Cartoon: What We Can Afford


This comic is by myself and Kevin Moore.

Kevin comments:

I’ve always found it a crime against society that we spend so much money on our defense budget, when so much of that money goes to the military industrial complex, corporations that hardly pay any taxes at all, companies that profit off of the deaths and dismemberment of innocent people around the world, and all of it at the expense of social programs that would actually do our society good like healthcare, education, housing, universal basic income, etc..

So I really enjoyed drawing big stacks of money on dump trucks and cargo ships.


IF you like these cartoons, support them like a suspension bridge after the holidays but before three shakes of a cat’s tale of woe by supporting my patreon!


The point the cartoon makes has literally been frustrating me since I was in high school. It’s a foundational belief of U.S.. politics – anything that can actually help ordinary people will always be dismissed as unaffordable. Including things that would actually save money in the long run. And at the same time, affordability never seems to be a barrier for throwing money by the bucketful to the wealthy, and shooting money out a firehose at the military.

The amount of money we spend on the military, in particular, is large beyond comprehension. To give an example, President Biden’s pandemic “preparedness” plan was originally scheduled to cost $65 billion over “7 to 10” years. Assuming ten years (to make the math easy), that’s $6.5 billion a year for preventing or mitigating potential future pandemics. Which frankly seems like a bargain when compared to the economic damage (not to mention loss of life) Covid has caused.

But Congress – meaning all Republicans in congress and many Democrats – have balked at that. $65 billion over ten years is too much; some have suggested $30 billion instead. Some have suggested $5 billion instead. Meanwhile, scientists have suggested $100 billion over ten years is what’s actually needed, but no one is arguing for that in Congress.

Meanwhile, the US military budget over the next ten years will be approximately $7.67 trillion dollars.


TRANSCRIPT OF CARTOON

This cartoon has six panels. Each panel shows the same two people talking, a middle-aged male politician type wearing a well-tailored suit, and a younger woman wearing a jeans jacket over an untucked yellow shirt.  We’ll call the two characters “SENATOR” and “ACTIVIST” for purposes of this transcript.

PANEL 1

Senator and Activist are talking, although the Senator doesn’t look like he wants to be in this conversation – he’s looking at his cell phone. The activist is facing him and looks serious, holding a palm up in a “here’s the point I’m making” gesture.

ACTIVIST: Good welfare programs can actually save the government money. Homes for the homeless, health care for children and pregnant women, free pre-K education, good vocational education in prison… All these programs save us money in the long run.

PANEL 2

A close-up of Activist, smiling and pressing a forefinger to the side of her head.

ACTIVIST: We should do these tings because they’re the right thing to do… But they’re also the smart thing to do.

PANEL 3

The camera has backed up enough so that we can see that the two of them are standing on a big pile of cash. The senator is smiling and shrugging. The activist is gesturing at the cash they’re standing on.

SENATOR: Even if that’s true, we just can’t afford it! The debt, the deficit… The country’s broke!

ACTIVIST: What is this we’re standing on?

PANEL 4

The “camera” has pulled back even more, and we can now see that the two of them are standing on top of a huge load of money being carried by an enormous dump truck. There’s so much money that it rises high above the sides of the truck’s, um, you know, that space that big trucks have that they carry their loads in. I’m sure there’s a word for it, but I don’t know what that word is. Anyway, the pile of money rises high above whatever we call that.

(The word “Moola” is painted on the front of the truck).

SENATOR: This? One of our daily dump trucks full of money for huge tax breaks for rich people and big corporations.

ACTIVIST: And what is the truck standing on?

PANEL 5

The “camera” has pulled back even more, and now we can see that the dump truck full of money is parked on top of a pile of money that’s huge even when compared to a giant dump truck. The money is on top of a cargo ship, which is floating on the ocean.

Se can still make out the Senator and the Activist, but the camera is now pulled back so far that they’re little more than tiny dots.

SENATOR: Let’s see… The truck is on top of one of our daily cargo ships full of money for the military.

PANEL 6

The “camera” has zoomed back in to a close shot of the two people. The Senator is talking with a neutral expression. The activist is face-palming.

SENATOR: Why? What’s your point?


This cartoon on Patreon

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12 Responses to Cartoon: What We Can Afford

  1. 1
    Joe in Australia says:

    The idea that there is a fixed amount of money is a fiction: the US, like almost every other nation, literally prints the stuff. The only constraints on this are the government’s economic objectives, such as controlling inflation and promoting economic growth. The US government literally needs to spend money to keep the economy functioning; that’s not even optional. What is optional is how it directs that spending. Some things, like education, are investments that will pay off with a stronger economy in the future. Others, like government salaries and pensions – including military salaries and pensions! – strengthen the present economy, because the recipients mostly go out and spend that money, and that money then gets recirculated through other people. There are some constraints on this (too much new money can lead to inflation) but an expanding economy solves most of those problems. My point is that “Activist” is totally right about the advantages of spending on education and health and so forth, but the money that could be spent on those things isn’t disappearing in “tax breaks” and “the military”: it’s never being supplied. The US is literally settling for a smaller, weaker economy rather than provide better health and education for its citizens.

  2. 2
    Polaris says:

    Correction:
    Good and WELL IMPLEMENTED welfare programs.
    Nordic countries that do make it work have low corruption and a certain level of meritocracy.

    Also some level of agreement among parties like the most hardcore ultra right Nordic parties wish to keep Maternity and child health clinics.
    (Try to get the “pro-lifers” on board with that.)

  3. 3
    Görkem says:

    @Polaris: European far right parties are very often enthusiastic supporters of social welfare, at least in theory – they often idolise a past that was both ethnically homogenous but also social democratic (Le Pen in France is very notable for this).

    The real chink-in-the-armour of the Nordic welfare state comes from market liberals such as the Swedish Liberals and Moderates, not the far right.

  4. 4
    RonF says:

    I took a look at the actual Federal expenditures budgeted for fiscal 2021, which you can find here. Adding together both mandatory and discretionary spending (in that order), I come up with this (all in billions of $):

    Military:
    752 + 21.2 = 773.2

    Education:
    158.8 + 281.3 = 430.1
    Medicare and Health:
    147.4 + 1460 = 1607.4
    Housing and Community:
    93.3 + 133.8 = 227.1

    The United States’ Federal government spends 3x more on Education, Medicare and other Health, and Housing and Community assistance than it does on the military, and that doesn’t even include the $2,770 it spends on Social Security, Unemployment and Labor. It also doesn’t include State spending, which rivals what the Feds spend on everything BUT military, which they spend very little on (the National Guard is mostly funded by the Feds, not the States, as per U.S. Cons. Art. I, Sect. 8, Paragraph 16).

    There seems to be some idea on the left that the U.S. spends far more on the military than it does on social services. I have seen people estimate that the military and police account for up to 90% of the Federal budget. Although that’s an extreme (but true) example, the less extreme concept that the U.S. spends vast amounts on the military but far less on social services is simply not true.

  5. 5
    RonF says:

    Hm. For some reason the plus signs I put in between the numbers don’t show.

    [Weird. I edited and added in plus signs. –Amp]

  6. 6
    Görkem says:

    @Ron: There is a similar phenomenon on the right where people believe the US government spends incredible amounts on welfare support payments or handling undocumented immigrants. It seems for many people, the questions of “how much is the government spending” and “do I approve of what they’re spending it on” are closely linked.

  7. 7
    Dianne says:

    The United States’ Federal government spends 3x more on Education, Medicare and other Health, and Housing and Community assistance than it does on the military,

    Assuming Ron’s numbers are correct, I have some questions.

    First, why are education, Medicare, other health, housing, and community assistance all added together and compared to the single budget item of the military? Looked at another way, education, housing, and community assistance are all smaller items in the federal budget than the military, even when combined. This despite the fact that education is vital to the country’s future (do you want uneducated people running your nursing home some day?) and housing and community assistance are obviously necessary to the protection of the citizenry, especially with climate change leading to more weather disasters and more people losing housing and needing assistance. The military, in contrast, is just killing people with drones, which increases the risk to the citizenry by increasing international resentment.

    That leaves health. That is, at least if you include all health spending into one bundle, apparently larger than the military. Why would anyone consider that a problem in the current pandemic which has killed 0.3% of the entire population and led to a decrease in life expectancy two years in a row? Seems like an appropriate place to be spending money to me. (Not even to mention the fact that other problems haven’t exactly evaporated into the void while we’re thinking about covid. Heart disease and cancer are still the #1 and #2 killers, even if covid has taken over the #3 spot. Heart disease will likely be increasing as a result of covid related injury as well.)

    So I don’t see anything in Ron’s comment that contradicts the cartoon’s basic point. The military budget is largely a loss (I’m not going to say entirely since I do think it has some value) and the tax breaks to billionaires is not just a complete loss but is actively doing damage to the country. A tax rate of 100% on any income over, say, $100 million (inflation adjusted) would improve the country in any number of ways. If it causes Jeff Bezos to move out, well, that’s one improvement right there.

  8. 8
    RonF says:

    Dianne @7:

    Assuming Ron’s numbers are correct,

    You are welcome to examine the link I provided and draw your own conclusions.

    Looked at another way, education, housing, and community assistance are all smaller items in the federal budget than the military, even when combined.

    Which makes sense when you consider that providing for the common defense is actually defined in the Constitution as the job of the Federal government (and exclusively thereof), whereas none of those other things are. Those are the jobs of the States. And at least in the realm of education an examination of educational outcomes since the Department of Education was created does not lead me to think that its establishment and functioning has led to any great improvement overall.

    The nation’s expenditures in the military stem from the Federal government alone. But its expenditures in those other areas are supported by the Federal government, the various State governments and the municipal governments as well (as I can see every time I look at my State’s budget and the line items on my property tax bill). A fair comparison of what the country spends on social services of various kinds to what it spends on the military has to add all those together. The Federal government is not, was not intended to be and should not be the fount of all that is a public good in this country.

    The military, in contrast, is just killing people with drones,

    This is an appallingly foolish statement regarding the nature and function of the U.S. Military.

  9. 9
    Dianne says:

    providing for the common defense is actually defined in the Constitution as the job of the Federal government (and exclusively thereof),

    Which, as I noted before, makes the currently large healthcare budget make all the more sense: we have failed to defend 0.3% of the country from covid. Ramping up our attempts makes as much sense as ramping up military spending after Pearl Harbor. If some of that money needs to come out of the budget that was previously used for a threat that is no longer existent or no longer eminent, so be it.

  10. It is so cool that you covered this topic because, from my point of view, it requires a huge discussion and analysis. I absolutely agree with you that the government spends an exorbitant amount of money on unjustified goals and distributes funds in not a competent way. I will never understand why the government spends such a huge amount of money on the military because, in my opinion, in this case the ends don’t justify the means because it doesn’t bear necessary fruits. I think that these funds could be invested in so many beneficial things, like in Improving the standard of living of the people or helping children with severe disease. I really like the idea of your comic because it reveals the reality of our days and helps look at described problems from a different angle, delving into them. It shows how extravagant the government is and what dire consequences it entails. Perhaps if funds were allocated rationally, we would live in another world.

  11. 11
    RonF says:

    Dianne:

    … we have failed to defend 0.3% of the country from covid.

    Very clever. But dealing with public health issues, while important, is not the “common defense” in the manner in which the phrase is used in the Constitution’s preamble. The specification of Congress’ legislative powers in Article I show that they meant provided for the funding, equipping and training of a military to defend against enemies foreign and domestic. And those remain quite evident, as an examination of the activities of China and Russia shows.

  12. 12
    Dianne says:

    But dealing with public health issues, while important, is not the “common defense” in the manner in which the phrase is used in the Constitution’s preamble. The specification of Congress’ legislative powers in Article I show that they meant provided for the funding, equipping and training of a military to defend against enemies foreign and domestic.

    Assuming you’re correct and that the interpretation of the line has not changed in 200+ years, then would you consider fighting covid part of the “common defense” if it were* actually a bioweapon leaked from a Chinese lab?

    *Note tense.

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