One of the first things to consider in this essay is that Swift has taken on a persona, that is, he is writing as if he were someone else. Swift was often critical of projectors, those people who the government often encouraged to come up with schemes to solve the problems of Ireland. These solutions rarely worked.
Swift sets up the essay by being very matter-of-fact. He talks about the problems of the poor, particularly all the children begging in the streets with their parents. The problem, the persona says, is that all these children are not useful members of society and some way to make them so must be found. He makes great promises. His solutions will help all the infants of a certain age and all their parents. What this does is it makes you, the reader, anticipate something good.
Directly after this he offers his credentials on the matter: he has thought about this for a long time. Not only that, he has considered the plans of projectors. One of the reasons that Swift offers so many statistics is because that is what projectors did in his day. They used lots of facts, lots of what we might call today, data, to prove their points.
Up to the bottom of page 53 the essay has almost been boring. That is intended. Here you are, as a reader, bored, almost ready to fall asleep, maybe thinking that someone who writes this way cannot have any solution that would interest anyone except another projector like himself, but you patiently wait for whatever solution he might offer and then he slips it in almost without you noticing it—almost—but it is so startling that you can't miss it. One wonders if one has read it correctly.
That paragraph, the last one on page 53, begins, "I have been assured by a very knowing American . . ." Here he is offering you authority, that is, he is not the only one who thinks such things— an American also does. Then it comes, "a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout."
His tone, his matter-of-fact way of presenting this, does not change. He goes on as if he's explaining the latest ideas on farming. Within this tone, however, he makes some savage attacks on particular aspects of Irish society that he does not like.
For example, in the third paragraph down on page 54 that begins, "I grant this food . . . ," he attacks landlords. Since, he says, they have already devoured the parents certainly they'll be willing to do the same to their children. By "devouring" he means the prices they charge, their lack of mercy when people can't pay rent and the conditions in which they allow their tenants to live.
In the next paragraph he attacks those who are religiously prejudice. Since there are more Catholics being born then more Catholic children will be sold for food thus decreasing the number of Catholics. Swift knew that some people would like the idea of their being less Catholics so he shows them that their hate of papists is wrong.
He attacks the frivolous spending of the rich by suggesting that the skins of children will make "admirable gloves for ladies, and summer boots for fine gentlemen."
At the top of page 56 Swift explains what the actual problems are in a satiric manner. He says he's not concerned about all the "aged, diseased, or maimed" because they are all dying off fast enough as it is by means of "rotting by cold and famine, and filth and vermin . . ." These are the problems in Ireland at the time. Later in the same paragraph he mentions the problems of unemployment and satirically says that even if these people get jobs they won't have the strength to do them. All these people will die off and society does not have to worry about them. And that is what Swift is attacking. He sees the Irish as indifferent to the plights of the poor, that is, they don't care.
Part of what Swift is saying in this essay is that their indifference, their lack of involvement in these problems is literally causing poor children to die on a daily basis. The implication of the essay is that if you're going to cause them to die anyway, why not make them useful in some way. Now, obviously, he is not serious. He is not really advocating this, but it is a device to make people see their own apathy and that their no care attitude has consequences as grave as the solution presented in the essay.
Swift, rather slyly, offers real solutions in the essay. At the bottom of page 57 and the top of page 58 he writes about all the things that he has suggested in his previous essays and that no one has seemed to think worthy of implementing.
Here is some of what he proposes:
Tax Irish citizens who leave the country.
Only buy goods manufactured or made in Ireland.
Reject goods that promote foreign luxury.
Cure pride, vanity and idleness.
Teach people to love Ireland.
Teach landlords to be somewhat merciful.
Let shopkeepers be honest, industrious and skillful.
After explaining all this Swift gives his pessimistic view about whether any of this will ever happen. On page 58, in the first full paragraph, he writes, "let no man talk to me of these and the like expedients, till he has at least some glimpse of hope that there will be ever some hearty and sincere attempt to put them into practice." In other words, Swift is saying, "This will never happen."
You can see some of the resignation of Swift the man in the next paragraph:
But as to myself, having been wearied out for many years with offering vain, idle, visionary thoughts, and at length utterly despairing of success I fortunately fell upon this proposal . . .
Swift was depressed about this. He believed that Ireland could solve their problems if only they had the will to. Try to remember that Swift truly wanted these problems to be solved and his impression was that very few people wanted to solve them. This essay came after straightforward essays on the same topic. You can almost look at "A Modest Proposal" as Swift saying, "Okay, that's it! If you won't listen to my previous essays, maybe you'll listen to this!"
In the last paragraph of the essay the persona that Swift had become attempts to justify himself by saying that he will not profit from this proposal because his children are not young enough and his wife is too old to get pregnant. Of course no parent would do this so it is ironic that he would offer this as a reason for his genuineness. He is also attacking all those who offer schemes and solutions for the sole purpose of making money.