Thomas Malthus, Psychic or Fool?

March 23, 2010
By Anonymous

In 1798 Thomas Robert Malthus published An Essay on Population which went into a number of editions and discussed by knowledgeable people everywhere. His thesis was; “the increase of population is necessarily limited by the means of subsistence,” and that “population invariably increases when the means of subsistence increase, unless prevented by powerful and obvious checks.” They were widely received as descriptive of the actual situation in which the world found itself. It was not long, however, before the people of the western world began to question Malthus' principle of population.

I think Thomas Malthus was not a psychic but a fool. He based his argument on two claims: People need food to survive and people have a natural desire to reproduce. He also confirmed that food production increases arithmetically but population increases geometrically. This would lead to widespread starvation and disease, or “negative checks” on the population.

According to the principles of possibilism, our well- being is influenced by circumstances in the physical environment. However, humans have the power to choose courses of action that can expand the supply of food and other resources. Thomas Malthus did not recognize that famine a lot of times is not linked to a lack of food, but to the unequal distribution of food.

Currently, population has been increasing at a much slower rate during the past quarter- century. I think Thomas Malthus did not foresee that population growth would slow down over time because of many changes in society such as the changing roles of women. Malthus’ model expected world population to quadruple between 1958 and 2000, from 2.5 billion people, but world population in fact grew during this period to only 6 billion.

So arguing on Thomas Malthus brings one beyond the dreadful effects of a growing population to the dreadful effects of a bad philosophy.

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