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Thomas Malthuss Overpopulation Theory

A little over two hundred years ago a man by the name of Thomas Malthus wrote a document entitled “An Essay on the Principle of Population” which essentially stated that there is an imbalance between our ability to produce food and our ability to produce children. He said human beings are far better at making babies than they are at finding food for survival. His entire essay is based on these two assumptions. ” First, That food is necessary to the existence of man. And second, that the passion between the sexes is necessary and will remain nearly in its present state.

When taking into account what is said in this essay, it is obvious that his original analysis of population has been proven right. Today, in the twenty-first century, people still rely on food to live and stay healthy, and many people consume more food than ever before, especially here in the United States. In addition, the natural attractions between men and women exist more so today than they did in Malthus’s time. When discussing the issue of population, it is important to note that it is one of the most controversial issues facing the world today. Overpopulation is a major global crisis because of a number of reasons.

Most of the problems we have today, such as ocean depletion, water shortages, water pollution, food shortages, global warming, and air pollution are the effects of overpopulation. The more people there are, the more resources consumed and the more waste created. A child born today in the United States for instance will produce fifty-two tons of garbage and consume 11 million gallons of water by the age of seventy-five. Freshwater, drinkable water is the most critical natural resource to humans. As time goes by, the world’s population expands more rapidly, but there is no more freshwater on the Earth than there was two thousand years ago.

Overpopulation has also increased industrial development, which contributes to massive urbanization and rising of living standards. The rising in living standards causes people to consume more, which creates more waste and raises life expectancy, which causes more people to live longer and more people to live in the same place, earth. The United Nations projects that the global population, currently at 6 billion, will peak at about 10 billion in the next century and then stabilize or even decline; can our planet support 10 million people?

Food production doubled from 1961 to 1994, but there are still people who go hungry. This is because the human population has increased more rapidly than the food production. When Malthus wrote this document 1798, he already predicted that in the future, the population would exceed the amount of food. This is because “population grows according to the geometric progression – 1, 2, 4, 8, 16 and the means of subsistence grow according to the arithmetic progression -1, 2, 3, 4” One of the arguments in malthus’s works was his idea that depression did not fall evenly on each of the classes in society.

He believed that the poor brought many of these problems to society by procreating with out being able to support a family, and because of that, becoming dependant on others to support them, therefore diminishing the food supply more rapidly. He also assumed that poverty and misery in the lower classes were inevitable and that those people were the majority in every society. He argued that all attempts to lessen poverty and suffering, no matter how well intended and no matter how well thought out, would only worsen things.

Malthus thought that the human condition could not be improved for two reasons. First, he believed that people were driven by an avid desire for sexual pleasure. This led to population increases which, if left unchecked, would grow geometrically – 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, etc. Second, Malthus believed that as more land was used in cultivation, each new piece of land would be able to grow less and less food then the previous plot of land. For this reason, food production could at best increase in arithmetical proportions – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 etc.

Since population grows more rapidly than the food supply, at some point the population would exceed the food that could be grown to feed everyone. Starvation would then result if there were no other checks on population growth. Malthus, over the course of his career, re-worked his principals several times adding positive checks and preventive checks. In his first edition of the Essay on Population, Malthus allowed only “positive checks” on a growing population. These were factors that raised death rates – natural catastrophe, crime, famine, disease, and war.

But in the next few editions of the Essay Malthus added a set of “preventive checks” – sexual abstinence, birth control, and delayed marriage. These had the effect of lowering birth rates and population growth. With these preventive checks on population growth, they made the economic outlook on society a bit better. But Malthus still assumed that because of the strong human desire for sexual pleasure, population growth could not be reduced very much by preventive checks; his conclusion therefore still noted that it was impossible to improve overall economic well-being.

In the last two hundred years since malthus’s time a lot has changed. He could not look into the future and predict the technological changes and scientific advances that have occurred in our society. Many of these changes have effected his two main assumptions. Birth control methods such as condoms and the birth control pill have attributed to a decline in the rate of growth of the total world population. Family planning has brought more time between marriage and childbirth, giving the family time to prepare for this big step in their life.

Recently, many more women are working full time jobs and pursuing careers, and deciding against or waiting to have children. Advances in medicine, sanitation, and medical procedures have brought declining death rates. Diseases that would wipe out hundreds of thousands of people are now non-existent. We now give more care to the elderly causing longer and fuller life spans. While in the early nineteenth century farming was all done by hand and pull plows, mechanized farmers are now getting more food out of an acre of land than Malthus ever could have imagined.

These changes and more have really altered the way population growth occurs naturally. When taking into account Malthus principle of population it is evident that his fundamental theory of population has been proven right, yet human’s natural instincts still come out in all of us. We were born to procreate and survive. We still have thus far not run out of resources, but since the earth resources are finite, one day malthus’s predictions will come true.

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