“A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Ireland from Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country” by Jonathan Swift (1729)

Far too old & lean

“A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Ireland from Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country” by Jonathan Swift (1729)

  • Everywhere you go in Ireland, you see female beggars with up to 6 kids, dressed in rags & asking for money
    • Instead of doing honest work, they’re out on the street to beg for money for their kids, who’ll end up thieves, fight in foreign wars or settle in another country
    • Having this many kids as dependents is sad & we ought to find them a way to make them useful members of society
      • They are born to parents who can’t provide for them & need to find charity in the streets
  • I’ve consider many ideas from others & they’re all wrong
    • A 1 year-old child with just milk for nourishment is valued at about 2 shillings, which is the most its mother can be expected to beg off the streets during that year
    • As it grows older, it’ll cost more in food & clothing. So, I suggest that they be used to contribute to the feeding & clothing of others…
    • This will prevent voluntary abortions or baby murdering which mostly happen due to avoid expense than out of shame of having a baby out of wedlock
  • There are 1.5 million people in the country, with 200000 wives serving as breeders, 30000 of which can support their children.
    • This leaves 170000 children, with 50000 ending in miscarriage or children dying by accident or disease before the first year is up
    • This leave 120000 children born every year to the poor. They can’t all be used as farmers, builders or artisans.
      • They can only start earning money by 6 & that’s usually by stealing
    • Boys & girls under 12 aren’t salable commodities & even at 12 will only fetch about £3. Compare that to what’s spent on them for food & clothing, which is 4x as much.
  • Here’s my proposal:
    • A healthy child at 1 year old is a delicious & nourishing food anyway it’s prepared
    • Of the 120000 kids I discussed before, 20000 ought to be kept around for breeding, keeping a 1:4 male to female ratio – much lower than the ratio for breeding livestock. It’s fine because they weren’t going to be having kids in wedlock anyway…
    • The remaining 100000 children should be sold off to the rich (give them extra milk in the last month to plump them up). A child can make up 2 whole dinner parties & there’d even be leftovers
    • A child goes from about 12 lbs to 28 lbs in the first year, if fed well. This is a nice investment, bringing a decent profit
    • The flesh is always good but usually best in March. I’m told Catholics tend to have more kids 9 months after Lent, so there’ll be gluts in the market at certain times of the year
    • The cost of nursing a beggar’s child is about 2 shillings a year & would probably fetch about 10 shillings from a rich man to make 4 good meals. That’s 8 shillings profit until the next kid
    • The buyer could also make gloves or boots out of the skin
  • Dublin’s butchers would see an uptick in work but I recommend keeping the child alive & roasting him whole like we do with pigs
  • I heard someone say that the deer in the country have been hunted down to extreme scarcity & that boys & girls between 12 & 14 would serve as an excellent substitute for venison.
    • But that’s right when they begin to starve & toughen up. The meat will be too lean & the taste would be disagreeable.
      • To use the girls would sacrifice breeders
      • I met a guy from Formosa (Taiwan) who said that when a young person was put to death, the executioner sold off the carcass to a “person of quality”, sometimes even the Emperor’s Prime Minister (that one sold for 400 crowns!)
  • Some people will bring up the aged, diseased or injured. They wasted away & don’t have the ability to earn their keep
    • I think that it’s best that they die off in due course.
  • The advantages of my proposal:
    • 1 – It would kill off a lot of Catholics, already the largest breeders in our land & our enemies, who are trying to return the country to Catholicism in the absence of good Protestants
    • 2 – The poor will have an inflow of cash to pay their landlords, pay for their livestock & the children they managed to keep, etc.
    • 3 – 100000 children x 10 shillings a piece = £50000 per year of gross revenue, as well as providing delicacies to the gentlemen of the country
    • 4 – Breeders won’t have to maintain their kids beyond the first year
    • 5 – The food would increase business to taverns with rich customers to eat food prepared by professional chefs
    • 6 – It would encourage marriage, increase care & tenderness of mothers to kids because they are to be sold at a price according to their condition. Men will appreciate their wives earning extra cash & will protect them for fear of miscarriage
      • It will also free up a lot of other food: beef, pork, etc. They’ll no longer be needed to feed kids beyond 1 year old
      • The food will be used in times of celebration & Dublin’s role in the country will increase
  • This is the perfect solution. Unless it actually significantly reduces the population
    • All the other solutions:
      • Taxing foreign clothing & furniture, banning luxury, curing all vices, introducing virtues & patriotism, teaching patience & mercy, honesty, industry & skill, discouraging cheating & overpricing…
      • Let’s be honest. They sound nice but you can’t really convince people to behave virtuously, especially when they’re broke, hungry & have several mouths to feed
      • It’s easier to appeal to people’s financial needs
    • The flesh will have to stay within the country because it won’t travel well
  • I’d listen to other ideas as cheap, easy & effectual but I’d like to ask this:
    • 1 – How can you find enough clothing & food for 100000 useless backs & mouths otherwise?
    • 2 – With about 1 million people requiring £2 million of food, clothing & spending money, wouldn’t it be more moral to avoid the suffering in the first place & all the vice that comes with it by selling off babies for food?
  • I don’t have any financial interest in this & am purely suggesting it from my heart
    • My youngest child is 9 & is far past the age I suggest & my wife & I are done having kids.

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