Thomas Malthus

Thomas Malthus

Born: 1766. Died: 1834.

Ideas

- Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometric ratio, while subsistence increases only in arithmetic ratio.

- Accordingly, there is a strong and constantly operating check on population because of the difficulty of subsistence.

- The price of food will tend to increase, owing to the necessity of employing additional land of inferior quality to increase production: This os the law of diminishing returns.

Biography

The English economist Thomas Robert Malthus was one of the earliest thinkers to study population growth as it relates to general human welfare. After studying philosophy, mathematics, and theology at Cambridge (1784-88), Malthus took holy orders (1790) and became (1805) professor of history and political economy at East India College near London.

Although Malthus's youth was dominated by the Enlightenment belief in the rationality of man and the perfectibility of society, the unfolding Industrial Revolution was making it increasingly apparent that society was changing and not necessarily for the better. In 1798, Malthus anonymously published 'An Essay on the Principle of Population, As It Affects the Future Improvement of Society'. It was an attack on William Godwin's and the marquis de Condorcet's theories of eternal human progress.

Malthus argued that the standard of living of the masses cannot be improved because "The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man." Population, he asserted, when unchecked by war, famine, or disease, would increase by a geometric ratio but subsistence only by an arithmetic one. Malthus's identification of population growth as an obstacle to human progress was bitterly resisted in the Enlightenment climate of the day, and his theories--which greatly influenced classical economists like his friend David Ricardo--were interpreted as opposing social reform. In 1803, Malthus published a revised edition of his work, in which he added "moral restraint"--late marriage and abstinence--as a factor that might limit population growth, and he provided empirical evidence to back up his theories.

In the middle of the 19th century neo-Malthusianism emerged, a movement that, partly influenced by ROBERT OWEN, advocated birth control for the poor. The appearance of Dr. George Drysdale's Elements of Social Science in 1854, and the founding of the Malthusian League in 1877, laid the foundation of the movement. The league was disbanded in 1927.

Major Books of Thomas Malthus

- A letter to Samuel Whitbread, Esq. M.P. on his proposed Bill for the Amendment of the Poor Laws, 1807
- A letter to the Rt. Hon. Lord Grenville, 1813
- Definitions in Political Economy, 1827
- Essay on the Principle of Population I, II, 1798
- The Measure of Value, Stated and Illustrated, 1823
- The Nature of Rent, 1815
- Observations on the Effects of the Corn Laws, 1814
- The Policy of Restricting the Importation of Grain, 1815
- The Present High Price of Provisions, 1800
- Principles of Political Economy, 1820
- Statement Respecting the East-India College, 1817

Major Articles of Thomas Malthus

- 1808, Spence on Commerce, Edinburgh Review
- 1808, Newneham and Others on the State of Ireland, Edinburgh Review
- 1809, Newneham on the State of Ireland, Edinburgh Review
- 1811, Depreciation of Paper Currency, Edinburgh Review
- 1812, Pamphlets on the Bullion question, Edinburgh Review
- 1821, Godwin on Malthus, Edinburgh Review
- 1823, Tooke - On High and Low Prices, Quarterly Review
- 1824, Political Economy, Quarterly Review
- 1829, On the Measure of the Conditions Necessary to the Supply of Commodities, Transactions of the Royal Society of Literature of the United Kingdom
- 1829, On the Meaning Wich is Most Usually and Most Correctly Attached to the Term Value of a Commodity, Transactions of the Royal Society of Literature of the United Kingdom

Quotes from Thomas Malthus

- "The first great awakeners of the mind seem to be the wants of the body." (from "An Essay on the Princible of Population", 1798)

- "The histories of mankind that we possess are histories only of the higher classes." (from "An Essay on the Princible of Population", 1798)

- "The power of population is infinitely greater than the power in the earth to prodice susistence for man.
Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsistence only increases in an arithmetical ratio. A slight acquintance with numbers will show the immensity of the first power in comparison of the second." (from "An Essay on the Princible of Population", 1798)

- "The power of population is so superior to the power in the earth to produce subsistence for men, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race." (from "An Essay on the Princible of Population", 1798)

- "Even poverty itself, which appears to be the great spur to industry, when it has once passed certain limits, almost ceases to operate." (from "An Essay on the Princible of Population", 1803)

- "Hard as it may appear in individual instances, dependent poverty ought to be held disgraceful. Such a stimulus seems to be absolutely necessary to promote the happiness of great mass of mankind." (from "An Essay on the Princible of Population", 1803)

- "That there is ... in all power a constant tendency to encroach is an incontrovertible truth." (from "An Essay on the Princible of Population", 1803)

- "Man is the creature of circumstances." (from "The Worldly Philosophers" by R.L. Heilbroner)

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