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Reference To 18th Century Irony In “Modest Proposal”? 

What with all the attention being paid to the United/PMA dust-up… when we all finish saving the produce industry, we will have to turn our attention to saving western civilization. As part of the PMA/United business, we wrote a piece titled A Modest Proposal For Reviving The Merger of PMA And United. This piece illustrated a mechanism by which a decision could be made even when the two parties substantively disagree.

Now our subsequent piece, United/PMA Impasse More than Just A Decision About A CEO — It Is A Battle For The soul Of The New Association, pointed to an evolution in our thought that the disagreement over the CEOs was really not a personnel matter but a proxy for a disagreement as to the nature of the association. This meant that a mechanism for finding a CEO may not be what we need at all; we may need a mechanism for defining what our trade associations ought to do.

None the less, there was a lot of commentary on our “Modest Proposal,” but the nature of the commentary made us decry the state of literary knowledge in the country.

The phrase, “A Modest Proposal,” is the common name for a famous essay by 18th century satirist Jonathan Swift, who is most known for his novel, Gulliver’s Travels. His 1729 essay is titled, A Modest Proposal For Preventing The Children Of Poor People From Being A Burden On Their Parents Or Country, And For Making Them Beneficial To The Public.

The essay suggests that the impoverished Irish could improve their lot by selling their children as food to rich ladies and gentlemen. It is written in what is known as the Juvenalian style of satire — named after the Roman satirist Juvenal — which is filled with moral indignation and personal invective and is the style typically used for bitterly polarized political satire.

This seemed to fit the state of the industry, which was filled with finger-pointing and blame-casting. So we thought it a perfect title for our piece.

“A Modest Proposal” is widely recognized as the single greatest work of sustained irony in the English language. You can read the essay here and the SparksNote on the essay here.

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