Jonathan Swift

#TBT: A Modest Economic Proposal, Fringe, December 2011

So many pieces of writing are published in small literary magazines, both in print and online, only to slowly fade from view.

A couple days ago I checked one of my links to a piece I’d written for the Vancouver Sun and found that it is no longer online. The article was topical and it makes sense to wipe these out-dated pieces from the Internet, but it’s still a bummer that another piece of my body of work has disappeared into the ether. So, I decided to occasionally re-publish my older pieces here, provided I retained copyright to the work.

Below is a piece that was published in Fringe, an American online literary magazine that went defunct after 8 years of publication. Fringe, and my piece, is still available online, for now, even though they are no longer publishing.



The Occupy Wall Street movement has been spreading like a plague. American protestors are pretty upset that big business got the bailouts while the Regular Joe got diddlysquat. Approximately one in ten Americans is unemployed. All those out-of-work people have one thing in common: a lot of free time for gossip and complaint. Yet, whether you are part of the “99 percent” or the “1 percent,” we’re all in this together. If we want the “occupiers” to stop protesting and get back to work, we must change the current economic system. Capitalism isn’t working and neither is communism. It’s time to find something different that will satisfy both the needs of the poor and the wealthy.

I have rediscovered an economic system that will do just that. History provides us with a successful economic structure that, with just a few tweaks for this modern age, could be just what the United States needs. Although this system hasn’t been in use since the fourteenth century, it was highly successful for over a thousand years in Western Europe. It will provide all the basics for the many unemployed individuals who are fit and able to work. At the same time, it will continue to produce profit for the rich, thereby maintaining the balance of power in our system. Politicians will no longer be under the scrutiny of the public, who will be too busy working. Political parties will not have to distance themselves from their corporate sponsors. Corporations will make even more money. Everybody wins.

First, corporations must buy up the land surrounding their offices, factories, and/or plants, or relocate to newly purchased land in places no one wants to live, like the backcountry areas of Nevada, Utah, Kansas, and Mississippi. On this land, the corporations will build modest homes to meet the needs of a wide variety of family configurations. Everything from shared dorm-style buildings for young, fit, single men and women to one-bedroom apartments for parents with two to three children. Now you might be thinking, “Wait a minute. A one-bedroom apartment for a couple withchildren?” Yes, and here’s why: they will not contain, nor require, kitchens or entertainment areas.

Nutrition facilities will be built, maintained, and operated by the corporations. Communal kitchens will serve a number of functions. First, they will provide people with a sense of belonging to a wider community. Second, they will ensure that optimal nutrition will be available to all. Third, measured meals will keep the waifish fit and the fatties trim. Each day, the nutrition facilities will dispense three meals and two healthy snacks per person, for free.

All living quarters will have free utilities such as local telephone lines, heat, hot water, lighting, and plumbing. Housing compounds will also include free recreation and basic medical facilities. The housing compound construction phase will likely create 300 new jobs for each building project. With projects springing up all over Nevada, Utah, Kansas, and Mississippi, at least 100,000 trades jobs will be created in the first year alone. As construction ends, the facilities will open, creating many additional jobs. Does it seem too good to be true? Well sit back and relax, because I’m just getting started.

Individuals and families will apply to live in these fully furnished homes rent-free for the rest of their lives. In yet another tweak for this modern world, hereditary rights (of possession, not ownership) will be passed to the oldest unmarried child (male or female) who agrees to care for the widowed parent (mother or father). Our society has progressed too far to backstep into patriarchy now. The corporations will subsidize the care of the aging parent as determined by an adjustor, with considerations for length of employment service of the surviving parent, anticipated year of death, and estimated work absence for the care-providing child. The adjustor will conduct a cost-benefit analysis of home care versus corporation-sponsored assisted living or nursing home care. If home care is the outcome, then the inheriting child will provide such care until no longer feasible or required. Other married children will already have moved into their own single-room apartments. Unmarried children will move into dorm buildings at the age of 17. Thus, the inheriting child will have plenty of space to share with their aging parent. In addition to the hereditary right of possession, people will be generally tied to the land, regardless of future corporation ownership, providing additional stability and security for corporations and workers alike. Thus, families and individuals will have shelter and care throughout their lifecycle.

Education and legal responsibilities will be delegated to corporations for the management of their own people, thereby lessening the burden on currently under-funded federal and state systems. Having seen that many Americans are unconvinced that the benefits of higher education outweigh the costs (see, they will no doubt agree that education up to the age of 17 is sufficient. In exchange for taking on the costs of legal and educational services, the corporations will receive an even lower tax rate than the one they currently skirt. Corporations will also receive the added benefit of moulding such institutions to their continued benefit (e.g., training children the value of compliance, making insubordination punishable in their court of law, etc.).

By now, you are probably thinking, “Sure, this sounds great for labourers, but how can we get the corporations on board with this utopian system?” And no doubt, the corporations will be calculating the costs of housing and feeding a nation and wondering how this system will guarantee their continued power and wealth. Stick with me. I’m getting to that.

Every able-bodied person of at least 17 years of age will work four days a week for the corporations on whose land they live. These will be 10-hour days, so although it seems like a short workweek, it is actually only a compressed workweek. Of course, slightly longer hours may be required during peak production periods. The corporations will provide full work uniforms for all employees, including such items as four pairs of underwear, four brassieres (as needed), four pairs of socks, one pair of sturdy work shoes, four work shirts, and four work pants. The work performed will be in exchange for the housing, food, recreation services, medical care, and clothing that the employees receive free of charge. By only working four days a week, employees will still have two days free to pick-up extra work (either for the corporation or for another company) in order to purchase additional items such as extra clothing, make-up, computer equipment, books, and other materials for entertainment and amusement. If an employee chooses to work an extra two days a week, they will still have one day of rest. Some lazabouts may scoff at the idea of one day off, but one free day has been the tradition for much longer than the two-day “weekend.” With all necessities covered by the corporations, an individual could also choose to take three days for themselves to make use of the recreation facilities, confident in the knowledge that all their needs are fully provided for by their protectors, the corporations.

Yes, switching to this new economic system will at first tax the resources of the corporations that are not used to providing for their employees’ needs. They will soon realize, however, that the long-term benefits far exceed the upfront costs to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars. For example, after the initial cost, each human will perform work that would have totaled an annual cost of $30,000 to $50,000 in wages. Imagine that one human now works an equivalent amount of time for the cost of housing, basic medical, recreation services, clothing, and food. In the past, the individual would have paid for these things, which might have cost the individual $25,000 a year. Paying for such things in bulk, the corporation can probably provide these same conveniences for $20,000 per person per year. That is a savings of $10,000 to $30,000 per person for each year of work. Now imagine a compound serving 5,000 people of working age, with an average profit of $20,000 per worker. That’s an extra 100 million dollars in the pockets of a corporation each year; money that would have otherwise been paid to workers in wages and benefits. This added income will quickly cover the cost of construction, the implementation of the services, and the maintenance of the facilities. Every dollar above and beyond this is pure profit.

Weary protestors, eager for the protection and care of the corporation, will be lining up in droves to participate in this new economic system. As generations upon generations of humans undertake this social contract—based on the long-standing tradition of serfdom—they will find little time, nor reason, to protest. The power and wealth of corporations will increase in exponential proportion to the number of humans whom they support. The corporations will finally be able to see how providing for their employees in a responsible way actually leads to more profit. Everybody wins.

Furthermore, we can be assured that this economic system will work. Not only was it successful for centuries in the past, variant forms still thrive today. One only needs to look to other modern day adaptations in the American military and in the factories of China to see that this modest economic proposal cannot fail to serve the needs of the employees while ensuring continued success for owners and shareholders. Most importantly, the scourge of idle time, and the resultant plague of public discontent, will be assuaged.


One of the funny things about this piece is that in any given group of readers (in my experience of workshopping and publishing this piece), there will always be one or two people that don’t realize that this is satire. While it seems obvious to me, and most readers, that this is not a piece to be taken at face value, if you are offended, please read this thorough explanation of satire before commenting below. Also, it would probably be useful to read Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal and the historical context of that piece.

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