Malthus Principle of Population.

Malthus’s views were largely developed in reaction to the optimistic views of his father and his associates, notably Rousseau. Malthus’s essay was also in response to the views of the Marquis de Condorcet. In An Essay on the Principle of Population, first published in 1798, Malthus made the famous prediction that population would outrun food supply, leading to a decrease in food per person. (Case & Fair, 1999: 790).

He even went so far as to specifically predict that this must occur by the middle of the 19th century, a prediction which failed for several reasons, including his use of static analysis, taking recent trends and projecting them indefinitely into the future,,which often fails for complex systems.

The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race. The vices of mankind are active and able ministers of depopulation. They are the precursors in the great army of destruction, and often finish the dreadful work themselves.

But should they fail in this war of extermination, sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence, and plague advance in terrific  array, and sweep off their thousands and tens of thousands. Should success be still incomplete, gigantic inevitable famine stalks in the rear, and with one mighty blow levels the population with the food of the world.”

This Principle of Population was based on the idea that population if unchecked increases at a geometric rate (i.e. 2, 4, 8, 16, etc.) whereas the food supply grows at an arithmetic rate (i.e. 1, 2, 3, 4, etc.). Only natural causes (e.g.. accidents and old Age), misery (war, pestilence, and above all famine), moral restraint and vice (which for Malthus ‘included infanticide, murder, contraception and homosexuality) could check excessive population growth. See Malthusian catastrophe for more information.

Malthus favoured moral restraint (including late marriage and sexual abstinence) as a check on population growth. However, it is worth noting that Malthus proposed this only for the working and poor classes. Thus, the lower social classes took a great deal of responsibility for societal ills, according to his theory. In his work An Essay on the Principle of Population, he proposed the gradual abolition of poor laws. Essentially what this resulted in was the promotion of legislation which degenerated the conditions of the poor in England, lowering their population but effectively decreasing poverty.

Malthus himself noted that many people misrepresented his theory and took pains to point out that he did not just predict future catastrophe. He argued this constantly subsisting cause of periodical misery has existed ever since we have had any histories ,of mankind, does exist at present, and will for ever continue to exist, unless some decided change takes place in the physical constitution of our nature.”

Thus, Malthus regarded his Principle of Population as an explanation of the past and the present situation .of humanity as well as a prediction of our future.

Additionally, many have argued that Malthus did not fully recognize the human capacity to increase our food supply. On this subject Malthus wrote The main peculiarity which distinguishes man from other animals, is the means of his support, is the power which he possesses of very greatly increasing these means.”

Criticism of ‘Malthus’s Prineiple of Population: 

Subsequent studies and happenings have shown that Malthus had grossly overstated his argument. Some of the important points ,of criticism are

  • Malthus’ overlooked the fact that food supply could be made to grow much faster by technical improvements.
  • Human beings have immense capacities to control population growth which, in fact tends to decline with rising standard of living.
  • Malthus’ conclusion is not supported by historical evidence.

Three factors went against Malthus’ forecasts :

  1. Major inventions and radical improvement in the methods of food production came about much faster,
  2. Artificial,, safer and better methods of birth control came into use, and
  3. Standard of living itself lowered the birth rate.

Moreover, even as an independent variable population growth may have a positive effect on economic growth in a developed economy under certain conditions. More people would mean greater demand for goods and services, a larger market, and more output which may promote economic growth. Malthus’ principle of population was the result of an unwarranted, hasty generalization out of a particular experience, and is, therefore, logically invalid.

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