Thomas Malthus: An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798)
In re-reading Malthus' essay (1st edition), I have decided to try and reconstruct Malthus' core argument - the Principle Of Population - using the principles and skills of critical thinking. This argument is largely contained in Chapters I to VII. By focussing on just the core argument I will be deliberately ignoring much of Malthus' attempts to refute the arguments of "...Mr Godwin, M. Condorcet and Other Writers" (to whom the essay is addressed) on the perfectibility of Man (Chapters VIII to XV). Furthermore, I will be deliberately ignoring Malthus' views on the relationship between state wealth and individual poverty (Chapters XVI and XVII). I will also ignore Malthus' attempt at Natural Theology in the last two chapters of the essay, as these are a matter of Malthus' personal religious views and do not add anything to the core argument of the Principle Of Population itself.
Malthus An Essay On The Principle Of Population
Malthus' most well known work 'An Essay on the Principle of Population' was published in 1798, although he was the author of many pamphlets and other longer tracts including 'An Inquiry into the Nature and Progress of Rent' (1815) and 'Principles of Political Economy' (1820). The main tenets of his argument were radically opposed to current thinking at the time. He argued that increases in population would eventually diminish the ability of the world to feed itself and based this conclusion on the thesis that populations expand in such a way as to overtake the development of sufficient land for crops. Associated with Darwin, whose theory of natural selection was influenced by Malthus' analysis of population growth, Malthus was often misinterpreted, but his views became popular again in the 20th century with the advent of Keynesian economics.
This is not to say that famines, when the amount of food available in a certain location is simply not enough for everyone there to survive, could not occur. He was not blind to the fact that famines were a recurrent fact of life in his day. He wrote in paragraph 18, that "though the principle of population cannot absolutely produce a famine, it prepares the way for one; and by frequently obliging the lower classes of people to subsist nearly on the smallest quantity of food that will support life, turns even a slight deficiency from the failure of the seasons into a severe dearth." According to Malthus, famines happen, and population pressures are a key factor in them. However, nothing in his theory of population growth necessitates the massive, widespread famine that many past and current writers claim was his main prediction.