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Archive for May 10th, 2013

Thomas Malthus (1766-1834)

If impact of any one is based on influence he had over shaping the thoughts of number of people (who are movers and shakers in their own time,) Malthus deserves a pre-eminent position as the shaper of modern world. Where would be  VI Lenin if there was no Karl Marx to begin with? Karl Marx certainly owes much to this unassuming English cleric. So do Charles Darwin and Arthur Russell Wallace.

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Malthus became widely known for his theories about change in population. His An Essay on the Principle of Population observed that sooner or later population would be checked by famine and disease. He wrote in opposition to the popular view in 18th-century Europe that saw society as improving and in principle as perfectible. Naturally he had no use for Rousseau’s woolly ideas of noble savage. Nature was a battle- front where life forms marshaled their energies to get an edge over others in the ever dwindling resources. There was nothing noble but hard-nosed reality of survival.

Malthus wrote:

That the increase of population is necessarily limited by the means of subsistence,

That population does invariably increase when the means of subsistence increase, and,

That the superior power of population is repressed, and the actual population kept equal to the means of subsistence, by misery and vice.

Malthus was interested in everything about populations. He accumulated figures on births, deaths, age of marriage and childbearing, and economic factors contributing to longevity. His main contribution was to highlight the relationship between food supply and population. Humans do not overpopulate to the point of starvation, he contended, only because people change their behavior in the face of economic incentives. (Perhaps the reason for fall in child births globally after the 2008 must point out to the validity of this point.b)

Noting that while food production tends to increase arithmetically, population tends to increase naturally at a (faster) geometric rate, Malthus argued that it is no surprise that people thus choose to reduce (or “check”) population growth. People can increase food production, Malthus thought, only by slow, difficult methods such as reclaiming unused land or intensive farming; but they can check population growth more effectively by marrying late, using contraceptives, emigrating and so on.

It could be argued that war is also part of Nature’s game plan*.

Trivia: Thomas Carlyle in 1849 coined economics as “dismal science.” It was to demean John Stuart Mill, and often erroneously thought to refer to Malthus’s contributions to the economics of population growth.

 

*Tailspin:

 Hitler’s lebensraum  was one way of cutting the ground off from under the feet of National Socialism. Is it not nature’s way of getting rid of evil geniuses? Nature works with chains of events that are most likely to be beneficial to maintain open societies where new technologies shall be put to use for creating health and all around well-being of  global population. Consequently ethnic cleansing of minorities, gypsies, Jews adopted by Nazi Germany as a state policy was counterproductive. Stalin would cause some 22 millions to perish under his personality cult. Where did that leave Soviet bloc? Did it not go out of business by its own immoral governance? Nature has a role if we were to follow Malthusian thought  further into the fall of empire-states. (Ack: wikipedia, Lauren F. Landsburg)

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