Swift Action, not Swift’s Action: Failures of the Welfare State

Jonathan Swift, in his essay “A Modest Proposal,” effectively utilizes an extended metaphor in order to convey his message that we must take action against widespread poverty.


ByRyan Lau | USA

Jonathan Swift, in his essay “A Modest Proposal,” effectively utilizes an extended metaphor in order to convey his message that we must take action against widespread poverty. The satirical point employed suggests that citizens eat poor children in order to decrease the surplus population, and is efficacious due to the fact that in such a terrible state of affairs, one can logically defend cannibalism as a viable solution. Swift’s essay, written in 1729, clearly precedes the existing social programs in effect throughout much of the first world. However, the ominous reality is that one can effectively use Swift’s essay as a comparison, albeit a figurative one, to modern day society, if our current welfare spending continues.

Essentially, implicit within Swift’s essay is a call for radical change to the inaction towards the poor that existed in his 18th century society. Though nearly every global government has since established social programs in attempts at alleviating the struggles of the poor, the poor class has not shrunk in any way due to this. In fact, government assistance has only worsened their struggles. One must only examine the nature of the welfare state to see the oppression inherent within it.

By definition, the welfare state is a means of giving assistance to individuals who do not produce an arbitrary amount of recorded capital for themselves. There is absolutely no encouragement to work, no obligation for productivity. Rather, the Heritage Foundation reported that only two of 80 tested welfare programs in America had any work or training requirements. Seeing as that over three quarters of welfare spending comes from the federal government, and all of it from some form of government, individuals are being forced to pay for the poor decisions of others. Though admittedly a better alternative to being physically slaughtered at the age of one, this form of monetary conscription metaphorically slaughters hard-working Americans from the moment of their birth into the system. If, at any point, one attempts to retain one’s justly acquired currency, rather than allow the coercive collective that is the State to steal it, they are thrown into a cell, losing their naturally endowed rights. Further lack of compliance may result in death at the hands of one of the State’s many henchmen. Hence, this seemingly dystopian future has become an inevitable reality, given the existence of our current welfare state.

Moreover, the welfare state has a massive detrimental impact on families who are living under it, especially the children. First and foremost, that marriage has a number of economic detriments, if the couple earns a low enough income to be considered for some form of means-tested government assistance. A recent American Enterprise Institute study showed that throughout the five quintiles of family income earnings, all had high percentages of families that were subject to significant benefit penalties. In quintiles 2 and 3, these percentages were an astonishing 87% and 77%, respectively. Now, had these figures motivated individuals to reject welfare payments, there may not be an issue, but the opposite is occurring. The same AEI study published an alarming statistic, that one third of Americans personally knew a couple that decided not to marry due to fear of losing benefits. Given these statistics, one can reasonably conclude that the past half century’s sharp increase in children living with unmarried parents, or living with only one parent, can be at least partially attributed to the harsh penalties inherent within our welfare state.

What is the harm of this, one may ask? The greatest repercussions can be seen in studying children that are raised in single-parent homes. In fact, the United States government, creator and perpetuator of the welfare state itself, even admits this. The US Department of Health and Human Services stated in 1993 that “Fatherless children are at a greater risk for drug and alcohol abuse.” Furthermore, there are strong correlations proving that children living in single-parent homes are significantly more likely to exhibit external and internal behavioral problems, more likely to engage in gang violence as an adolescent, and more than twice as likely to commit suicide when compared to children raised in two-parent homes (Prevention Research Center, Arizona State University.) Consequently, seeing as the welfare state causes an increase in single-parent homes, and an increase in single-parent homes cause the aforementioned negative effects on children, the welfare state is the clear root cause of these effects.

Indubitably, the American welfare state was created with benevolent intentions. Nevertheless, it is unfit for existence. Inherent within the system is a widespread model of forced servitude into a program which only hurts those who it pretends to care for. Swift’s essay declared that we needed to take action against widespread oppression of a certain group of people, and never does this apply more than today. We as a society must reject such coercive measures such as the welfare state in order to collaborate on finding a market solution that is both beneficial and free of coercion.


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