Thomas Malthus Section Summary
Malthus’ work, Essay on the Principle of Population, is often cited, first by Darwin himself, to have influenced Darwin’s conception of the theory of natural selection. His work, though unpopular, and often proven to be off the mark, did in fact bring to the forefront many socio-economic issues that are still being debated today: population control, food production and concerns over uncontrollable diseases arising from the effects of over-population. In this passage it is stated that Malthus was proven wrong: “...Malthus’ dire predictions have proven to be wrong...” (Efficiency and Equity 211). However, though his calculations have proven to be wrong because he could not accurately account for the technological advances that would make food production keep apace of population growth, in many respects, in under-developed or undeveloped countries, the substance of his predictions, if not his calculations, have proven to be accurate. Though Malthus’ message caused the field of economics to be coined, “the dismal science” (Efficiency and Equity 211), he contributed much to the field of socio-economics and established that economic theory is a valid approach to the study of some of the greatest concerns mankind has regarding environmental allocation of resources, population control and governmental policies regulating issues relevant to these areas.
One of Malthus’ basic premises was that food production levels and population levels expand at different rates. His basic premise was that Britain’s population would continue to expand while its food production capacity would stagnate, or at best, lag far behind. This would result in less supply for more demand and the result would be stagnant or deteriorating standards of living in Britain. Malthus’ predictions proved wrong or inaccurate at the time because: 1) he did not account for technology’s ability to keep food production apace with population growth, and 2) he failed to account for the tendency for developed countries to reach a natural equilibrium in the birth/death equation on their own, which, in Britain’s case, as living standards improved families eventually did not need the larger number of offspring in order to ensure survival. In this sense, Malthus did not correctly identify the growth in family size as a reflexive response to economic necessity.
The argument that Malthus’ set growth rates of food in relation to population ignored the role of food prices is accurate. In fact, by using set rates only in relation to each other, he ignored much more than food prices. In an artificial economy established in an economic lab such set ratios can be accurately predictive. However, in the natural environment, there are many external factors that would affect change on his model, and did affect change. Prices are a key oversight in his theory. While the basic premise that population growth may outstrip...