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Based on: A Modest Proposal For Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland, from Being a Burden on Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick by Jonathan Swift
I’m not sure how many read Jonathan Swift these days. I thought of Swift’s A Modest Proposal when I read about Paul “Ayn Rand” Ryan’s agenda for Congress next year: “We’re going to take on welfare reform, which is another big entitlement program, where we’re basically paying people—able-bodied people—not to work.”
It seems to me that Jonathan’s Swift’s proposal of 1729 might be a feasible alternative for Speaker Ryan. Hardly any changes are necessary given the knowledge and care the Irish essayist applies to his topic. Furthermore, given the similarity between Swift and Smith, many devout capitalists will likely confuse Swift’s Modest Proposal with Smith’s Wealth of Nations thereby increasing the likelihood of passing the legislation.
Let me briefly summarize Swift’s proposal with which I am in full agreement. All quotations in italics are from A Modest Proposal unless otherwise indicated.
It is a melancholly Object to those, who walk through this great Town, or travel in the Country, when they see the Streets, the Roads, and Cabbin-Doors, crowded with Beggars of the female Sex, followed by three, four, or six Children, all in Rags, and importuning every Passenger for an Alms. These Mothers instead of being able to work for their honest livelyhood, are forced to employ all their time in Stroling, to beg Sustenance for their helpless Infants, who, as they grow up either turn Thieves for want of work, or leave their dear native Country to fight for the Pretender in Spain, or sell themselves to the Barbadoes.
Yes, this remains SO true all these years later right here in America. We have our tired, our poor, our huddled masses yearning to be free–those damnable immigrants. What can we possibly do with them? Jonathan Swift has a brilliant solution.
… my Intention is very far from being confined to provide only for the Children of professed beggars, it is of a much greater extent, and shall take in the whole number of Infants at a certain Age, who are born of Parents in effect as little able to support them, as those who demand our Charity in the Streets.
By all means, during this Christmas season it seems especially appropriate to focus on the poor innocent children all around us. An added advantage of Swift’s proposal is that it substantially and voluntarily reduces abortions thereby appealing to the Republican base.
There is likewise another great Advantage in my Scheme, that it will prevent those voluntary Abortions, and that horrid practice of Women murdering their Bastard Children, alas! too frequent among us, Sacrificing the poor innocent Babes, I doubt, 8 more to avoid the Expence, than the Shame, which would move Tears and Pity in the most Savage and inhuman breast.
Swift outlines the problem he proposes to solve almost as if he were speaking as Paul Ryan himself:
The question therefore is, How this number shall be reared, and provided for, which, as I have already said, under the present Situation of Affairs, is utterly impossible by all the methods hitherto proposed, for we can neither employ them in Handicraft, or Agriculture; we neither build Houses, (I mean in the Country) nor cultivate Land.
It amazed me to learn that it was an American who first suggested the solution to Jonathan Swift. Nearly 300 years ago the Americans were already thinking along these lines.
I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy Child well Nursed is at a year Old, a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome Food, whether Stewed, Roasted, Baked, or Boyled, and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a Fricasie, or Ragoust.
A Child will make two Dishes at an Entertainment for Friends, and when the Family dines alone, the fore or hind Quarter will make a reasonable Dish, and seasoned with a little Pepper or Salt will be very good Boiled on the fourth Day, especially in Winter.
One of the great advantages of Swift’s proposal for America today is that with the uber rich fully in control a sort of “tribal” warfare is seeping into our politics undermining our ability to get anything done. Swift’s proposal by design brings the upper and lower classes closer together, something we can all celebrate.
I grant this food will be somewhat dear, and therefore very proper for Landlords, who, as they have already devoured most of the Parents, seem to have the best Title to the Children.
Thus the Squire will learn to be a good Landlord, and grow popular among his Tenants, the Mother will have Eight Shillings neat profit, and be fit for Work till she produceth another Child.
Those who are more thrifty (as I must confess the Times require) may flay the Carcass; the Skin of which, Artificially dressed, will make admirable Gloves for Ladies, and Summer Boots for fine Gentlemen.
Swift lists a number benefits to his proposal very relevant today and almost certainly appealing to the Ryan Republicans. First, it will reduce the number and thus the influence of the “Papists” (that is Catholics). We all know of the nasty feuds between Pope Francis and the American President Trompudo. Reducing the “Papists” will surely be perceived as one important advantage by the White House especially since so many of them vote as Democrats. Other advantages pointed out by Swift are listed below in his own words:
Secondly, the poorer Tenants will have something valuable of their own, which by Law may be made lyable to Distress, and help to pay their Landlord’s Rent, their Corn and Cattle being already seazed, and Money a thing unknown.
Thirdly, Whereas the Maintainance of an hundred thousand Children, from two Years old, and upwards, cannot be computed at less than Ten Shillings a piece per Annum, the Nation’s Stock will be thereby encreased fifty thousand pounds per Annum, besides the profit of a new Dish, introduced to the Tables of all Gentlemen of Fortune in the Kingdom, who have any refinement in Taste, and the Money will circulate among our selves, the Goods being entirely of our own Growth and Manufacture.
Fourthly, The constant Breeders, besides the gain of Eight Shillings Sterling per Annum, by the Sale of their Children, will be rid of the Charge of maintaining them after the first Year.
Fifthly, this food would likewise bring great Custom to Taverns, where the Vintners will certainly be so prudent as to procure the best receipts for dressing it to perfection, and consequently have their Houses frequented by all the fine Gentlemen, who justly value themselves upon their knowledge in good Eating, and a skillful Cook, who understands how to oblige his Guests will contrive to make it as expensive as they please.
Sixthly, This would be a great Inducement to Marriage, which all wise Nations have either encouraged by Rewards, or enforced by Laws and Penalties. It would encrease the care and tenderness of Mothers towards their Children, when they were sure of a Settlement for Life, to the poor Babes, provided in some sort by the Publick to their Annual profit instead of Expence, we should soon see an honest Emulation among the married women, which of them could bring the fattest Child to the Market, Men would become as fond of their Wives, during the Time of their Pregnancy, as they are now of their Mares in Foal, their Cows in Calf, or Sows when they are ready to Farrow, nor offer to Beat or Kick them (as is too frequent a practice) for fear of a Miscarriage.
If you, dear reader, have any influence with our illustrious Speaker Ryan, third in line for the Presidency, I beg you to bring this proposal advanced so long ago yet so relevant today to the Speaker’s attention before he embarks on a disastrous program sure to tear our society apart. According to today’s Bloomberg press, this is what Paul “Ayn Rand” has in mind:
With the tax plan now law, House Speaker Paul Ryan has set his sights on another long-held Republican goal: reforming safety-net standbys such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, popularly known as welfare and food stamps, and used by millions of poor, disabled and elderly Americans. Ryan also spoke, on Dec. 6., of overhauling Medicare, calling it the “biggest entitlement.”
There is absolutely no need to go down that rat hole when we have Swift’s Modest Proposal before us. What Jonathan Swift proposes is surely more politically and economically sound. I hope you will accept these humble thoughts I submit to you on Boxing Day 2017 in these challenging times. I suggest you read Swift for yourself if you are among the reading class. Otherwise, just take my word for it.