Malthus was wrong. Is he still wrong?

In 2004 History Future Now went on a mission to read the most influential books on economic and philosophical theory. Books selected were deliberately from all spectrums of economic thought and included David Ricardo’s The Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, John Galbraith’s The Affluent Society, Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom, Thomas Paines The Age of Reason, John Maynard Keynes The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, Karl Marx’s Capital and many others.

One which stood out in particular was An Essay on the Principle of Population, by the Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus.   He famously predicted that food production increases would not keep up with population increases, resulting in gigantic, inevitable, famines.

He lived in a world of about 1 billion people.  Today there are over 7 billion people, so his prediction was clearly very  wrong.  History Future Now will try to understand why he was wrong and then asks a critical question: is he still wrong?

Before we go into that it would be useful to provide some background on Thomas Malthus and the core ideas that he wrote about.

Thomas Robert Malthus

Malthus was born in a country house near Westcott, Surrey, England in 1766, the sixth of seven children in a land that was fundamentally agrarian, but buzzing with ideas and innovations.  He died in Bath, England, aged 68, in December 1834 as the industrial revolution was picking up steam. He was initially home educated, went to Dissenting Warrington Academy and then up to Cambridge University where he studied Latin, Greek and mathematics. In 1798, he became an Anglican curate back in his home county of Surrey.

In 1798, he published An Essay on the Principle of Population which he then updated six times, the final version emerging, after years of additional research and responses to feedback, in 1826.  One of the reasons for his writing the book was due to his objection to some of the more utopian works on humanity by William Godwin (Enquiry concerning Political Justice in 1793) and the Marquis de Condorcet (The Future Progress).

He is most famous for a passage in which he writes that:

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.

While this inevitability of overpopulation resulting in premature death due to war or famine makes him well remembered today, one of his central concerns was about the fate of the poor in society, and he claimed that there would always be a poor underclass.

He describes a cycle whereby an increased population would depress the value of labour, causing poverty and hardship.  The population would stagnate for a period, but the resulting cheap labour which would encourage agricultural expansion, resulting in more food and thus cheaper food, encouraging the population to increase and the cycle would continue:

The food therefore which before supported seven millions must now be divided among seven millions and a half or eight millions. The poor consequently must live much worse, and many of them be reduced to severe distress. The number of labourers also being above the proportion of the work in the market, the price of labour must tend toward a decrease, while the price of provisions would at the same time tend to rise. The labourer therefore must work harder to earn the same as he did before. During this season of distress, the discouragements to marriage, and the difficulty of rearing a family are so great that population is at a stand. In the mean time the cheapness of labour, the plenty of labourers, and the necessity of an increased industry amongst them, encourage cultivators to employ more labour upon their land, to turn up fresh soil, and to manure and improve more completely what is already in tillage, till ultimately the means of subsistence become in the same proportion to the population as at the period from which we set out.

This population expansion, stagnation and expansion cycle is very reminiscent of the boom and bust cycles in an economy and so it is not surprising that Malthus was so influential on other thinkers ranging from Keynes, Marx, Wallace, Mao Zedong and even Darwin.

Malthus believed that to stop this cycle of scarcity workers should be encouraged to postpone marriage and practice celibacy whilst in marriage to keep population numbers in check.  If they did not keep their numbers in check by their own measures, they would be kept poor, or even worse, the positive checks of war, sickness and famine would kick in, bringing even greater misery.

Many contemporaries, who included Godwin, Marx and Ricardo, strongly disagreed with his views on restricting population and that there would be a permanent underclass.  Friedrich Engels, the German-British industrialist who funded Marx, was particularly scathing as he believed Malthus ignored the power of science to increase food production and that the poor would always be poor.  Admittedly, it is worth noting that Engels was born in 1820 and so was far more aware of the transformative power of coal and industrialisation than Malthus, who lived in a primarily agricultural society. Others were horrified at Malthus’ view that small pox vaccinations were a bad thing for society as it just enabled more people to live, bringing in greater catastrophe in the future.

 

So why was Malthus wrong?

The world’s population had been growing by about 100 million every century since 1500 and was at around 700 million shortly before Malthus’ birth in 1766.  While Malthus recognised that the population had slowly been increasing, he was not in a position to anticipate three major changes to the amount of food available that occurred shortly after he made his predictions.

World population stood at 1 billion by 1804 and 2 billion slightly over century later, 10 times more than the pre industrial revolution average increase of 100 million per century.  From 1900 the pace accelerated, from 1.6 billion in 1900 to 6.1 billion in 2000.   Since 1960 the world’s population has been increasing by about 1 billion per decade.

The three major changes were mechanisation and fossil fuels, food imports and increased land for food, and improved yields per acre.

Mechanisation and fossil fuels

Fossil fuels, first in the form of coal and then in oil and gas, revolutionised farming and its productivity.  When societies relied on human and animal power there were significant limits to how much surplus food could be generated per farmer.  With mechanisation, first with steam powered devices and then with vehicles using internal combustion engines, farmers were able to significantly increase the food output per farm worker.  In developed countries, 2-4% of the entire population is now able to provide enough food for the rest of their country, mainly thanks to mechanisation.

Fossil fuels are not just used for power, however.  Natural gas  forms -with nitrogen – the raw ingredient for the creation of ammonia based fertilisers, thanks to the industrialisation of the Haber process in 1913.  This helped to significantly improve yields of food on agricultural lands all over the world.

Increased area of land under cultivation

Malthus grew up in a country that was isolated from a food perspective from other countries.  The bulk of the food that England consumed was grown domestically.  International trade was very vigorous, but was mainly confined to very high value products that could be transported on ships – like sugar, coffee and tobacco.  Bulk transportation of food, such as grains, was relatively uncommon at the time of An Essay on the Principle of Population‘s publication in 1798.  By 1815 it was sufficiently common that Britain introduced Corn Laws restricting grain imports, which caused riots in towns.

This has clearly changed.  The colonies in the New World were relatively unpopulated and when Europeans brought over European style farming to these areas, combined with mechanisation, it resulted in the massive increase in the amount of land available for farming.

Food is now transported in bulk all over the world, ensuring that any surplus food is sold into a web of interconnected markets.  This helps drive down food prices and helps increase the availability of food for all, even allowing for the impact of bad harvests in one area to be mitigated by good harvests in other parts of the world.  America, Argentina and Brazil, for example are now major food exporters for the entire world.

Interestingly, Malthus supported the Corn Laws that were introduced in 1815, restricting corn imports to England, while most free trade economists argued for its abolition.  He argued that the more foreign corn England imported the more dependent it would be on foreign imports.  This would mean that England would be increasingly held capitive to foreign politics and vulnerable to trade restrictions that would emerge in the event of a food shortfall in another country.

Improvements in yields per acre

The third major change is an improvement of  yields per acre.  This has gone up due to better equipment for ploughing and monitoring the soil, artificially selected plant strains, fertilisers, pesticides and other improvements to the science of crops.  Hybrid and genetically modified plants promise to further improve the yield from a give patch of land. Improved water pumps, have also massively increased yields in arid parts of the world such as the US, China, India and Saudi Arabia that were originally unsuitable for farming but are now highly productive thanks to irrigation from water 1-2 miles below the ground’s surface.

Does this mean that Malthus will always be wrong?

Unfortunately, just because Malthus was wrong 200 years ago it does not mean that his theories will always be wrong. The three main drivers of agricultural growth are stalling and many of them are one offs, never to be repeated again.  What is changing?

First, improvements in productivity due to mechanisation are now relatively marginal. When Malthus was young, 90% of the country would have been involved in farming. In most developed countries that number is now between 2-4% of the population.  Even if you had a 50% improvement in farming mechanisation and productivity per person, this would mean that the numbers involved in farming would drop to 1-2% of the population.  An improvement that is irrelevant in the scheme of things.

Second, the world saw a huge increase in new land available for agriculture thanks to New World colonies in North, Central and South America.  That land was a one off and we are not anticipating the discovery of a new continent any time soon.  As the population of the world increases, the amount of new land is not expected to expand, but rather contract.  This contraction is due to the fact that most cities are located in proximity to prime agricultural land.  As cities get bigger they expand over this prime land.  Sea level rises are also likely to impact agricultural lands around the coast, with particular impacts around deltas.

Third, improvements in yields per acre are also under threat.  Much is made about genetically modified crops, with the anticipation that they will radically increase yields over and above existing modern strains of crops.  This is mainly true.  But even Monsanto does not see huge productivity growth in idealised locations and more land is no longer “ideal”.

There are multiple issues. One is that improvements due to improved strains not that fast. Second is that land quality is deteriorating due to soil erosion and salinisation so any improvements are likely to be offset by deteriorating land quality. It is also worth noting that if GM crops were very successful and planted in large quantities it would produce a dangerous monoculture.  Monocultures are more susceptible to disease and thus it would increase the likelihood of disease wiping out that entire global crop.

Huge irrigation schemes in the US, China, India and other parts of the world are also under threat as much of the water comes from underground aquifers.  These aquifers get replenished over thousands of years and current levels of extraction significantly exceed the replenishment rate (see article).  Many countries rely on glacial melt to feed their river systems and monsoon rains to water their crops.  Changes in climate are already affecting weather patterns, which is making these natural watering systems less reliable.

Finally, as countries get richer, their diets improve and people want to eat more protein.  Growing crops like alfalfa, soya beans and maize for animal feed reduces the food available for direct human consumption, which is far more efficient. Growing corn for biofuels will clearly have to stop.

This is a bleak assessment of food availability: land availability is declining, not increasing, mechanisation is producing diminishing returns, yield improvements due to genetically modified crops are lower than hoped for and are likely to be offset by declining soil quality and water availability.  Malthus would be nodding his head in sad agreement: famines are more likely than food abundance.

 

So what about Engels?

Frederich Engels was particularly critical of Malthus and believed that man’s ingenuity and science would solve the world’s food shortages. So what are the wild cards that might make Engels right and Malthus wrong in the future?  Here are some possibilities.

Factory grown food crops

When you think about it, growing food in fields is a very inefficient use of space and resources.  There are a number of companies that are developing “factory farms” with high value crops being grown in nutrient mixes that are perfect for the plants being grown.  Some even have rotating growing levels, which allow for vertical farming.  This allows for more food to be grown in a given area and for diseases to be controlled.  Will this ever be as productive as growing food on millions of acres of land? Probably not, but it might make a difference.

Improved irrigation

A lot of water is wasted in irrigation. Some of the water is absorbed by the plants, but much of it evaporates, leaving minerals behind, causing salinisation of the soil.  Improved irrigation that gets more water to plant roots and nowhere else is of great benefit – but installing those systems will be expensive, increasing food costs.

Africa and Siberia

African soils are, in most places, not ideal for intensive farming.  Weather patterns make it especially difficult.  However, parts of Africa could be farmed more intensively in the short term.  However, Africa is expected to be especially vulnerable to climate change (see US Department of Defense report).  As global warming accelerates, however, it may be possible that much of the frozen tundras of Canada and Siberia might thaw out, releasing not only millions of tonnes of methane, but also unlocking much of that area for agriculture.

StarTrek Replicator

Finally, and on a more optimistic note, we have Michio Kaku, Professor of Theoretical Physics at CUNY, who says that Star Trek style replicators, which build products from an atomic level, are not that far off in the future:

… we have nanotechnology, and with nanotechnology, perhaps, who knows, maybe in 100 years, we’ll have something called the replicator.  Now the replicator is something you see in Star Trek.  It’s called the molecular assembler and it takes ordinary raw materials, breaks them up at the atomic level and joins the joints in different ways to create new substances.  If you have a molecular assembler, you can turn, for example, a glass into wood or vice versa.  You would have the power of a magician, in fact, the power of a god, the ability to literally transform the atoms of one substance into another and we see it on Star Trek.

Watch the video – he is far more upbeat than History Future Now!  


What ideas do you have?

 

 

About the Author

- Tristan Fischer is the author of all the articles on History Future Now. He is the Chairman of Lumicity Ltd, a company developing renewable energy infrastructure projects, Chairman of Fischer Farms Ltd, a vertical farming company using hydroponics, and a board Director of Fish From Ltd, an onshore salmon company. He previously worked for Camco International, Shell Renewables and Citigroup. He was educated at Cambridge University. To find out more click here: https://uk.linkedin.com/in/tristanfischer

  • Article: Malthus was wrong about man’s ability to feed itself. Is he still wrong? Perhaps not – read on… http://t.co/wGcyFz9U

  • Article:global population has increased from 10m per decade at time of Malthus to 1,000m per decade now. Is this good? http://t.co/wGcyFz9U

  • Corey Weiner

    Why was he wrong? Problem with mercantilism if executed without leaks? Something wrong with economic nationalism?

    Great article. Malthus, David Ricardo, even parts of Marx are useful in balancing supply/demand equilibrium.

    Unfortunately, Americans grow up wanting everything for two bucks at Wal Mart.
    Posted by Corey Weiner

  • Mitchell Timin

    Malthus was not wrong in general. There have been many regional collapses of human societies due to populations growing beyond food production capacity. These are documented in “Collapse”, a book by Jared Diamond.

    Now that the world is becoming one region, there is likely to be a global collapse, but I think it’s about 20 years away. I base that on another book: Limits to Growth: the 30 Year Update, by Meadows, et al.

    http://earthchurch.blogspot.com
    Posted by Mitchell Timin

  • Ronald Cooke

    Timing. Everything is timing.
    Posted by Ronald Cooke

  • Fiona MacCarthy

    He fell victim to what we frequently do in society today. We extrapolate a few years (maybe centuries depending on what we desire to prove) data to derive a prediction that scares.
    The article draws upon new reasons to support its prognosis of which the key one in my opinion is water supply. Offsetting this is improving utilisation techniques, the extent of which is still uncertain. These will push the problem horizon further away.
    Ultimately we will I believe learn to manufacture food (referred to in article too)
    Posted by Fiona MacCarthy

  • Walter Bazzini

    Advances in agriculture and technology have allowed us to keep moving the goalposts, thus fending off various predictions of peaks, tipping points and “end-of-things-as-we-know-them” prophecies while the predictors of same are often ridiculed, but sooner or later, we’re going to run out of field. Dire predictions of coming crises involving fossil fuels and energy get all the press in the developed world (because that’s what we make all the noise about), but fuel scarcity and rising cost will look like a minor inconvenience in comparison to when food and water go critical.
    Posted by Walter Bazzini

  • Gulnara Tohtahun

    Malthus might never be right if we take the issue of control over world population growth seriously. It is not just a problem of China anymore, it is a global issue. Birth control measures should be introduced everywhere if we are to have quality life in 50 years from now, else we will suffocate in our own waste.
    Already now we are not sure what we are putting into the mouth – so much everything is being “enhanced” and I am not looking forward to nano-tomatoes that were created before my very eyes, shops are full of plastic greenhouse tomatoes today, so I can only imagine what nano-tomatoes are going to taste like.
    Agree with Mitchell that globalization gives a global scale to any process on the planet, but globalization also makes us one big family eventually erasing not just prejudice but also economic inequality, therefore issue like population growth spiraling out off control are becoming easier to tackle. A one-child family should be seen as a norm. Parents are likely to give more to one child.
    It is not enough to say that population is aging, yes, aging but not dying out, and all that old population also needs to eat. Therefore, there is no need to rush to procreation to replenish the workforce, as you’d be replenishing the numbers of unemployed. If you say that this will cause the decline of the population in future – right so, this is what we are after!
    Relieving women from the burden of being procreating machines where they still are seen as such, educating the uneducated and educating everybody about the need for conservation of resources, about slowing down consumption and wise use of world resources will ensure us a green planet with a blue sky and food on the table for generations to come. Some tweaking of nature with the help of modern science would still be in place.
    Looking for another continent or another planet to expand to while leaving behind a polluted dessert might not be the right mentality in the long run.
    Posted by Gulnara Tohtahun

  • Matthew Kaufmann

    I had an economics professor who’s view on Malthus was that if a society was cognizant enough to realize they were squeezing resources the society would take measures to lower birth rates and increase substitution. England just prior to the Industrial Revolution is the most commonly cited example of this trend.

    Also I have read that the rise of synthetic materials and non-organic methods of fertilization essentially rendered much of Malthus’s theory largely irrelevant because the constraints are far more elastic in the modern world.

    It’s an interesting thing to think about nonetheless.
    Posted by Matthew Kaufmann

  • James Vaughn

    Ancient history is littered with populations that collapsed after they could no longer adequately feed themselves. Would this really be all that bad a thing today?
    Posted by James Vaughn

  • marcia pinheiro

    When all the food is gone, we can still come back to cannibalism, I suppose… .

    http://www.change.org/petitions/member-of-congress-investigate-misuse-of-psychotronic-mind-control-weapons
    (please sign)
    Posted by marcia pinheiro

  • Zadik Shapiro

    Obviously the growth in agricultural technology has been much greater than Malthus foresaw. But the problem is that the use of technological advancements has not been universal. If you look only at parts of Africa only, for example, you might say that Malthus was correct.

    The problem for the future is not so much the relative growth of food supply versus population growth but rather decreased food supply as a result of global warming and other environmental changes
    Posted by Zadik Shapiro

  • Bryan Feagle

    Food production is a vital part of sustaining our culture. Arcology is one answer to that problem but the real problem is population growth, we need a universal law governing child birth that limits but does not restrict, in a responsible manner to achieve a more balanced global population.
    Posted by Bryan Feagle

  • Matthew Kaufmann

    That is an interesting way of looking at it, and yes I agree that Malthus is still applicable in areas that have not gone what can best be called an agricultural revolution. Jared Diamond even went as far to say that Malthusian pressures were partially at fault for the Rwandan genocide. Not sure how much it was to blame but it was a decently presented argument.
    Posted by Matthew Kaufmann

  • Jean SmilingCoyote

    Malthus was right. You just wait. You should live long enough.
    Posted by Jean SmilingCoyote

  • Paolo Sudiro

    Malthus predictions were clearly right: we just shifted up our limits to growth thanks to technology and cheep energy, but I hardly believe you can feed 100 billion people with Earth’s resources only.
    See what cyclically happens in Sahel, and you would understand why Malthus was unfortunately right.
    Posted by Paolo Sudiro

  • Bill Powers

    Consider Malthus’ prediction to be that of a closed system containing a set of distinct groups. What concerns us here is the populations of those groups. The first principle is that none of the groups are self-sustaining. They all rely upon other groups. This entails that there must always exist more than one group, but it doesn’t entail that the rise of population of one group means that another groups population will necessarily decline. It is possible that only two synergistic groups could survive. The issue here is, of course, one of the complex nature of the ecology. We can “use” up our resources in a closed system only if they become isolated in inaccessilbe groups. Spent fossil fuels could be regarded as inaccessible on the time scale of human life since once used they become isolated in accessible groups. The character of this closed system is radically affected by the extent to which isolated groups exist. Isolated groups are sinks, and as such can grow until they dominate the system. (In thiis regard, I have long wondered why there aren’t only neutrinos.) Recycling is required for groups that depend upon each other, and this is one reason to be concerned about decreasing diversity in complex ecologies. It ought to be clear, however, that for interacting, dependent groups in a closed system there would some maximal distribution of groups.
    I played around with some simple two species birth-death differential equations. If you really only have two species and you start with a number of each, the only stable equilibrium is for only one species to exist. If you include a sink, there can be a nonzero stable equilibrium, but it is also possible for both species to go extinct. So I guess that nonzero equilibrium is what we hope to achieve. In any case, for a closed system Malthus is correct if we take him to be saying only that there are population limits. The more important question is the stability of the system, something, as far as I know, Malthus never addressed.
    Posted by Bill Powers

    • Paolo Sudiro

      It sounds very complicated. I always thought that if you have a grass field, the grass will live on the raw chemicals contained in the soil, but doing so the grass depleats the soil and is doomed to die because nutrients are trapped in the death vegetation which is not available to the grass to extract raw nutrients. Unless you have some scavengers living off the dead vegetation and which wastes are nutrients for the vegetation. Or there might be other organisms feeding on living grass and producing wastes that become available for the vegetation as nutrients; may be with the intermediate step of some tertiary feeders which transform the animal wastes in nutrients for the vegetation. Biological diversity is important because the available resurces are used more efficiently by several different specialized adaptations, and thus the total biomass can be grater than if only one species exists. But this does not mean that there is no limit to growth: space itself is a limitation, and you can not put too many sardines in the same tin box
      Posted by Paolo Sudiro

      • Bill Powers

        It’s certainly complicated. I was just trying to see how far I could get in a short while looking at it broadly as a closed system. It may even be chaotic. Malthus’ broad proposal appears, as you say, obvious, which is why I think the more interesting question involves the stability of the system.
        Posted by Bill Powers

        • Sudiro

          It is chaotic: think of the Locusta migratoria “phases” changes, or of the spread of an epidemics
          Posted by Paolo Sudiro

          • Bill Powers

            I played around today with a nonlinear predator/prey computer model. It has some interesting features. There is an equilibrium population, but it is unstable. The typical pattern is that there predator and prey peaks with the predator population peak lagging behind the prey. Near equilibrium the cycles are rapid and of short duration compared to far-from equilibrium populations, where there are relatively long periods of low populations. The model is, I believe, fairly sensitive to the values of the four parameters in the model, meaning that relatively small changes in external factors could produce dramatic changes. What I think is possible with this model is that there are relatively stable pattern of increase and decrease, but not a stable population number. It is interesting that the equilbirum population is rather low compared to the fluctuating population peaks. Perhaps this tells us something about success. Success produces abundance, but it is unsustainable. Whereas, equilibrium “sustainable” numbers produce lower abundance. It is the kind of choice we face frequently in today’s world. The choice between stability and security or freedom and dynamtism.
            Posted by Bill Powers

          • Paolo Sudiro

            I mentioned the Locusta migratoria, and virus epidemics above; but also the drough cycles in Sahel, the spread of the Vikings in the Middle Ages, or the Mongols expansion in central Asia, could be exmples of chaotic systems (the population grows during optimal climatic periods, settling on otherwise marginal areas, and the extra-load on the environment worsens the effects of the following cycle of climatic deterioration with due consequences).
            The different reproductions strategies (r or K) are also an indication if the population is a chaotic system or not.
            About your model of predator-pray relationship, the same thing has been studied in the field on lynxes and rabbits, and it was seen that a growth in rabbits population was allowing an increase in lynx population, but then too many lynxes were depleating the rabbits population and, with less food, the lynxes population decrease too.
            You can find references to these examples in several textbooks and papers, but I would not be able to provide you with a specific list
            Posted by Paolo Sudiro

          • Paul Peters

            That fact that the earth is round doesn’t mean that in most usecases in daily life it is effectively flat. It would make more sense to look into Geoffrey West’s work on Allometric scaling laws, second order cybernetics and influence systems.
            Posted by Paul Peters

  • JanCosgrove1945

    In a closed system, such as a test tube, a culture of bugs will survive whilst a) food lasts and (b) waste products are at a level which does not affect reproduction and/or actual living. Now maybe the intelligent virus might find ways to deal with waste, recycle resources, but as numbers rise, so does consumption and need to consume. The question for the viruses, and not just the thinking ones, is ‘can we just go on as we always have?’ That is, consuming within our closed system on an ever-increasing basis, not just because the rich are greedy but because more of us are alive and need to consume simply to survive. What has happened so far is we have put back the time when we arrive at the crunch. We may be able to do that even longer, but at what price? Will we have a world we want to hand on to all our children?

    And that, at root, has to be the issue …. our children, their future. We simply cannot afford to continue with a divided, unjust world. That is what the intelligent virus acts on.

  • Paolo Sudiro

    Malthus predictions were clearly right: we just shifted up our limits to growth thanks to technology and cheep energy, but I hardly believe you can feed 100 billion people with Earth’s resources only.
    See what cyclically happens in Sahel, and you would understand why Malthus was unfortunately right.
    Posted by Paolo Sudiro

  • Guy Kelley

    We have overcome Malthusian projections because of past success of intergenerational transfer of knowledge, skills, expertise. We have so far replaced inherent ignorance at birth with cultural, social, and intellectual learned behaviors and attitudes. The question is whether this will continue to be successful? The decrease in resources going to the intergenerational transfer of knowledge, skills, and expertise may allow ignorance to overwhelm. When progress stagnates then the Malthusian model will exert itself.
    Posted by Guy Kelley

  • Marc van der Erve

    Malthus was right at one point in time and wrong at another. Nicolas de Condorcet and William Godwin, whom he criticised, were right when Malthus was wrong. I explore this in detail in “The Alley of Natural Growth and Selection” in THE NEXT SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTION (2013,http://tiny.cc/qa9row )
    Posted by Marc van der Erve

  • Marc van der Erve

    Malthus solution to the limited means of subsistence (as a result of population growth) was “restraint”. If you’d consider the cycle of societal development, his solution is a measure needed temporarily only. De Condorcet’s and Godwin’s ideas (both of whom he criticised) are more opportune during other stages of the cycle.

    “…at the end of a wave, in line with Godwin’s argument, citizens had to shake off an inhibiting legacy of established societal links for new ideas to develop. Then, as Malthus had suggested, a period of restraint created time and space for such ideas to materialize. Eventually, along the lines of Condorcet’s views, human thinking advanced once these ideas had become rooted in society and helped increase its means of subsistence. Therefore, despite Malthus’s critique, Godwin, Condorcet and even Malthus himself had essentially sketched the situation at different stages of societal emergence…”

    Early 2013, you can read the remainder on the topic at large (see my website).
    Posted by Marc van der Erve

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