So, who was Thomas Robert Malthus? He was born in a landowner’s family as a nobleman in the third generation in 1766. The boy was educated at home. From ten-year age, his teacher was Richard Graves, a writer, and a local church priest. Then, Gilbert Wakefield was training Robert for the University; he described the boy as not a “typical nerd,” but an active and cheerful young man. He was a good cricket player, loved skating. The young man also liked boxing with friends (there were no boxing gloves back in that time).
Later, he was admitted to the Jesus College in Cambridge, learned mathematics and graduated it ranked as the eighth Wrangler (it means he was really good at mathematics). In 1793, Malthus was invited in Cambridge as a “fellow” (teacher and researcher). Still, demography and political science excited him much more than mathematics; that’s why he quit teaching, took the holy order and became a cure of village church.
Also, he was married, published a lot of scientific works (the most noticeable are “An Inquiry into the Nature and Progress of Rent”, “Principles of political economy” and “An essay on the principle of population”, of course), David Ricardo was his friend, students always loved his lectures. There are lots of other interesting facts of his life, but we are going to talk about his most famous scientific achievement, which we call “Malthusianism” today.
Malthusianism’s Postulates and Provisions
Perhaps, it would be better to start with postulates. There were two of them:
- Food is necessary for the existence of man.
- The passion between the sexes is necessary and will remain nearly in its present state.
With the help of postulates given, our hero proved that the power of population is greater than the Earth’s possibility to stand it. The proofs are posted up in the provisions.
There were a lot of provisions, supported by evidence. Some of them are:
- From the first postulate, we conclude that without food and resources restrictions, human population tends to multiply exponentially. Analyzing births and deaths statistics of 13 North American States and Latin America countries, Malthus roughly estimated the time of population doubling at 25 years.
- Population approaches its density maximum in the countries where there are no unpopulated lands left. Maximal density may be improved by new technologies use or by super-intensive predatory land use. The first case can provide the doubling of land productivity for some time, but later, doubling will be impossible, and the best case scenario will be arithmetical growth. The second case is even worse: the effect will tend to be positive for some time, and then the productivity of land will reduce. Practically, England managed almost doubled food production in 50 years (which is twice more than 25) with the help of new technologies.
- When population density reaches its ceiling, people do not stop spawning. Why? Recall the postulate #2.
- Spawning more and more, population crosses critical point and then goes a period later named as “Malthusian catastrophe”: whatever you do, there is not enough food.
- After the Malthusian catastrophe, people doom themselves to famine, pestilence, war, revolution, destruction and other funny entertainments. However, the results of it lie in population reduction. There is no any way to defeat the catastrophe except “thousands (or even millions) of dead people” way. Tough but true.
- Population decreases to a critical point and goes lower.
- Now there is no more food scarcity and life is getting better. Until the next catastrophe comes up. The process described is a cycle called “Malthusian cycle” or “Misery cycle.” Yes, it means that humanity will live through these nightmares over and over again until some people (let’s not point concrete countries and segments of the population) stop irresponsible breeding.
Such cycles always existed, but before Malthus no one noticed it and people thought that wars, famines, etc. were God’s punishment for praying not enough and mating too much (that’s a bit ironic, don’t you think so?). Also, misery cycles may impact not only huge population, the main indicator is not quantity, but resources availability.
Malthus created recommendations which must help to break the Malthusian cycle and keep population density up to the critical point:
- The balanced nature management. The farmlands should be cut in no case. Money and luxuries must not become idols. Luxuries should be taxed a lot.
- To help the poor, however, not with the money, but with the means of production. If a man lost his leg at war, do not pay any benefit; better buy him a shoe workshop or brewery. Now we call it a social adaptation.
- Society must morally censure and legally penalize sex before and outside the marriage including sex without the consent of the woman and prostitution as it only brings sins and unhappiness. What else can we expect from the Anglican priest?
- To stimulate socially delayed marriages and establish mandatory primary education for children (including girls) to make the stimulation efficient. Taxes on childlessness and other ways of rapid cannon fodder reproduction are out of the question.
- And the main object of Malthus’s theory criticism – natal abstinence. It’s about certain days of the month when man and woman can have sex without pregnancy risk.
The last recommendation was not embodied in practice as people noticed only “abstinence” word and understood it absolutely wrong, like “Do not have sex!” But the other recommendations went with a bang. That’s why good old England remained boring but happy and didn’t become funny but very unhappy Haiti or revolutionary Cuba.
Suddenly, technologies came to help; people invented contraceptives (natal abstinence became outdated), operating room sterility, improved abortion methods so that patients won’t die because of sepsis etc. Some of the recommendations are not necessary now.
What Do We Have Now
Malthus was a good mathematician who described a good population and resources theory which was adequate to his times. Now people developed it, but the influence of it on biology, sociology, and ecology remains large. Paying attention to overpopulation problem helped to escape many Malthusian catastrophes and, as a consequence, prevent people suffering. It is also important to understand that Malthusianism is not a panacea, people always can find a reason to reduce their livestock, but the Malthus’s contribution to social development is hard to overrate.