This Ruthless World

Adventures in absurdity

Archive for the category “Modest Proposals”

Another Modest Proposal: How To Solve The Newport Beach Dock Tax Crisis The Real-American Way

Gustave Doré, "The Childhood of Pantagruel" (1873)There was a custom in France during the times of the Ancien Régime of having low-born commoners — peasants and petty townsfolk — watch the King eat. For Louis XIV, who instituted this custom, inviting the poor masses to witness the majesty of the courtly dinner was merely one sensible way of promoting the cult of royal personality in an age before television, photography or daily journalism. Ironically, in the process of making his monarchy great and increasing the magnificence of the French Court, the Sun King essentially destroyed his country, plunging most of its people into decades of intense poverty (and ultimately, nearly a century of political turmoil, of which the Revolution was only the beginning). As the great bulk of the population got poorer and more desperate, while its ruling elite felt increasingly entitled to have the commoners finance every luxury imaginable, this tradition of royal display took on a decidedly sinister connotation. It surely seems bewildering to us why the King, his wife, and his nobles, all dressed magnificently, would gorge themselves on twelve-course meals of game, seafood, exotic fruit and fine pastries in full view of the multitude of their bedraggled subjects, who had paid for all of that and couldn’t even afford bread for themselves and their families. But if you asked the last Ancien Régime King, Louis XVI, about it, he would probably tell you that he was performing a public service; that the spectacle of the royal feast was ultimately more valuable to all his starving subjects than the feast itself was to him. Hence, it was only fair to make the starving subjects pay for it.

Far be it from me to suggest that the twenty-first-century America is anything like pre-revolutionary France (yet), I was reminded of this bit of historical trivia just before Christmas, when certain owners of yachts docked in Newport Beach, California threw a hissy fit over having their (comically low) docking rents raised to pay for necessary and long overdue repairs to the docks. Read more…

A Modest Proposal


People who don’t have money don’t understand the stress. Could you imagine what it’s like to say I got three kids in private school, I have to think about pulling them out? How do you do that?

Alan Dlugash, partner, Marks Paneth & Shron, LLP, on Wall Street’s reduced bonuses this year

But the great Bakhtiyar, preoccupied always with care for the welfare of the royal subjects, did his best to set up such laws in Bukhara, that not one penny would linger in the pockets of its inhabitants, but would pass immediately to the Emir — that is, so the citizenry could move about with greater ease, their pockets not burdened with money.

Leonid Solovyev, “The Tale of Hodja Nasreddin”

In 1729, Jonathan Swift wrote a satirical essay entitled “A Modest Proposal”, in which he argued that the poor Irish can alleviate their plight by selling their children to slaughter houses, where they would be turned into food. The solution would be a win-win: it would solve the Irish poverty problem, while meeting the need of the affluent for culinary innovation and rich food. Although my humble keyboard could never match the elegance and the sheer intellectual force of Swift’s pen, today I was nevertheless inspired to write a “Modest Proposal” of my own. Read more…

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