In his article that appeared in this space Tuesday, Xiaochen Su presented a fascinating analysis of one of the greatest challenges faced by our nation today: “With no understanding of the country’s economic dynamics,” Su pointed out, “the poor continue to reproduce and immigrate to lightheartedly siphon off the state’s budget.” Mr. Su’s solution to this problem was to institute a tax on children and to levy a fee on anyone wishing to move to this country. I was initially quite satisfied with this suggestion, which, even if it fails to stop the poor from reproducing or immigrating, will at least keep them from being so lighthearted about it.
Yet as pleasing as it seems at first, Mr. Su’s proposal of a child tax could lead to woeful inefficiency in practice. For instance, Mr. Su claims that a tax on children will result in a surplus of funds that can be redirected to “alleviate the problems of deficit spending.” In making this claim, however, he neglects to consider the incredible amount of manpower that would be needed in order to confiscate and destroy the children born in violation of the new law.
Perhaps if every American was as decent and compliant a citizen as Mr. Su, families would line up to turn in their illegal offspring for processing if they were unable to pay the tax. But in reality, the poor people and minorities of this and every nation have consistently disobeyed even the best intentioned of government mandates.What a logistical nightmare it would be, then, for agents of the government to have to enter the house of each poor citizen and pry contraband children from the arms of their hysterical, unreasonable mothers! And this is not even taking into account the number of man-hours that will have to be devoted to opening boxes, overturning furniture, and ransacking cupboards. Babies, after all, are notoriously easy to hide.
In spite of my quibbling about the practical implications of Mr. Su’s proposal, I can see that he writes with the best of intentions for our country. Moreover, he is spot-on with his claim that, “Notwithstanding exceptions, larger numbers of minorities are ill-educated, have less desirable jobs, and thus are less capable to financially sustain their livelihoods.” I find Mr. Su’s warnings of “riots by poor, hungry, unemployed minorities” to be as realistic as they are terrifying. Yet what can be done to prevent this dire situation?
It turns out that the problem of how to eradicate a growing population of undesirables is one that has been faced by many civilized nations throughout history. In particular, the concerns addressed in Mr. Su’s article closely mirror those of a well-known 18th century population control expert who formulated a solution to the superabundance of poor mothers in Ireland.
In his Modest Proposal, this population control expert, Jonathan Swift, lamented the growing number of mothers who, “instead of being able to work for their honest Livelihood, are forced to employ all their Time in strolling to beg Sustenance for their helpless infants.” Brilliantly, he suggests that instead of allowing these infants to burden society, they should be put to a natural use by the government — as foodstuffs, that is. According to Swift, “a young healthy Child, well nursed, is, at a Year old, a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome Food.”
Why not apply Swift’s solution to the American population control problem? Given its culinary qualities, the flesh of a child- even a minority child- would become a highly profitable delicacy, along the lines of truffles or caviar.
Moreover, organs from the most robust of these children might possibly be given to the children of the wealthy, further enhancing the health and happiness of our nation. If the government were to institute a system by which poor families could redeem their babies for a small sum of cash, it would produce a powerful incentive for the poor themselves to assist in averting the overpopulation crisis that Mr. Su foresees, all while generating a tidy profit for the government.
Like most visionaries, Jonathan Swift was never able to see his innovations put into practice during his lifetime.
However, if principled idealists like Xiaochen Su are able to achieve political power, I am fully confident that Swift’s excellent Proposal can soon become a reality.
Michael Zink is a junior in Saybrook College.