I. Bickerstaff

A Modest Proposal

— th December 2020
H.M. Treasury

Dear B.C.,

I write to you because accountancy is tiring my patience and I have developed some better schemes which will propel me to fame. It is melancholy to consider the bank statements and tax returns of common people while they hang in doubtful circumstances; and, only being trained to contend with positive numbers, I have not enjoyed examining the arrears, debts, and bankruptcies which now litter my desk, from which I can not extract my usual fees or benefits.
            I do not pay much attention to the comings and goings of the world, but I am perfectly capable of an inference: the nation is suddenly very poor. There may be some root cause of our fiscal decline, some point of origin, but I am not one to speculate on grave matters of that sort. Between you and I, my only wish is to avoid these people who clearly spend their money irresponsibly and have, for some reason, stopped contributing to their local economies, much to the loss of everyone involved. Businesses are sinking left, right, and centre because the population has developed an unaccountable love of the hearth and home.
            On a cold morning in November, taking my daily exercise before taking my toast and tea, I passed the black railings of Downing Street, which — have you been there? — looks out on the well-enclosed and confined land of St. James’s Park. I thought it very quiet for a Monday morning, but the unaccountable emptiness afforded me some benefits. In the absence of a crowd, I took notice of the road, pavement, and doorway which leads to the Prime Minister. As his white hair flashed across the dark window, I realised that a man of my training and experience, well-acquainted with numbers and profits — and working next door — could offer a humble proposal to stimulate our economy.
            I began to take notes in a pocket-book about the financial state of our island and the future prospects for our trade. Because we are ever-allied to Europe, we may rely on continental support on all matters related to the free-market. I have not read the news for a couple of days, which means that I can not comment on the finer points of our eternal alliance: but I do know that we are forever bound to a mutual agreement about fishing waters, which is never likely to falter. I would suggest that we invest heavily in a campaign to make sea water the national beverage. Being an island surrounded by — even submerged in — our chosen commodity this is certain to work, and because our environment is warming to a delicious and desirable temperature, we will have more seawater to trade as time progresses: the compound interest will pay dividends. The plentiful supply of warm sea water will also mean that we can trade our national beverage at a fair rate with our global allies, on the condition that they reciprocate with nuclear weapons and other cheap, easy, and effectual items.
            I fear that I have no more to offer you in this letter. My plan for seawater was halfway calculated when I spotted, at a distance of approximately two metres, a man huddled in a doorway stroking a white and grey cat. He had rectangular glasses and a bald head, and by his clothing I recognised a fellow projector. I approached him with my notebook in hand, but he leapt up in a state of fear, hurtled down the street pleading his innocence, and turned the corner like a convict. He must have seen me coming, but if only — if only! — I had been able to show him my notes, we might have solved so many problems together.
            I hope that we may meet in the future when my plan is in better shape. We may have to meet in the new year because I have developed a cough, which is difficult to shift in the cold weather. The other night I could not sleep because I was struggling to breathe, but this is because I have been busy with my work, and the constant strain has rather rattled my corpus. I have taken to walking more often, but I do not enjoy society nowadays. Unaccountably, the honest business of hand-shaking seems to have fallen into obscurity, like all matters of decorum in recent times.
            I enclose a book for you to read, which I have carefully examined with my fingers for imperfections.

Yours until we meet,

I. Bickerstaff


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