NOTE: BagNewsNotes is now located at Please update your bookmarks.

You will be automatically redirected in a few seconds...

« New York Magazine Calls Sy Hersh A Liar | Main | Spoil the Rod and Spare the Child »

Apr 15, 2005

Your Turn: Ironing Out a Few Details


I must be crazy to invite your analysis of an illustration having to do with policy!

On the other hand, the subject did find its way onto the latest cover of The Economist -- and you know how much pleasure the BAG community derives from TE's visual coverage.  So, full steam ahead.  What's your take on the symbol?  It's style?  The tone?  The placement?  Do you think the image makes any reference to current political dynamics?  Is there an editorial agenda here?  (In the magazine's opinion piece, for example, it seems like they are putting greater emphasis on simplicity, while taking fair and better more for granted.)

(For a quick flat tax overview with pro and con, here is wikipedia's entry.  And, although somewhat dated now, here's a nice political summary of the issue by Josh Marshall.)


I see the illustration fitting not only the "simple" aspect, but the "flat".

It is a simple direct image that one usually equates with a chore that needs to be done, but one doesn't neccesarily enjoy or want to do. (except Martha Stewart who has admitted she enjoys ironing.)

But I also see it as a "squashing" element. You shall obey or you will be squished, as it were.

A modern day, American version of the hammer and scythe.

I agree: Simple and flat. Also, it irons out the wrinkles, meaning it eliminates the problems and corrects the imperfections. It's a simple tool, yet it gets the job done.

This is an iron from the days before homes had electricity, an antique. Why did they choose this image over a modern electric iron? Were the considerations merely aesthetic? Possibly. Or maybe the implication is that the flat tax solution is too simple. Simplistic. And a more modern, nuanced solution is required.

Here are some thoughts about that type of iron:

Irons like that scorch.

They often burn sensitive materials and as such, they have a very limited use and can really only be used on heavy duty cottons. I don't think the many variations of modern materials could be ironed with such an outdated technology.

They are heavy, awkward, and hard to use. It takes a lot of energy, resources, to "heat them up" in order to use them. They are outdated and burdensome, for those who can’t afford modern technology. I believe I remember seeing a documentary where the less affluent in countries like India, still use these irons.

Drop one whilst using it and you could seriously injure yourself. Which is why I wonder why they did not show “a hand, safely holding the heavy implement”, which if dropped, could bring about serious injury.

Peace. Johanna

Yes, Johanna.

This rather surrealistic floating iron is reminiscent of Terry Gilliam cartoons on Monty Python. Somebody's gonna get squashed.

All I know it I don't want to be standin under that Iron when if falls from the sky.

yes johanna there is no hand and that is disturbing once you become aware of it.

isolating the iron really heightens not only the drama but also the immediate Jungian impact on our brains, that is, "iron" becomes "symbol".

the text at the bottom inadvertently serves as something flattened. in other words that text is "flattened taxes".

your other observation, that this iron is an archaic remedy is also right on.

the iron symbol does hit out brain and suggest the idea of flattening and perhaps even the promise of simplification.

i think it is a good image to sell this agenda.

on the other hand, we know that reality is different. most people educated enough to be reading The Economist know that a "flat tax" is actually a "regressive tax burden", that it is in no way something equally shared or experienced.

I hate to say it but in the context of The Economist, this iron is ironic!

a good question would be, "What kind of image would we use as a counter-point to the FlatIron?"

that is, some image or symbol that so simply illustrates, as the FlatiIron does so well for its cause, the realities of "regressive" or un-equal burden?

I think the choice of an old style iron is to subtly suggest that the flat tax is an OLD idea. One that has been rehashed and revisted over and over again.
Also, no one is holding the iron, it is out of control, just the "Invisible Hand" courtesy of good old Adam Smith.
The way the iron is hovering over nothing is also evocative of the possible impact of the flat tax, no impact perhaps?

The antique iron itself, as well as the pseodo-hand-painted style of the overall image, all seem designed to evoke a sense of the old-fashioned in the viewer.

The script seems to be: "An old fashioned solid iron, before they started added all those frills and features and plastic handles and all the customized artificial attachments that make up the modern appliance known as an iron. This is the ancestor of all those irons -- the true original, shown in a style & angle that might look right in place if the Sears & Roebuck catalog had been done in color. 19th Century design at it's most rock-solid & endurable -- unlike today's models which break down at a moment's notice."

In the back of their mind, the cover editors are probably thinking of the turn-of-the-century income tax, in which a certain amount was excluded (quite a bit larger than today's standard deduction) and then the rest was taxed at a certain percentage. For the editor, just like this iron, that fairly basic old-fashioned tax structure is the model to look back on.

The image is an almost nostalgic view of what was -- which stands in interesting contrast to the "Revolution" headline. The true implied headline might read "The Flat Tax Devolution: Returning towards simpler, fairer & better taxes."

The flat-iron.

It may not iron so good, but it sure can flatten.

As old as a big ol' rock.

Maybe the art-director was just being cute: Hey, guys! Flat-iron/Flat-tax! get it?... guys?

a turn of the century political cartoonist might use the instantly recognizable Monopoly Man rich FatCat / crony capitalist character, with his top hat and tails, monocle and pin-striped pants ~ oppressing down with one hand this flat-iron icon (emblazoned with 'FLAT TAX') upon a squashed mass of American tax-payers, struggling as so many tiny Atlases to just bear this un-righteous and leveraged burden; while with the other hand the grinning Monopoly Man lights his cigar with a burning USD bill.

The style makes me think of Magritte. And I can't help thinking that no hands in the picture means the iron can work without them. Can it do my taxes too?

No taxes would be a revolution. And "better taxes"? Please.

After all this hot air, your shirt will still be taken off your back. You can do it yourself, or if you're pressed for time, get taken to the cleaners.

That sort of iron serves to *transfer* heat from the stove to whatever is being ironed. It picks up heat from a reservoir. It releases heat where the wrinkles are.

Without heat you don't get rid of the wrinkles.

It is therefore the exact opposite symbol for what is presumably intended: to draw something from the mass (mess?) of taxpayers and transfer it to the reservoir in the federal treasury and to do so evenhandedly.

It *is* flat. The editors got that part right. But there are other implements for flattening irregular surfaces. Steamrollers come to mind. Perhaps nobody will feel nostalgic about a steamroller, though?


It reminded me of the opening gambit in the film "Trading Places" where Eddie Murphy plays a a "poseur" without legs, using something like this "irons" to propel his "handicapped" body down the sidewalk, later to trade with the Dan Akroyd character, on a bet, in the wealth of an American economy, from which he is excluded.

Oh boy! Back to wooden handles, and I think, the Chinese laundry where you had to have a lot more of these to even iron one or two shirts, one almost useless.

Reality check: I went and looked at one propping my friend's apartment door open: no wooden handle. A solid iron "U DX 6" with what looks like a wooden handle, from molding.

Once more looking at this it reminds me of one of a set I saw that someone posted on the net, the past tools of the draftsperson. This could be a weight to hold down the blueprints and plans, that have been somewhat replaced by compter aided design and drafting.

Those old-style irons are extremely heavy. It makes me think of powerful women from way back when who would do chores from sun-up to sun-down. They'd iron, cook, wash, look after the farm animals, and raise 10 kids. Putting the words "revolution" and "fairer" near it makes me think of feminism, but the strong, down-to-earth kind of feminism. By invoking these symbols, are they trying to say that this tax will lead to a revolution toward common-sense equality like this kind of feminism was?

It was only mentioned in passing, but for me there's a huge resonance between the iron pictured and the 'iron' game-piece in monopoly. A lot of people have draw the old-fashioned iron = old idea parallel, but I like the presentation of the Flat Tax as perhaps a political game piece-- more strategy than policy.

Dr. Shaw: I just discovered this blog and have enjoyed it very much. Please consider presenting two recent photographs of President Bush. One shows George W., Laura, George H.W., and Clinton at the pope's funeral, as they appear to kneel, their hands clasped on a rail, in their place at the left of the bier; since when do sitting presidents kneel to sectarian leaders? The other photograph, which appeared in a double-page spread in Newsweek, catches George W. and Laura smooching it up at the funeral, with Annan seated behind them; in another setting, this photograph would have touched me with its tenderness, but in the circumstances, with the pope laid out in his grave clothes a few feet away, the indecorum of the act startled me.

Thank you for your provocative blog.

Hey BAG -- Err, your category is called "You're Turn", which I think should be "Your Turn" instead. (As it is in the title)

Hmm...the text at the bottom struck me as the strongest point.

Pushing the simplicity of a few mere lines of text compacted down - so much easier to deal with than a volumnous page of confusing details - which on a tax declaration would demand to be filled out on pain of feeling the 'heat' of 'iron' (the powers above getting heavy?).

The undemanding fantasy of 'everything on the level' as a gift to the busy everyman/woman who have to deal with their own taxes since they cant afford the luxury of having their own accounting department, or simply look on the whole concept of time taken on tax as a burden.

The text itself reminded me of lines of communication - kind of like telephone lines, which again serves to reinforce the concept of 'above' via placing the iron squarely in the sky in mid fall. Also the grouping of the lines could be communities strung across the country - as each person may view their tax dollars from a local level while the Iron itself transends and covers them all. No matter what kind of list happens regarding their back yard - they will ironed into part of the whole.

Ironic? (sorry - couldnt resist)

This floating object looks to me like a weird flying saucer. The aliens inside are the ones that are feeding the national leaders with all of their harebrained ideas.

The flying saucer isn't moving up or downs, right or left-- the observers are hovering. They are examining how test subjects (the American People) react to a variety of absurd propositions, testing for gullibility, credulity and stupidity.

I really like the Double Takes on the right hand side of the page. Good addition to the site.

The tool is an antique, out-moded, obsolete: not up to the task. Just like the flat tax.

Also, who wielded these irons in their heyday? Women, and recent immigrants (hence the references to Chinese laundry above)? Whom would a flat tax scheme hurt the most? Certainly not the affluent white male membership base of the Cato Institute which is flogging the scheme, but rather, the working poor of America, which is disproportionately composed of women and people of color.

Translation: the flat tax is an out-moded fix. The heavy lifting and the hazards will fall to the poor, women, and immigrants.

I'm flat out overwhelmed by the electric insights and pressing commentary in response to these posts. As someone who is often so steamed by taxing political matters that it's hard to find the handle, these threads warm me up and put me back into shape again. BTW, thanks for the correction on the contraction! --Michael Shaw

Besides all the good analysis on the old-fashioned iron, the image floating like it does evokes a UFO.

It sort of puts the "Flat Tax" proponents in the Tin Foil Hat Brigade or maybe in with the Flat-Earth folks.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

My Other Accounts

Blog powered by TypePad
Member since 07/2003