Thomas Robert Malthus was born in 1766 in Dorking, just south of London to Daniel and Henrietta Malthus. Malthus was of a prosperous family. He was the second son of Daniel Malthus, a supporter of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and David Hume. He had seven siblings, one brother and six sisters. At a young age, Malthus was impressed and greatly influenced by the ideas of Rousseau and Hume. His father, along with various tutors, educated him before he entered Jesus College, Cambridge in 1784.
Though his principal subject was mathematics, he studied a wide range of subjects and took prizes in Latin and Greek, graduating in 1788. He took his Master of Arts degree in 1791, was elected a fellow of Jesus College in 1793, and took holy orders in 1797. Soon, he became a curate in the town of Albury and had to divide his time between his work at Cambridge and Albury. Then in 1805 he became the Professor of History and Political Economy at the East India Company’s college in Haileybury, Hertfordshire, where he remained until his death on December 23, 1834.
Malthus was very concerned with the living conditions in the nineteenth century England. He blamed this decline on three elements: the overproduction of young, the inability of resources to keep with human population, and the irresponsibility of the lower classes. Malthus suggested the family size of the lower class ought to be regulated such that poor families could not produce more children than they can support. This proposal was relatively practical and as a result China applied such a measure on family size.
After several disputes with his father concerning the perfect society, Malthus published a pamphlet in 1798 known as the Essay on Population. According to Malthus, population would increase faster than the food supply, leading to a decrease in food per person. This prediction was based on the idea that population if unchecked increases at a geometric rate whereas the food supply grows at an arithmetic rate. For example, food, he believed, would increase in arithmetic ratio (2-4-6-8-10 and so on), but population tended to double in each generation (2-4-8-16-32 and so on).
Whenever a gain occurs in food production over population growth, a higher rate of population increase would occur; in contrast, if population grows too much faster than food production, the growth is delayed by famine, disease, and war. He believed that there were two general kinds of checks that limited population growth: positive checks and preventative checks. Positive checks increased the death rate; preventative checks decreased the birth rate. Famine, poverty, plague and war were of the positive checks.
These checks were applied to the lower class because preventative checks had not limited the numbers of the poor. If the positive checks failed then inevitably famine would be the resulting way of lessening the population. Even though Malthus thought famine and poverty were natural outcomes, he believed the real reason for those outcomes was divine institution. He believed that such natural outcomes were God’s way of preventing laziness. Moral restraint and birth control were principal preventative checks.
Moral restraint was the idea that wealthy families would limit their family size in attempt to keep the distribution of money to small numbers. . Birth control, inside or outside of marriage, he viewed as a “vice” that threatened the moral order of society. Ultimately, in his view, poverty existed because of growth in family size caused by a lack of self restraint, and the poor, as a class, had entirely themselves to blame for their situation. With that being said, he was avidly against “Poor Laws”.
He argued that any intervention to help the poor was self-defeating because it would encourage early marriage and population growth and so the ultimate result would be starvation from the intervention of positive population checks. He said that Poor Laws would only create the poverty they were trying to relieve. After his death in 1834, he was looked up to but his ideas have been frequently misrepresented and abused by various individuals. His ideas would probably not succeed in our society today, especially, for his radical ideas about limiting the rights of the lower class.
In my opinion, the theories of Malthus assume the absence of so many factors in everyday life that it is not deserving of serious attention. His theories on population had little impact on the time at which they were proposed and more than likely never will succeed in being true. His opinions were misleading, exaggerated, and above all incorrect. He failed to see the facts of population in their true relations, and therefore proposed unfitting cures. Considering he focused exclusively on the birth rates, he failed to take in account the rate of deaths.
This error throws Malthus’s theory out the window. An increase in the elderly population would not have a significant effect in the labor market. An increase in birth rates would have a greater effect on the work force rather than a decrease in deaths. His theories of moral restraint have been proven true in many third world countries. Overpopulation, famine, plague and war continue to ravage the third world; however, did he ever consider the effect of technological advancements on other countries.
For example, the development of effective contraception made moral restraint irrelevant in checking population growth. Malthus was best known for his assertion that the power of population would exceed the supply to survive as stated in his “An Essay on the Principle of Population. ” This tendency is illustrated in the formula that population tends to increase in geometrical progression (1-2-4-8-16). While the greatest increase in food that can be expected is according to an arithmetical ratio (2-4-6-8).