My Modest Proposal: A parody on Jonathan Swift’s classic essay
Ladies and Gentlemen, as you are well aware, our country is going through one of its worst economic crisis. Economists have termed it the Great Recession, next only in acuteness to the Great Depression of the early twentieth century. Unemployment has been at unprecedented levels since the 2008 Wall Street crash. And for those who are lucky enough to retain their jobs, real incomes have stagnated and are barely sufficient. Every aspect of American public life has been affected by the government’s inability to regulate corporations. This is particularly disastrous with respect to the financial sector, where, reckless and greedy methods of garnering short-term profit have led to a catastrophic crash in the stock markets and attendant impairments to the broader economy. But there is nothing inevitable about these outcomes. Such cycles of boom and bust in capitalist market economies are by no means laws of nature. To the contrary they are totally man made. They are specially designed and promulgated by the ruling elites of this country – the top one-tenth of the top one percent of the population. This narrow profit motive and lack of concern for the greater common good has accelerated the process of deterioration
It is a well known fact that our country is the highest consumer of fossil fuels. Despite comprising only 5% of the world’s population, we consume 25% of the total energy resources – mostly fossil fuels. This is both an astounding and outrageous statistic. It is no wonder then that emerging economies like China and India are reluctant to curb their carbon emissions stating they were not responsible for creating the environmental crisis – the culpability largely resting with advanced countries. One of the systemic reasons why America is a high-consumer of fossil fuels is due to the pre-eminence we have accorded to cars as the primary mode of transport. It was after the end of the Second World War, when the United States was able to achieve strategic control of Middle East oil reserves that the State-Corporate nexus decided to create a big market for its consumption. Companies like GM, Ford, etc, along with government policy planners systematically dismantled the more efficient railroad system and offered in its place highway networks for cars and trucks. The latter mode consumes energy at a higher rate and is inefficient in terms of time and per-capita costs incurred. Thus, business elites and a complicit political leadership had altered the course of American domestic transportation fifty years ago. Those who are paying the price for it are the general population – in America and the rest of the world. This is so because carbon emissions let out within the borders of America affect the environmental conditions globally, leading to negative consequences in far and away regions of the world. Hence, it is about time we reverted the high-energy transport system with more efficient modes.
At first glance, it might seem that altering modes of transport will have no substantial impact on the economy or the environment. But, when we consider the ubiquitous presence of cars in our society, it becomes apparent how even minor changes to its usage patterns will have far-reaching effects. For example, the savings an average family makes on transportation charges each month can significantly alleviate their economic distress. Using a public transportation system is not only cheaper but also more time efficient. This is proven through the examples of several advanced countries like Germany, France, etc, where one corner of the country to another corner could be traversed in a matter of 3-4 hours via a high-speed train network. This will significantly reduce the dependency on flights for inter-city travel, further making savings in transportation costs for the average American family. Moreover, the public transportation option will greatly reduce the rate of decline of our environment. As a society, saving the environment should be of paramount importance to us, for the very survival of our species depends on it. The question confronting us is whether we will act wisely and leave a better place for our grandchildren to live in. Or we will allow business corporations will pursue short-term profits and threaten the continuation of our civilization by precipitating an environmental disaster?
One of the main reasons behind our society’s repeated collapses into economic depression is ‘avarice’ both at the level of the individual and the level of institutions. And cars are one of those talismanic commodities that have come to represent conspicuous consumption. The calculable savings that limited usage of cars would bring an average American household will serve to alleviate the economic crisis in two ways. First, the money saved by households can be utilized for buying other essential commodities, thereby stimulating the economy. Second, it will instill a culture of collective common good as opposed to selective individual gain, for, after all, the public transport system is where people from all walks of life and different ethno-cultural backgrounds share common space. This will bring about a culture of camaraderie and solidarity among our citizens. Indeed, based on the success of the Occupy Wall Street movement, it is not outlandish to imagine a similar movement for reduced use of fossil fuels, via the reduced use of cars. More importantly, such a change in public attitudes and government policies, will mitigate impending climate disaster. We owe it to ourselves and to the humanity of the rest of the world to create this revolution, restore a functioning economy and also save the planet.
Comparison between My Modest Proposal and Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal:
There are several differences between the classic pamphlet ‘A Modest Proposal’ by Jonathan Swift and its modest imitation by yours truly. Firstly, the literary skill and astuteness of logic employed by Jonathan Swift is superior to that of mine. Swift was a litterateur par excellence and he possessed knowledge in political science, economics, law, history and literature. Such depth in knowledge is clearly evident in the pamphlet. Moreover, the most alluring aspect of the work is its dark satire and its wry, sarcastic sense of humor. It is with humility that I admit that neither my knowledge, nor my skill or sense of humor measure up to that of the illustrious counterpart. Yet, I’ve tried to capture the spirit and essence of Swift’s early 18th century masterpiece in my own work. What follows is a comparison.
Both the works address a pressing social problem of their respective time periods. The ongoing economic slowdown is comparable in scale to the problems of acute poverty in early 17th century Ireland. Although the United States is the most prosperous nation in the world, it also has sizeable population living below the poverty line – a condition exacerbated by periodic economic depressions and recessions. Hence, in many ways, Swift’s ‘A Modest Proposal’ is applicable word by word to the American case. It is difficult to imagine what sort of reaction the American press would give if the famous pamphlet were to be released today. But ‘shock’, ‘outrage’, ‘insensitive’, ‘perverted’ would be the likely descriptions for it. On the other hand, the proposal written by me does not contain any inhumane or shocking idea like treating babies as culinary delicacies. Its basic attack is on a conservative ideology that fosters business interests at the cost of the common public good. Hence my proposal might be brushed aside as communist or left-wing propaganda. It will receive all the contempt that such literature is known to get historically. In this sense, contemporary reactions to the two written in question will be different.