"A Modest Proposal" is intended on one level to be a satire of "rational" solutions to social problems. Swift mentions these problems in the opening paragraph of the essay:
It is a melancholy object to those, who walk through this great town, or travel in the country, when they see the streets, the roads and cabbin-doors crowded with beggars of the female sex, followed by three, four, or six children, all in rags, and importuning every passenger for an alms...
In essence, Swift argues that many poor women are unable to provide for the children they have, and are kept from being economically productive by being forced to care for them. He mentions other, related social problems, such as what he characterizes as the "horrid practice" of infanticide, "voluntary abortions," and the strain that overpopulation places on charity. These problems were symptomatic of, and in fact contributed to, extreme poverty in Ireland. Swift's essay, however, is aimed at those who sought solutions to such problems through reason and rational thinking that was not informed by humanity.