Thomas Malthus

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Thomas Malthus lived between 1766 and 1834. He was an English priest, an economic thinker and a writer in the early 19th century. Thomas Malthus is remembered because of his controversial and influential work referred to as An Essay on the Principle of Population, which was published in 1798. In this essay, Malthus established a population theory that claimed that high population growth rate hinders societal improvement (Pressman, 1999).

According to Malthus’ theory, population growth was exponential, while food supply was essentially linear. Malthus stated that the population on earth would increase in geometric progression whereas food available for them would increase in arithmetic progression (Irmi & Tisdell, 1999). In other words, Malthus believed that human population would increase beyond the food supply if it was not controlled. Consequently, this would contribute to unrest and poverty as labor supply and wages get driven down. It will not be possible to uplift poor people in the society because the population will be unsustainable. This paper seeks to analyse the life of Malthus, his ideas, theories and how his work impacted the society.

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Robert Malthus

Thomas Robert Malthus is one of the most controversial economists in the world. He was born in 1766 in Westcott, Surrey. His father valued education and wanted Malthus to get the best. He attended the best schools of the time. Malthus decided to engage in religion and became a reverend once in life (Pressman, 1999). He also studied philosophy and mathematics. Malthus came from a wealthy family. His father educated him at home until he was 18 years old. Perhaps, this could be one of the reasons why Malthus thinks and writes the way he does. His writing could also be attributed to the fact that when he was a child, he did not socialize with others children. In addition, he was pessimistic about his theory on population. Malthus was influenced by David Ricardo, William Godwin and Robert Owen who also contributed to his thinking (Irmi & Tisdell, 1999).

Malthus believed that man is a very lazy animal that is capable of reproducing continuously, provided there is enough food to feed the family (Hergenhahn, 2009). Whenever there is food shortage in the family, the man wakes up and looks for food in all directions. The reason is that man likes living a comfortable life with enough food to eat. He will explore and till the land to provide for his family. However, this will not be the case forever. The time will come that there will be no more resources for man to explore. Overpopulation will lead to food shortages and famine. As a clergyman, Malthus endorsed his theory on religious and moral ground. He emphasized that suffering and pain are there to help man discover virtues of moral behavior and hard work.


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According to Malthus, human beings have to eat in order to survive. They are satisfied whenever there is enough food for the family. In addition, he believed that human beings have an urge to multiply (Pressman, 1999). They can give birth to as many children as possible, provided there is enough food to feed them. He believed that death, food shortage and diseases were the nature’s way of controlling population.

According to Malthus, positive checks increase the death rate. Malthus believed that this was God’s method of maintaining the natural order. It includes epidemics, hunger, famines and other disasters that occur naturally to cause deaths. Malthus argued that there are different ways of controlling population. There are positive control measures such as death, starvation and diseases that prevent people from giving birth (Hergenhahn, 2009).

Negative or preventive check is human efforts to reduce the birth rate. Apparently, this is logically and practically relevant. Malthus believed that postponing marriage, abortion, prostitution and celibacy can help reduce birth rate. In addition, Malthus suggested that there should be social reforms in the society to keep the population under control (Irmi & Tisdell, 1999). He also recommended that people should adopt control measures such as following celibacy, delayed marriages, abortion and infanticide to control population growth rate.

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Malthus believed in the universally applicable control that keeps up with the principles of virtue, social improvement and economic gain.  The principle suggests that one should abstain until they can support, clothe, feed and shelter a family. Malthus concluded that moral restraint is the best method of controlling birth that is acceptable all over the world. Malthus claimed that moral restraint can be prompted among poor people in the society (Pressman, 1999).

Malthus’ theory is still relevant today. For example, Karl Marx believed that humans have the ability to produce, and that is true because if there are more people, humans will have more ideas and creativity to resolve or invent new ones. However, there could be a problem with taking land space. For example, in China, there is a massive population. Therefore, China has a one child policy. Chinese people increase the education intuition of their children. Thus, many families have to immigrate to other country because they cannot support their family in their country. Moreover, they kill baby girls because their population is so huge. Consequently, this shows that Malthus’ theory is relevant to some extent.

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Malthus’ theory has become immensely popular among evolutionary thinkers and economists. It has become a very influential theory, especially in the 20th and 21st century, after people started seeing the reality of his theory. It has fuelled the cynicism about the rapidly increasing population in the world (Hergenhahn, 2009). Many of those who saw Malthus’ theory as heartless and cold claim that they had misunderstood him. The reality of the theory is being seen today. Government and social groups try to apply his proposed solutions to see if population growth rate will reduce (Irmi & Tisdell, 1999).

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