Cartoon: Self-Made Billionaire

This feels like a very old-fashioned lefty cartoon to me; it’s super-didactic, reliant on labels, has no real punchline, and it’s less about telling a joke then it is about trying to illustrate a basic principal of lefty economics. Other than the drawing style, it could be a pro-union cartoon from the 1920s. Not my usual approach, and honestly I wouldn’t want to do cartoons this didactic all the time, but an occasional trip outside my usual ballpark can be nice.

The principle being illustrated, of course is that there’s no such thing as a self-made rich person. Rich people may work hard (some of them work incredibly hard, others hardly work at all), but their  work wouldn’t be nearly as profitable – or might be entirely impossible – without the systems and infrastructure around them.

This is even more true when we’re talking about the ultra rich. Even if Elon Musk is smart, well-connected to reality and a hard worker (and if he is any of that is debatable), it would be impossible for him to have been productive enough to earn (“earn” as in “deserve”) 244 billion dollars, which is his net worth as I write this. (Or it’s what Google thinks his net worth is, at least.)

At least Musk didn’t inherit a fortune, like Donald Trump did. And yet, Trump has repeatedly painted himself as a self-made man (give or take a million dollars):

“It has not been easy for me,” Trump, as a presidential candidate, said at a town hall in New Hampshire in October 2015. “I started off in Brooklyn. My father gave me a small loan of a million dollars. I came into Manhattan, and I had to pay him back, and I had to pay him back with interest. But I came into Manhattan and I started buying properties, and I did great.”

According to the Times’ reporting, Fred Trump loaned his son at least $140 million in today’s dollars. Most of it was never repaid.

Man, I feel like spent forever drawing (very very simplistic) dollar bills. I really need to learn how to make specialty brushes that do things like piles of dollar bills.

But the most challenging thing was definitely that “publicly funded infrastructure” panel. I really tried to think of an alterative to illustrating “infrastructure” other than cars on a bridge, but nothing came to mind, and eventually I had to give up and draw this. As I’ve mentioned to y’all perhaps too often, I struggle drawing cars. But this one came out okay. I think drawing the cars so tiny may have helped; it’s harder to freak out over getting any details right when the drawings are this small.


This cartoon has six panels. There’s an enormous main panel, the size of the whole cartoon, and then there are five small “inset” panels floating at different angles on top of the main panel.


The main panel shows a smiling, self-satisfied looking white man, wearing casual-but-nice clothes – a long sleeved short shirt tucked into brown pants, with a light blue suit jacket worn on top. He’s holding the lapels of his jacket as he speaks. The last three words of his dialog are printed in much larger lettering, acting as the title of the comic strip.

He is standing thigh-deep in an enormous pile of green dollar bills (presumably of high denominations, although my drawing isn’t detailed enough to show that). Each of the small panels has dollars pouring out of the panel and falling to join the big money pile at the bottom of the cartoon.



CAPTION: Government Subsidies

A very traditionally-drawn Uncle Sam, grinning, is holding a bucket upside down, and money is pouring out of the bucket.


CAPTION: Inherited Wealth

A baby in a onesie is napping blissfully on a big pile of brown bags with a “$” printed on each bag.


CAPTION: Tax Loopholes

A sort of organic-looking hole tunnels into an abstract surface. Money is shooting out of the hole and falling out of the panel, towards the big money pile.

I originally tried drawing this panel as a more literal loophole, made of thread, but somehow that seemed to illustrate the concept less well than a totally abstract approach.


CAPTION: Publicly Funded Infrastructure

A highway overpass is passing over a lower highway overpass. Cars and trucks are driving on both levels of overpasses, including a large truck with its rear doors open; money is flowing out of the rear doors towards the big money pile.


This is the final inset panel of the cartoon.

CAPTION: Exploited Workers.

Two workers – one wearing a blue vest over a white shirt, and an orange cap, the other wearing a polo shirt and carrying a large cardboard box, look irritated. Money is flying out of their pockets to join the big money pile.

Self-Made Billionaire | Patreon

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8 Responses to Cartoon: Self-Made Billionaire

  1. 1
    RonF says:

    This is even more true when we’re talking about the ultra rich. Even if Elon Musk is smart, well-connected to reality and a hard worker (and if he is any of that is debatable),

    Why do you think any of those 3 characteristics are debatable? Have you seen any evidence to the contrary?

    it would be impossible for him to have been productive enough to earn (“earn” as in “deserve”) 244 billion dollars, which is his net worth as I write this.

    “Earn” as in “deserve” is a moral judgement. Are you saying that he did immoral things to get the money? If not, I don’t see how the amount of money he has is a moral issue. On what basis do you judge whether someone deserves a given amount of money?

  2. 2
    Adrian says:

    Did Elon Musk do immoral things to earn his fortune? Tesla factories had problems with worker safety and wage theft. I think the rich do that sort of thing to cut costs and their fortunes. Of course, if Musk does it out of sheer sloppiness it doesn’t speak well of his morality and hard work.
    And if other billionaires have done similar things? It doesn’t show Musk behaved ethically. It just shows he’s not the only one to have built a fortune by exploiting employees.

    Musk’s changes to Twitter after purchasing it showed spectacularly bad judgement. He fired most of the employees in charge of security (violating European laws around data security, and local laws), and fired hundreds of employees who could not write immediately-useful code, including many of the legal and HR experts that could have helped the company respond to the new difficulties he was creating. Are you suggesting this bad judgement was entirely new? That he was well in touch with reality until the moment he purchased Twitter and then had a stroke or something?

  3. 3
    Dianne says:

    Why do you think any of those 3 characteristics are debatable? Have you seen any evidence to the contrary?

    In a word, Twitter.

  4. 4
    RonF says:

    There seems to be a general attitude on the left that since Musk bought Twitter it has gone downhill and is about to fail completely. But what I’ve seen of Twitter since Musk took it over is that’s it’s greatly improved. He did fire a lot of people, but apparently there was a lot of dead wood in it. Since he fired those people you talk about the leftist-oriented bias of Twitter has pretty much gone away, so I suspect those employees were more involved in that than in actual security, HR, legal advice, etc. I wouldn’t call getting rid of them “bad judgement”.

    It’s been funny to see leftists complain that their feeds are all of a sudden filled with conservative commentators that they haven’t seen before. They give that as evidence that Musk is a right-wing fanatic. What I tell them is that conservatives had getting their feeds filled with leftist commentators they weren’t following for years; Musk just got rid of the bias (probably by firing the people who were coding and enforcing it).

    Every time someone in my feed complains that “hate speech” has gotten worse on Twitter I ask for examples and evidence. I don’t get any. When the EU sent him a letter that that it had “indications that your platform is being used to disseminate illegal content and disinformation in the EU” Musk asked for examples. They haven’t given him any.

    The number of users seems to have gone up, although Musk is working on getting rid of bots so we’ll see. The number of engagement hours has gone up. All the competing services that people have tried to establish in its stead (e.g., Truthsocial, Mastodon) really aren’t getting much traction.

    If you look at SpaceX vs. NASA, the difference is that NASA tries to get everything perfect before it launches its first new rocket. SpaceX builds something that it thinks should work and launches it knowing that it will probably fail. Then they examine the failure, fix the failed things and launch again. Rinse and repeat a few times and eventually you get a rocket that work. It seems to me that he’s taking the same approach to Twitter. He makes changes. He hopes they work, but if they fail nobody died, he figures out the problems, puts in a fix and goes on. That will create temporary failures – but they’re temporary. They get fixed.

    My personal opinion is that Musk’s purchase of Twitter was somewhat impulsive and has had uneven spots but overall has improved free speech on the Internet. In a word, Twitter doesn’t contradict those three characteristics; it supports them.

  5. 5
    RonF says:

    Hey, Amp, did I leave a reply here? I thought I did.

  6. 6
    Ampersand says:

    Sorry, I missed it. You should be able to see it now.

  7. 8
    Dianne says:

    More winning from supergenius ElonX*

    Hemorrhaging advertisers, major drops in people actively using the ap. So successful!

    *I hadn’t noticed until Ron put the names of Elon’s companies together, but he really has a fetish for the letter X, doesn’t he?