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About Jonathan Swift. Jonathan Swift. Swift is probably the foremost prose satirist in the English language, and is less well known for his poetry. Drapier — or anonymously. He is also known for being a master of two styles of satire; the Horatian and Juvenalian styles. Books by Jonathan Swift. The situation with regard to Ireland where Swift spent the latter half of his life was rather more complicated. Although born and educated in Ireland, Swift had tried to make his way in England and during the period enjoyed a position of considerable political influence Cook, Swift was forced to engage with problems of economic development, which were very different from those that preoccupied him in England.
He developed a good understanding of main economic issues of the day and could hold his own in key debates on strategy Kelly, It was this mastery that allowed him to recognise that the emerging forms of economic analysis involving quantification and consequential reasoning meant that moral issues were ignored. This is most evident in A Modest Proposal, in which Swift used techniques which were commonplace amongst his contemporaries to put forward a project which would be beneficial for all the participants and arguably provide a solution to the problem of poverty in Ireland.
By showing where such reasoning can lead, Swift threw out a challenge to those who would follow it which remains relevant to this day.
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The fourth section of the paper focuses on A Modest Proposal and considers it in relation to proposals made by William Petty and Bernard Mandeville. In , the Bank of England was established with a view to providing William with loan finance. Interest payments on these loans to government were to be paid out of future tax revenues. This was important for a number of reasons. As Swift put it:. Swift,  3 , VII, As a result, public debts continued to mount and when the Tories returned to power in , they looked for ways of reducing the debt.
This they proposed to do by means of the South Sea company. Holders of government debt could voluntarily exchange it for a capital sum in the form of stock in the South Sea company which had been granted a monopoly on the slave trade to Spanish America. While the proposal had attractions for government and for debt holders, there were also a number of problems.
One of these was the limiting of profitable trading opportunities for the company following the treaty of Utrecht which ended the war with Spain. Another was that when parliament authorised further conversion of debt into South Sea shares in , the amount of South Sea stock to be granted in exchange for government debt and annuities was not fixed but depended on the price of stock. This created incentives for the directors to encourage stock price inflation which they duly did all too successfully. The bursting of the South Sea bubble in resulted in financial ruin for many.
Its impact was widely felt. Collapse in the London markets triggered collapse in France and Holland. Trust disappeared and for a brief period even the Bank of England ceased to discount bills. Trade was at a standstill not just in England but in Ireland as well. Swift argued that that these wars brought little or no advantage for England and that the real reason for pursuing them was initially to secure the political position of William of Orange. Several Persons who had small or incumbered estates, sold them, and turned their money into those funds to great advantage: merchants, as well as other moneyed men, finding trade was dangerous, pursued the same method: but the war continuing, and growing more expensive, taxes were increased, and funds multiplied every year, till they have arrived at the monstrous height we how behold them.
And that which was at first a corruption, is at last grown necessary…By this means the wealth of the nation that used to be reckoned by the value of land, is now computed by the rise and fall of stock. Swift,  , III, 6. Even after the collapse of the South Sea bubble, Swift remained unrepentant arguing that the real underlying problem was not the company itself but the conditions that had necessitated it Fauske, , :. I ever abominated that scheme of politicks, now about thirty years old of setting up a monied interest in opposition to the landed. For, I conceived, there could not be a truer maxim in our government than this, That the possessors of the soil are the best judges of what is for the advantage of the kingdom: If others had thought the same way, funds of credit and South-sea projects would neither have been felt nor heard of.
While he was part of the inner circle of the Tory government in England, Swift had entertained hopes that he would be rewarded with an important Church appointment in England.
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At this point, he was not entirely reconciled to the prospect of living permanently in Ireland and thought his interests would best be served by avoiding any involvement in political controversy Kelly, , 9. However, as the Irish economy plunged into crisis towards the end of the second decade of the century, Swift found it impossible to remain silent.
The tract which was published anonymously urged people to boycott imports and to use only products of Irish provenance. However, the real purpose of the pamphlet appears to have been to question English interference in Irish affairs at a time when the English Parliament had passed a bill which asserted its right to make laws on behalf of Ireland McMinn, ; Fauske, This led the authorities to pursue a legal case against the pamphlet but the difficulty of securing a conviction meant that the case was eventually dropped.
It should be noted, however, that the Irish financial revolution was a rather limited affair and that it came much later than the corresponding developments in England. While these factors contributed to the defeat of the proposal for a national bank, it has been suggested that the perceived potential impact on the relative positions of landowners and owners of capital was also important Ryder, ; Fauske, This related to the proposed introduction of copper halfpence and farthing pieces, the patent for which had been granted to a Wolverhampton metal manufacturer, William Wood.
The introduction of these coins would have contributed to the alleviation of a shortage of small change which was widely acknowledged to be a serious problem in Ireland at the time. However, the coins would not have the status of legal tender Fauske, , Large quantities had been initially authorized and there were insufficient safeguards to insure the intrinsic worth of the coins.
Finally, there was lingering resentment that Ireland was unable to mint its own money Fabricant, , Drapier each addressed to a different person or body. The first letter, addressed to shopkeepers made much of the losses that would be borne by people who consented to use the debased copper coinage. People had experienced losses in living memory when following his victory over James II, William III had declared the Jacobite coins to be worth their weight in metal and not their face value.
Thus, in the third letter addressed to the nobility and gentry of the Kingdom of Ireland, Swift wrote:. Were not the People of Ireland born as Free as those of England? How have they forfeited their Freedom? Is not their Parliament as fair a Representative of the People as that of England? Are they not Subjects of the same King? Does not the same Sun shine over them? And have they not the same God for their Protector? Swift,  , X, Even so, Swift had the temerity to address his fourth letter to the whole people of Ireland.
In it, he strongly challenged English misrule in Ireland of which Woods halfpence was merely the latest manifestation. On the downside, coin shortages continued for longer than necessary but politically the campaign was successful in showing that resistance to impositions from England could be effective. Kelly, himself suggests that, such as it was, the economic content of the Drapier letters was parasitic on works of other authors such as Joseph Bindon Fauske is even more critical suggesting that Swift weighed in on economic matters he barely understood while Irish politicians got on with the more practical business of debating how to manage the affairs of the new provincial state of Ireland Fauske, , Swift advocated a realignment of the ratio between gold and silver and the creation of a public mint to coin gold, silver and copper.
In this design, Boulter was initially thwarted by what he describes as a combination of merchants and bankers Boulter, , However, when Boulter eventually succeeded in , Swift was among his opponents. The writing of the work coincided with the emergence of Walpole as de facto prime minister in England and it is widely regarded as a damning critique of the activities of the Walpole government Swift, , xviii.
A Tale of a Tub and other Satires, 1909 [Hardcover]
As such, it has been suggested that it can be seen as an early instance of reverse anthropology, with the empire sitting in judgement on an England that liked to sit in judgement of others Kiberd, , The King of Brobdingnag is reported as expressing puzzlement that expenditure could sometimes exceed tax income by as much as a factor of two. He asked me, who were our creditors? And, where we should find money to pay them? GT II, He observed, that among the diversions of our nobility and gentry, I had mentioned gaming.
He desired to know at what age this entertainment was usually taken up, and when it was laid down. How much of their time it employed, whether it ever went so high as to affect their fortunes. Whether mean vicious people by their dexterity in that art might not arrive at great riches, and sometimes keep our very nobles in dependence, as well as habituate them to vile companions, wholly take them from the improvement of their minds, and force them by the losses they have received, to learn and practice that infamous dexterity upon others.
Balnibarbi was in a state of considerable decay, the houses in ruins and the people without food or clothes. This is blamed on the numerous projects promoted by the Academy of Projectors. His house was a noble structure built according to the best rules of ancient architecture GT, With Ireland in mind, he has a swipe at those who would enslave their country. He also disparages the projecting spirit of his age, in particular, the types of projects being put forward by the likes of William Petty whose insistence on a reliance on number, weight and measure was anathema to Swift.
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Referring to the propensity of mathematicians to give their judgments on matters of state, Gulliver noted that:. I have indeed observed the same disposition among most of the mathematicians I have known in Europe, although I could never discover the least analogy between the two sciences; unless people suppose, that because the smallest circle hath as many degrees as the largest, therefore the regulation and management of the world require no more abilities than the handling and turning of a globe.
GT III, Gulliver explained to his Houyhnhnm master that the Yahoos were the governing animals in his country, England. He also explained the nature of its economy including the role of money as a store of value and means of exchange. In addition to his difficulty in understanding the nature and role of trade, the Houyhnhnm master observed with some puzzlement that the Yahoo nation had been extremely successful in multiplying the original wants of its inhabitants and, having done so, seemed to spend their whole lives in vain endeavours to supply them by their own inventions GT IV, Gulliver sought to explain that trade was a source of luxury goods.
He also explained that in an economy with a division of labour, people earned their living by producing goods for others and that quite ordinary goods represented the work of many hundreds of tradespeople:. The bulk of our people supported themselves by furnishing the necessities or conveniences of life to the rich, and to each other. GT IV, The reasons given are that the countries concerned had no desire to be conquered or enslaved and did not abound in gold, silver, sugar or tobacco.
For Instance, a crew of pirates are driven by a storm they know not whither; and at length a boy discovers land from the top-mast; they go on shore to rob and plunder; they see an harmless people, are entertained with kindness, they give the country a new name, the take formal possession of it for the king, they set up a rotten plank or stone for a memorial, they murder two or three dozen of the natives, bring away a couple more by force for a sample, return home, and get their pardon.
Here commences a new dominion acquired with a title by divine right. Ships are sent with the first opportunity; the natives driven out or destroyed, their princes tortured to discover their gold; a free licence given to all acts of inhumanity and lust; the earth reeking with the blood of its inhabitants: And this execrable crew of butchers employed in so pious an expedition, is a modern colony sent to convert and civilize an idolatrous and barbarous people.
It is reasonable to conjecture that this was meant ironically especially since we know that the abuse of Irish administrative appointments was an issue to which Swift attached the greatest importance Swift,  , II, Like his Anglo-Dutch contemporary Bernard Mandeville, Swift liked to explore the contradictions that emerged when things were looked at from different from different points of view.
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Mandeville found his answers to these contradictions in a theory of social evolution, whereas Swift sought them in the orthodox Christianity that he inherited. The work, which is widely acknowledged to be amongst the finest satirical essays in the English language, is written in the form of an economic pamphlet and employs the methodology of political arithmetic to make its case that poverty could be alleviated in Ireland if the children of the poor were sold, aged one, as food for the rich.
At one point in the satire the proposer claims that he could think of only one objection to his scheme namely that the number of the people in the kingdom would be thereby lessened. This, the proposer was willing to allow and he justified his position by saying that the suggested remedy was intended to apply only to Ireland. Consequently, he did not want to hear about other possible remedies:. Lastly of putting a spirit of honesty, industry and skill into our shopkeepers. Swift,  , Kelly , finds that Swift had nothing new to offer and that his complaints about trade restrictions and belief that Ireland could not hope to prosper within the British mercantile system ran counter to the thinking of other economic writers who were beginning to take the view that co-operation with the Imperial commercial system was possible Kelly, , For both authors, import substitution was linked to a condemnation of luxury consumption which was seen as depriving native industry of the demand needed to encourage local production.
At the beginning of the eighteenth century, sophisticated commentators such as Henry Martyn had defended the import of textiles into England on the ground that it would facilitate the release of labour from employments which were inefficient and allow its transfer to industries where it could be put to better use Martyn, However, such arguments were not relevant in the conditions of high unemployment pertaining in Ireland in the s and it is hardly surprising that, in the circumstances, the creation of employment was a major preoccupation of Irish writers on political economy Rashid, Consequently, the removal of the Irish to Britain would be advantageous provided that food for the transported population could be raised with the same amount of labour as before and that the increase in the price of land in England exceeded the value of immovables that had been left behind in Ireland.
Although Petty excused his proposal by describing it as a dream or reverie rather than a rational proposition, there is evidence that he took the dream sufficiently seriously to present James II with a fully worked out proposal in , although nothing ever came of the project Brewer, , Swift suggested that this was beneficial since no alternative work was available. If sufficient numbers went abroad, the whole country could be turned over to tillage.
Nonetheless, he was also aware that the use of numbers could give an argument the appearance of objectivity and impartiality. Part of the effectiveness of the A Modest Proposal derives from this appearance.
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The proposer comes across as rational and reasonable. He demonstrates that his project will be beneficial for all concerned even the children sold for food. The proposer shows himself to be willing to consider other alternatives although these are eventually dismissed as being economically flawed or open to censure on humanitarian grounds. There is no full-fronted assault just occasional hints that all is not well through apparently incidental discussion of lesser evils of which society does not approve. Like Swift, Mandeville understood that how one evaluated matters varied depending on the point of view adopted and he exploited this fact in several of his works.
For example, in Remark G of The Fable of the Bees, having first established the evil nature of the trade in alcoholic spirits, Mandeville proceeded to show that a good humoured man might look at things differently and view the trade as a universal comfort for the poor as well as a source of great wealth for some eminent distiller. Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
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