Another Modest Proposal

by Sarah Ruden
     TWO HUNDRED and fifty years or so ago, Jonathan Swift wrote “A Modest Proposal,” his facetious plan for caring for the poor of Ireland. First describing the lack of compassion on the part of English landlords for their Irish tenants, and the desperate situation of both rural and urban poor, Swift suggested selling Irish children and eating them. This, he said, would at least provide some income for the parents.
     I have a similar but more modest proposal for helping the poor of Baltimore survive. We all know the problem: there are few good jobs in the city. A full-time minimum-wage worker with three children is far below the federal poverty level and must get handouts to meet the cost of food, shelter and medical care. The tax base for the schools is pitiful, and inner-city children correctly see no future for themselves except as prostitutes, thieves, or drug dealers.
     Mayor Schmoke has a plan: $75 million in tax breaks to build a luxury hotel on the edge of the city. The developers promise to employ city residents in the hotel--but I do not see a guarantee; much less a guarantee of decent pay, job security, and benefits. Clearly this plan, if successful, would leave the city right where it is now.
     I have another idea: round up the working poor and the middle class of Baltimore, and force them to finish the hotel as slaves. This offers the following advantages:

     An alternative plan, in case readers do not like the one I have outlined, is for citizens of Baltimore to register to vote, and to end giant tax breaks for corporations--tax breaks which can’t go through without the approval of city government, our elected representatives.
     Whoops. The government forgot we could vote. Let’s remind them.

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This story was published on Mar. 3, 1999.