of a housewife used to portray Secretary Perkins is central to the cartoons theme. However, if used today, the depiction of a housewife with an apron would no longer be relevant, verging on offensive. Conversely, using well known imagery to provide connation is just as prevalent today as it was in the 1930’s. Knott uses a cat and dog fight to depict the rising tension, while Fitzsimmons uses a bulbous elephant to depict the GOP. Rather than towering above the public servant the elephant is at eye level, diminishing his power. This growing disdain for republican controlled congress could be a reflection on the proposed voucher system which will gravely effect public school funding (Lauter 2.)
In both cartoons the artists seem to both have to portray an antagonist. In John Knott’s cartoon, he portrays the aggressor “Industry” as the antagonist. However, in Fitz’s cartoon he portrays the antagonist to be the rich man standing in the back. One thing to be noticed is how Fitzsimmons’s draws the clothing of both of these figures. The public servant is in baggy clothes and just a white t shirt, on the opposite end we see the rich man in a very nice tailored tux. This portrayal highlights how these cuts effect both parties even down to the way the dress. This can even be known when looking at an article by Lam that states in a very recent study done that the top 1 percent of Americans still hold 20 percent of the nation’s wealth.
Fitzsimmon’s political cartoon Unions demonstrates that unrest between the public servants of the middle class and the elites in government are still prevalent in modern society. As John Knott once portrayed with his political cartoons, we can assume that civil unrest will not cease until socioeconomic tension is dispelled.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Cartoonist Luo Jie, of the news site China Daily, created a significant portfolio of critical political cartoons addressing global issues. In his humorous cartoon, “Fiscal Cliff,” Luo Jie symbolically depicts the struggle between U.S. President Barack Obama and the ignorant Republican Congressional opposition in their efforts to pass the federal budget for the fiscal year 2013.
Jie’s cartoon, published December 8th, 2012, utilizes several symbols to convey meaning to the viewer: the man in the suit representing Obama; the blindfolded Elephant representing oblivious Republicans; the chain representing the bipartisan requirement to pass the fiscal budget; the other items representing actions regarding fiscal policy. The aggregate of the symbols constitutes a message censuring partisan politics in the United States, mocking both Obama and the Republican Party.
The 112th Congress, in office from 2012 to 2014, consisted of a Democrat-dominated Senate and a Republican-dominated House of Representatives. The ideological split between the Senate and House resulted in severe disagreements, bolstered partisan politics, and stalled policy development (Zeleny). The term “fiscal cliff” earns the name from the impending shift of fiscal policy. The cliff referred to large budget sequestration (reduction of the federal deficit through spending cuts) and the expiration of President George W. Bush era tax cuts. Republicans backed sequestration and opposed the increase on taxes while Democrats backed increasing taxes for only those considered upper-class (Sahadi). Despite the negative connotation of the word “cliff,” the fiscal cliff in its entirety holds the ability to cut the United States budget deficit seventy-five percent by 2022 which would result in significant positive economic impact in the long-run (CBO). Disagreeing with the increase of taxation on the middle class, Democrats pushed for higher taxation on the top two percent of income earners in lieu of the expected increase on middle class taxation hoping to still provide the positive economic benefits of reducing the budget deficit. Across the isle, Republicans refused to tax the wealthy – the vast majority of their campaign donors – resulting in a stand-still in the budget creation process (Jackson).
An article, released the same day as the cartoon, titled “GOP: White House ‘fiscal cliff’ idea ‘a joke’,” analyzes current Speaker of the House Republican John Boehner’s remarks regarding the fiscal cliff talks. Boehner sees the Democratic fiscal cliff proposition as an insult to the Republican Party and excoriates Democrats for not focusing more on cutting the budget, and relying almost exclusively on a tax increase (Jackson).
The humor in Jie’s cartoon consists of several layers generated by the visual representation of Obama and the elephant. Obama’s struggle to latch onto the tree of “THE RICH” with the cane of “RAISING TAXES” exists as the focal point of the cartoon due to Obama’s fight to keep both himself and the elephant alive. The mien of Obama, is that of panic and worry, signifying that Democrats truly believe the best and possibly only solution to avert going over the fiscal cliff is to keep the tax cuts for the middle class and increase taxation for the upper class. Meanwhile, the blind-folded elephant, the Republican dominated Congress, attempts to casually keep walking not realizing there is a cliff in front of it. The two branches of government chained together depicts the requirement of different parties to work together in order to accomplish anything. Unfortunately for President Obama, the elephant does not realize the impending danger of the situation, representative of Congress’ uncompromising rejection of raising taxes on the wealthy. The panicked expression of Obama lets the viewer understand the importance of the situation, but when contrasted with the blinded elephant’s absent minded actions allows the reader to laugh at Obama’s pain and the naivety of the Republican party.
The humor parallels that of John Knott’s 1931 cartoon titled “No Time For Fiddling!” in which Knott portrays Congress as an oaf who quite literally is fiddling around – playing a fiddle labeled “partisan politics” – while the world burns. The cartoon denounces the U.S. Congress for its inability to come together to act on the impending threat, later resulting in the Great Depression. Partisanship remains the biggest obstacle for functional and effective government, and cartoonists like John Knott and Luo Jie continue to criticize the institutions’ failures for years to come.
Partisan Politics serve as the biggest hinderance to change, and oftentimes, even in the face of an impeding crisis, opposing parties refuse to work together. Eventually Congress and the White House will probably become uniform and under one party, but until then President Obama will have to compromise with his Republican controlled House of Representatives.
Congressional Budget Office. Economic Effects of Policies Contributing to Fiscal Tightening in 2013. CBO, 8 Nov. 2012. Web. 12 Nov. 2015.
Jackson, Jill. “GOP: White House ‘fiscal cliff’ Idea ‘a joke'” CBSNews. CBS Interactive, 8 Nov. 2012. Web. 19 Nov. 2015.
Jie, Luo. Fiscal Cliff. Digital image. ChinaDaily. CDIC, 8 Dec. 2012. Web. 12 Nov. 2015.
Knott, John F. “No Time for Fiddling!” Cartoon. The Dallas Morning News[Dallas] 15 Dec. 1931: n.pag. Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. Web. 25 Oct. 2015.
Sahadi, Jeanne. “Fiscal Cliff: Next President’s First Big Problem to Solve.”CNNMoney. Cable News Network, 6 Nov. 2012. Web. 19 Nov. 2015.
Zeleny, Jeff. “G.O.P. Captures House, but Not Senate.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 02 Nov. 2010. Web. 12 Nov. 2015.
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