John Carney’s Jobs Proposal: Cutting Satire or Accidental Self-Parody?


What is the essence of parody? The dictionary defines it as,

an imitation of the style of a particular writer, artist, or genre with deliberate exaggeration for comic effect

But definitions aside, I think that everyone knows a parody when they see one… right? Parodies are usually undertaken to mock those you disagree with. But what about when something looks like a parody, feels like a parody but actually might not be a parody at all? Well, that’s usually referred to as an ‘accidental self-parody’.

I came across one such accidental self-parody today in the field of economics. Last year John Carney — a strange conservative supporter of MMT that works at CNBC — published a piece called A Modest Job Guarantee Proposal: Domestic Servant Subsidies.

The title, of course, mimics one of the most famous political-economic satires of all time — namely Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People From Being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick which is more typically known as A Modest Proposal. The famous work is a parody of some of the tracts that mean-spirited ‘reformers’ of the day were publishing and in it Swift suggested that poor Irish children should be taken from their parents, because they cost too much to feed, and be prepared as food for the well-off.

Carney’s title seems to echo this. As Wikipedia states,

In English writing, the phrase “a modest proposal” is now conventionally an allusion to this style of straight-faced satire.

But if you read Carney’s article it is clear that it is not a satire at all. Indeed, he is absolutely serious about trying to get the unemployed to clean his dishes for him as part of government policy. He is not joking — he is not mocking the insular, selfish conservative who lacks empathy and thinks that others are only there as a convenience for themselves — no he really thinks that this is a viable idea. He thinks that it would avoid the problems of centralisation inherent in the Job Guarantee — although one wonders why domestic service came to Carney’s mind, why not give tax breaks to people to donate to the arts, for example… is it because Carney had to put on the washing before sitting down to write his piece?

Carney also engages in that same conservative trope that is often wheeled out to justify nonsense,

No doubt some will object to using domestic service as a buffer stock economic stabilizer, on the grounds that it would be demeaning to workers. But this only displays a prejudice against domestic service on the part of those raising the objection. In reality, there is a long and dignified history of domestic service that demonstrates such positions need not be demeaning.

This is a funny argument and you can replace “domestic servant” with all sorts of different jobs to achieve the same rhetorical effect — “sex worker”, “pornographer” and so on. The point is not that we are judging those who choose to do these jobs, rather we are judging whether the government should have a mandate to encourage employment in this particular sector.

The question raised by a program that is being put in place by a democratically elected government is this: since we are providing a massive incentive for unemployed people to do a given job is the best we can do to get them to clean Carney’s dishes for him? Is the US government really just an entity that exists to ensure that Carney doesn’t have to do his own washing?

And now we’re back to the question of parody. Is Carney’s piece a parody? If we assume some education and literacy on the part of the author the title indicates that it is — i.e. if Carney was self-conscious in his use of the term ‘modest proposal’ and did not just think the phrase vaguely literary so he threw it in to lend writerly weight to his piece. The content seems to me rather satirical too. But I fear that it is not, in fact, a parody at all. It is, as I intimated earlier, an accidental self-parody.

My sympathy here, I suppose, falls with the American satirists. They must have a terribly hard time. Perhaps it is these hard-working people, starved of material by the likes of Carney, that deserve to be compensated with our tax credits. And with that, I redirect the reader once again to a non-satirical program which uses tax-credits to get the unemployed back to work.

About pilkingtonphil

Philip Pilkington is a macroeconomist and investment professional. Writing about all things macro and investment. Views my own.You can follow him on Twitter at @philippilk.
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9 Responses to John Carney’s Jobs Proposal: Cutting Satire or Accidental Self-Parody?

  1. DeusDJ says:

    LMAO, I don’t read his blog so I didn’t see this. Great stuff!

  2. Lord Keynes says:


    I know this is off topic, but do you have any thoughts on the theory of price controls (or links to any posts where you have covered it), and this interesting passage by John Kenneth Galbraith:

  3. NeilW says:

    “He thinks that it would avoid the problems of centralisation inherent in the Job Guarantee”

    The only centralised bit of the Job Guarantee is that there is one wage payer – the state.

    It’s like saying that GP practices are centralised because the state pays their way.

    • Poor old Carney strikes me as one of those bleary-eyed Americans who would probably make that case… followed by something to do with a Death Panel or some such.

      • NeilW says:

        “followed by something to do with a Death Panel or some such.”

        Yeah. Much better that we have the distributed Death Panel called unemployment and hopelessness. Far more ‘efficient’

  4. Hint: I’m not seriously proposing a tax-cut funded domestic servant program.

  5. N1ck says:

    This is a surprise to anyone?

    Our entire economy and the political power that forges is has been taken over by oligarchs who want nothing more than a feudalistic state that is the natural successor to a fascist state.

    Of course servitude and personal servants is a topic to be taken seriously.

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