Cartoon: Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

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This is a cartoon from July, but I can’t find it on “Alas” or on, so I suspect I forgot to ever post it.

America is different from the rest of the wealthy world; we’re less generous, less willing to pay for a safety net, less supportive of our citizens at every stage of our lives. And research suggests that the reason for that is racism.

So this cartoon is an attempt to translate that research finding into a four panel gag. I do this every once in a while; translating social science research into cartoons can be hard to do, but a lot of my favorite cartoons began that way.

I like some of the art for this one; I like the use of multiple angles and camera distances, and the backgrounds (which, I hope, find the right balance between “enough to be satisfying” and “so eye catching that they detract from the cartoon”). And the expression of the blonde character in the final panel really works for me. :-)

(Other things in the art work less well for me, like the blonde character’s body language in the first three panels, which looks kind of stiff to me. That’s how it goes. I never get to the point that I really like all my art, but I hope my batting average is improving over the years.)

And hey! I made it! Four cartoons in two weeks. (Pant, pant, pant.)

(Hey, Barry, if you could do four cartoons in two weeks, doesn’t that mean you could be doing eight cartoons per month instead of just four?)

(Hey, Voice-in-my-head, please shut up.)

Transcript of Cartoon

This cartoon has four panels.


Two women, a dark-haired woman with glasses (who I was thinking of as Latina when I drew her, but looking at the finished drawing I have to admit she looks racially ambiguous) and a blonde white woman in a polka-dot skirt, are standing outside, talking on a sidewalk. Glasses is saying something enthusiastically; Polka is listening with a hand on her chin.

GLASSES: No regular person can afford a million dollars in medical bills if their kid is in an accident. So we’d ALL be helped by Medicare For All.

POLKA: That makes sense.


The two are walking as they talk.

GLASSES: We need food stamps  and rent subsidies. Because no one in a rich country should be hungry or homeless.

POLKA: I hear you.


GLASSES: And maybe we need some sort of federal job guarantee, so everyone who wants to work, can.

POLKA: That would have helped me a lot last year.


Glasses continues to talk happily, hands outspread in a “it’s all so reasonable” gesture, but Polka is angrily yelling, pointing one finger into the air.

GLASSES: Plus, these programs can do a lot for groups like the Black-


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17 Responses to Cartoon: Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

  1. 1
    RonF says:

    No one in a rich country should be hungry or homeless if they are doing what they can to escape that status; but if it’s an issue of not wanting to work even when able to do so then they should not get public assistance (despite what a certain prominent rookie politician actually proposed).

    As far as a Federal jobs guarantee, I can think of a few that I’d like to revive. I’d start with one whose benefits I’ve used a lot; the Civilian Conservation Corps. Take a bunch of unemployed youth. Bring them out to a remote area. Organize them into work groups under the leadership of military or ex-military officers (there’s plenty of them that have the appropriate experience, there’s more officers involved in things like engineering and logistics than there are in combat). The first job would be for them to build their own lodging. Then they would start doing improvements on the site. Bridges, drainage, roads, lodges, cabins, trails, campsites, etc. They’re learn carpentry, masonry, plumbing, electric, gas, heavy machinery operation, and so on. Not to mention the experience of getting up at a certain time, showing up for work on time clean and sober, and putting in a full day of work day in and day out for months at a time. And just like the CCC, a substantial fraction of their pay would go to the support of their parents or children (or, if they have none, be set aside for when the job was done so they wouldn’t blow it all as fast as they got it).

    I don’t know what the experiences are of all the people here. But if you’re not familiar with the work of the CCC you should be. I’ve spent quite a bit of time in State parks in Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana that were built by the CCC; I’ll be in one next weekend, and I’ll spend time climbing a trail called “The CCC trail” (and I do mean climb). Much of it has stood the test of time and some of it is astonishing. Here is a picture of the inside of the Great Lodge – every timber you see in that (and it’s only about 1/3 of the room) is a tree that was cut and trimmed on-site by the CCC workers.

  2. 2
    RonF says:

    And it’s correct to say that claiming those programs are socialism is incorrect. The definitions of socialism that I have seen are all pretty much along the lines of “a political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.” Federal jobs guarantees, government-funded medical care for the indigent, food stamps, etc. are not in and of themselves socialism.

    But if “medicare for all” is implemented with the proviso (as has been proposed) that no doctor who takes privately insured patients can particpate, then that is a very strong step for a complete takeover of health care by the government. And that IS a step towards socialism. Where government action reduces or eliminates the role of private enterprise and free markets, we are going towards socialism, towards government control over the production, distribution and sale of goods and services. And that seems to me to be the goal of people like Sen. Sanders and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez.

  3. 3
    Ampersand says:

    But if “medicare for all” is implemented with the proviso (as has been proposed) that no doctor who takes privately insured patients can participate,

    Which proposal is that, specifically? Could you please provide a link? (I’m not assuming you’re wrong, but it’s something I’d like to read for myself).

    I agree that doing that would be a large step towards socializing health insurance. But I don’t think you can conclude from wanting to socialize health insurance, that either Sanders or Ocasio-Cortez wants to socialize “the production, distribution and sale of goods and services” in general. (Although I’m not sure that’s what you meant.)

  4. 4
    Mandolin says:

    Canada and Australia have robust private insurance industries alongside the public one.

  5. 5
    Ampersand says:

    This is true. But Bernie’s plan would provide much more generous single-payer coverage than Canada or Australia do. And, as far as I can tell, more generous single-pay coverage than any country currently does. So that would leave much less room for a private health insurance industry.

  6. 6
    nobody.really says:

    But if “medicare for all” is implemented with the proviso (as has been proposed) that no doctor who takes privately insured patients can particpate, then that is a very strong step for a complete takeover of health care by the government.

    Hadn’t heard that proposal. But I could see some rationale: Public health will inevitably have some limits/boundaries. Do we want to give public employees an incentive to tell patients that they must seek care outside the public system–conveniently at the employee’s own clinic?

    Still, I struggle to find a good analogy. Here’s the best that comes to mind: Typically an electric utility receives permission to provide retail electric service to an area on the assumption that the utility will 1) extend service to all who will pay, and 2) charge uniform rates to similarly-situated customers. In other words, a firm that want to be in the electricity business in that area must choose between abiding by these terms, or providing service on an unregulated wholesale basis.

    Still, regulators justify this policy on the theory of natural monopoly. I can see an argument for a natural monopoly in heath care risk pooling–but in the actual provision of service? Not so much. So not really an analogy for health care provision.

  7. 7
    nobody.really says:

    By the way, nice cartoon–but AWESOME title!

  8. 9
    Joe in Australia says:

    Glasses’ expression in the third panel is perfect, and broke my heart.

  9. 10
    closetpuritan says:

    I am familiar with the CCC. I suspect that it provided a great deal of inspiration for the Green New Deal. There’s also the Manhattan project and the New Manhattan Project proposal. I think about some of the things the US has done in the past, such as the moon landing or the interstate highway system, and that more than perhaps anything else makes me feel like we’re in decline… we don’t seem to be able to do these big projects anymore.

  10. 11
    lurker23 says:

    The federal jobs guarantee is alot like socialism i think? if you want alot of people to get work and they are people with bad ability to do work then you are making a big government program to pay people for doing bad or slow or other work that nobody really wants, and probably overpaying them too. and if you make it so that people need to be good to get jobs then you will probably not be helping much.

  11. 12
    J. Squid says:

    … and probably overpaying them too.

    An assertion that needs some, any, support, indeed.

  12. 13
    LimitsOfLanguage says:

    J. Squid,

    If no capitalist company is willing to hire that person to do the job for that compensation package, then it seems to me that they are most likely going to be overpaid relative to the value of the labor that they provide, at least in the capitalist sense.

    There is a risk that money that would otherwise be spent on compensating those who provide high-value goods and services is instead spent on compensating those who provide low-value goods and services, making us poorer.

    Of course, many redistribution schemes make us poorer and it is a perfectly valid choice to accept less overall wealth to benefit certain groups. However, some redistribution schemes are way worse than others (see Soviet Russia vs Social Democracies).

    If one assumes that the threat of being sacked and/or the risk of not getting hired is disciplining, then an effect of a (generous) federal jobs guarantee can be a loss of disciplining of (potential) workers. Depending on the size of this effect and on what level of disciplining you consider appropriate, this can be considered bad.

  13. 14
    lurker23 says:

    J. Squid says:
    May 11, 2019 at 1:48 pm
    … and probably overpaying them too.

    An assertion that needs some, any, support, indeed.

    i think that almost all of the people who want a federal jobs guarantee are also people who say they want a $15 minimum wage. and i think that right now with unemployment pretty low there are not all that many people who want work and who are willing to work and able to work and are also hireable.

    because i think that there are some jobs which are not worth $15 even when the job is done by a worker who is trying hard and wants to be there! so when you have alot of workers who have a “right” to work and a “guaranteed” job, and who cannot be fired, and they are also doing alot of work which nobody wants enough to pay them $15 for on their own (or they would not be in the program) and not trying hard because they cannot be fired, then i think alot of them are going to be getting paid more than they are worth.

    that is extra true because the people who want federal jobs do not already have jobs and this may or may not not be their fault. some people are “fault”: they are just deliberately lazy or not reliable or drink or do drugs. some are “not fault”: maybe they have kids or need to work really weird hours or are disabled or incompetent or injured, or they live in a far away place with no good bus and a bad car, or something.

    but when it comes to value, the value someone is worth does not depend on the “why”. like if you own a business and your person keeps calling out alot with no notice then that is very hard for you as a business owner. we PRETEND alot that some things are high cost and other things are low cost, but if you only look at the business and the cost to you as employer then it does not really make that much difference whether they are sick or injured or caring for a kid or fixing a broken car or just drunk. what matters is that they are not there, and you did not know in advance, and they are not doing their job.

    any “guaranteed program” would have alot of those people because those people are a high percentage of the unemployed people, because this is the sort of thing that makes people be unemployed.

    like the lady who says “that WOULD have helped me alot last year”: how would she have been helped? why did she not have a job? how would you make her have a job and also deal with whatever made her not-work, and also make it so you do not lose money?

    alot of people would need a job with no real physical stuff, that requires no real training, where you don’t have to know good math or write good english and don’t have to know alot of background skills, where you will not get fired if you leave or call out when your kid is sick, or when you are late because your car won’t start or you miss the bus, or you can’t work because you have something else wrong which is not your fault.

    i do not blame them. i know alot of people who would want that job and who could not really do a different job well. but there are not so many of those jobs, and the ones that exist do not pay much, for good reasons.

  14. 15
    RonF says:

    Amp, @3:

    The New York Times covers this in broad strokes and the Washington Examiner has details.

  15. 16
    RonF says:

    As far as a Federal jobs program goes – it seems to me that if you are capable of working but fail to do so you should not get public support. A program like the CCC took unskilled people and taught them both hard and soft skills. By “hard skills” I mean masonry, plumbing, electrical, etc. By “soft skills” I mean getting up on time, working productive shifts, etc. The CCC also ended up teaching people how to read and write. In today’s economy, people who have such skills are generally going to find employment in the private sector. So I rather imagine that a Federal jobs program of any sort is going to involve a lot of people who do NOT have those skills. The challenge is going to be setting the standard such that if you do not enter the program, or if you enter the program but fail to do the job, at some point you will wash out and become ineligible for welfare, food stamps, etc. Some incentive needs to be applied….

  16. 17
    Ampersand says:

    Ron, thanks for those links. That’s one reason I tend to favor some version of “Medicare for America,” rather than Bernie’s “Medicare for All.”