More on politics and society from The Atlantic Monthly.


The Atlantic Monthly | July 1936
 
A More Modest Proposal

In brief, let us freeze up those few millions of the unemployed who yet remain
 
by Lawrence Garrett
 
.....
 
ne notes with great satisfaction the discovery by California scientists of a method for preserving life in a state of suspended animation through a process of freezing.

For some years we have been concerned with the problem of unemployment. All appreciate the thoroughly practical and eminently successful efforts of the present Administration to deal with this situation. Results have been so far beyond expectations that probably any further plan or suggestion would seem superfluous. However, incredible as it may seem, the ugly head of criticism still raises itself, and it is only to satisfy the most unreasonable that a modest proposal is here set forth.

In brief, let us freeze up those few millions of the unemployed who yet remain.

You start, but pause and consider until no doubt is left in you of the humanitarian and economic advantages of this plan. Of course, this idea is new, but in its very novelty lies promise of success. By this time our leaders have practically eliminated the error in the trial-and-error process. They must be commended for their thoroughness. And, too, we must realize that this project need be no more permanent than that of the digging of canals or the harnessing of tides. It is conceived in a time of national emergency, but dedicated to the time when the farsighted efforts of the Administration have made further thought forever unnecessary—or at least unavailing.

Objections will be raised to the freezing of our fathers and sons. The somber fact must be faced. How much could be accomplished were it not for the terrible weight of public inertia!

Some will hasten to point out that the removing from active life of the unemployed would so reduce the consumption of goods that an economic depression (the nature of which the older among us will recall) would immediately threaten the country. Our modest proposal is entirely equal to this threat. We have only to freeze up producers, the farmers and manufacturers, until the proper balance has been attained. Of course, a little judicious freezing and thawing would be necessary, just as the scientist must delicately add and remove weights to determine the true mass of a chemical. It is obviously simple to correct any preliminary errors in judgements which may occur.

The sentimental will view with alarm the plight of the wives and the children of those who have submitted to this noble experiment. Sentiment is not intellectual. However, should this answer not satisfy, it need only be pointed out that all dependents of those receiving government aid might well be frozen up with those upon whom they depend. Since charity begins at home, we should provide for all those in the home.

The most perverse critics might venture to question the constitutionality of this procedure. It is obvious, however, that no complaint would be registered by any having cause to complain, and as a last resort a decision by the Supreme Court could be suspended indefinitely.

Any further objections to this plan, either by disinterested observers or by the unemployed themselves, might simply be given a cold reception.

The immense economic benefits of this procedure should be unquestioned. Not only will permanent relief be obtained from the necessity for providing relief, but the tremendous gains in the chemical and building industries would give work to millions. Refrigerating facilities would have to be enormously expanded. Thousands of suitable retaining plants would have to be built throughout the country. The most competent of refrigeration engineers would be employed to prevent a deluge of the unemployed upon the country on warm summer days. Since the government would have charge of this work, we could be assured of a maximum number of men obtaining employment.

Where should we get these workers? It seems inadvisable to draw them from any of the present government projects, so vital to the welfare of the country at large. Surely we cannot take men who are now preparing irrigation for new farm lands. Neither can we call away men who are ploughing under the crops of our present farms. It seems only just to allow those who will profit by the new system, the unemployed, to have the benefit of this work—provided, of course, that at sufficient number can be found.

It is quite possible that the immense stimulus to industry of this necessary preparation might at once bring the return of complete prosperity, making the consummation of the plan unnecessary. This would be most gratifying, but we should not depend upon so immediate a success.

The thought of the billions of dollars necessary for nation-wide preparations might give pause to the more timid souls, but should we let such a consideration stand in the way of an idea? The entire amount might easily be raised by offering the public an issue of bonds backed by gold, silver, or something. These bonds might readily be retired by placing a processing tax on each individual as he was frozen up. The individual himself would meet his tax (a sort of pay as you go proposition) by turning over to the government one of these bonds which he could be allowed to purchase on credit.

This plan would be amply justified if it benefited only the unemployed; however, it would be of equal value in many other circumstances. It would no longer be necessary to set aside huge sums for maintaining a standing army large enough to prevent the possibility of aggressive wars. Several hundred thousand men might be trained to the pink of condition and then frozen into a permanent reserve force. If other nations increased their armaments, recruits might easily be added to our own force by some such slogan as 'Join the Army and See the World.' To keep our men well informed as to the improved methods of warfare, it would probably prove advisable to thaw them out every year for a two weeks' period of relaxation and intensive training.

As other nations began to appreciate the economy of our procedure and to apply it themselves, it is quite possible that present military appropriations, instead of being diverted into other channels, might be maintained to proved larger defense forces. In this case the unemployment problem would be completely and permanently solved. Surplus population would be a thing of the past, and all countries would accord Roman honors to their mothers.

In the more ordinary affairs of life many possible benefits of this plan come to mind. The criminal might be frozen up until all his witnesses and lawyers involved in the case were dead. He might then be thawed out and either sent to prison or freed, as the facts of his case warranted.

After an election, successful candidates might well be put away. Government would proceed smoothly and election platforms remain intact.

Liberals, advanced thinkers, radicals, might be stored until their views had reached the right degree of conservatism as compared with the thought of the day.

Receivers of special compensations from the government could be confined until the stipends became actually due. Veterans of future wars should likewise be rendered quiescent, both to ensure their immediate availability for future wars and to forestall, more positively than could logic, any demand for immediate compensation.

Mothers-in-law—well, many other applications of this plan will occur to the thinker. May the majority withhold judgement until time and our statesmen have proved all other procedures unavailing. Minor adjustments in this proposal may be necessary, provision made for contingencies unforseen at present, but no flaws exist in the basic logic of this method of proceeding toward a more perfectly planned social order.


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Copyright © 1936 by Lawrence Garrett. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; July 1936; A More Modest Proposal; Volume 158, No. 2; page 63-65.