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A Modest Proposal

A Modest Proposal (1729) is a classic satire written by Jonathan Swift - the full title is A modest Proposal for preventing the Children of Poor People from being a Burthen to their Parents, or the Country, and for making them Beneficial to the Publick.

The proposal in question was for the poor to sell their children to be slaughtered for meat, thereby bringing in valuable income for the family.

Written as an attack on the indifference of landlords to the state of their tenants, and the political economists with their calculations on the schemes to raise income, the entire piece is written in a deeply ironic tone, with scathing comments about the state of the poor and their landlords such as: "I grant this food may 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."

The satirical intent of A Modest Proposal was misunderstood by many of Swift's peers, and he was harshly criticized for writing prose in such exceptionally "bad taste."

In modern usage, the phrase "modest proposal" has come to indicate a proposal that is anything but modest. Witness the 80,000 or so results of the Google search query "modest proposal".

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