Story last updated at 12/12/2012 - 3:57 pm
Winter is dripping all over us in the bush now. The skiffs are pulled up and the fishing gear put away. The fishing was a little slow in Tenakee Inlet this summer but the salmon did finally arrive and the freezers are full. With a good supply of fire wood cut and stacked, it's time to get to the stack of books that's been building up. Plowing through a heavy one on history, while alternately resting my eyes on the mist outside, I had one of those sudden "light bulb" events that set me to thinking much more deeply than I usually do. See if this makes any sense to you.
In Jolly Old England in the 1700s the situation was pretty bad. What we now call "income inequality" had gotten to the point where poor folks were starving in numbers that were truly embarrassing. Other countries were starting to make fun of the rich people in J.O.E. having to push their way into their big houses and their fancy theaters through crowds of the poor who were always under foot begging for food. No Planned Parenthood, of course, so the poor folks were continuing to have a whole lot of children and they would try to make the rich folk feel guilty by holding up their sick and skinny kids for everyone to see. Even worse, it looked like those poor starving folks might actually be on the point of organizing! That's what really got the rich folk's attention because then, no less than now, a bunch of poor hungry people cringing under foot may be one thing but a big bunch of organized angry hungry people, some carrying sick and skinny kids, might be more than a few London Bobbies could handle. As I said, things were a bit tense.
Wouldn't you know that some smart aleck wrote a letter to the editor about the situation. He signed himself "anonymous" but since he was the standout smart aleck of the day, anybody who read books knew that it was Jonathan Swift who wrote it. Now, in reality, Swift didn't mean a word of it and only the very foolish - and the poor ones who couldn't afford books - were tricked into outrage. Most historians now say that his letter, which he called "A Modest Proposal," had an impact that lasted far past the next day's edition of the paper. It may even have speeded up the change that everyone knew had to come. What Swift proposed, no doubt with a sly grin, was that the poor sell their children to the rich, thus earning some good solid cash, and the rich would then cook and eat them, thus varying their diet with good solid protein and maybe even reducing their chronic big bellies. He even offered serving suggestions but we won't go into his recipe for ragout.
We have pretty bad "income inequality" here in our country these days and the numbers all point in the direction of it getting worse. We keep managing to hold on to Planned Parenthood but still the poor keep having more kids than the schools - or the jails for that matter - can keep up with. It used to be that we could send a disproportionate number of the poor to far-off places that no one would otherwise want to go, where they would be killed promoting the system that sent them, but that's all changing. It costs an appalling amount of money to send someone so far away and the far-off places where we used to send them are getting downright testy about having them there.
The government says they can't do anything about it because they are running out of money and they can't get any more out of regular folks and the rich won't pay up. Compound all that with the fact that the regular folks are beginning to gang up in outfits like Occupy and Twitter and there is good reason to be worried. We dare not even mention the staggering number of guns that the regular people and the poor people have between them.
Herewith, then, "A Modest Proposal For Our Times."
While I would be the last person to claim that J.O.E. has licked all its problems in the years since the 1700s. Surely their food is still terrible and their coffee worse, but they do seem to spread the wealth around better than we do, they have better health care and they have far fewer guns. So what if - just what if - we were to seriously apologize to Queen Elizabeth for causing George IV all that fuss, admit that we are not wise enough to govern ourselves and petition to be taken back into the fold? She might see it as a chance to begin re-building the British Empire, which wasn't all that bad, really. They treated their Indians better than we've treated our Indians, gave them job training and all; they are more respected around the world than we are and they have a lot fewer poor people than we do - not to mention a whole lot fewer in jail. It just might be one of those win-win things. Besides, she seems like a sweet old lady and she certainly looks better in hats than Michelle.
Brooke Elgie writes from Tenakee Springs. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.