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The term, ‘The Vicious Spiral’, has been used in discussions of American economics since the early twentieth century. On 7 September 1942, President Franklin D Roosevelt employed it in one of his famous radio ‘Fireside Chats’ – that concerning ‘the Cost of Living and the Progress of War’. About halfway through, he stated:
'If the vicious spiral of inflation ever gets under way, the whole economic system will stagger. Prices and wages will go up so rapidly that the entire production program will be endangered. The cost of the war, paid by taxpayers, will jump beyond all present calculations.
During the following year, he attempted to control wartime inflation, signing Executive Order 9328 on 8 April 1943, which froze prices nationwide on anything that could affect the cost of living, and prohibited wage increases and employment changes except in special circumstances.'
As this cartoon indicates, the control of inflation continued to be an issue for Roosevelt. However, he became more preoccupied by the postwar future, as it became clear to him that the United States and its allies would ultimately win the Second World War. As a result, he attended both the Cairo Conference (alongside Churchill and Chiang Kai-shek) and the Tehran Conference (alongside Churchill and Stalin) during November 1943.
Shepard represents Roosevelt’s concerns as a confrontation between Uncle Sam and a rattlesnake. While snakes eating their own tails had long been used to denote the circle of life and death, here the snake is coiled to suggest the downward spiral of inflation.