Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834) Before we begin …



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Thomas Robert Malthus

  • (1766-1834)

Before we begin …

  • England in the 1700s
    • Age of Enlightenment / Age of Scientific Thought
    • Society and the Population
  • Life and Times of Thomas R. Malthus
    • His Influences and Observations
  • Essay on Population and the Malthusian Model
    • Inputs
    • Breakdown of the Model
  • Principles of Political Economy
    • Market Gluts and Unproductive Consumption
  • Impact on Subsequent Economic Thought
  • But first, let me take you back to Christmas, 1842 …

A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens, 1843)

  • "At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge … it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and Destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time.  Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir."
  • "Are there no prisons?" asked Scrooge.
  • "Plenty of prisons.”
  • "And the Union workhouses? Are they still in operation?"
  • "They are.  Still, I wish I could say they were not."
  • "The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?"  said Scrooge.
  • "Both very busy, sir."
  • "Oh!  I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course . I'm very glad to hear it.”

A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens, 1843)

  • “A few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink and means of warmth.  We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices.  What shall I put you down for?"
  • "Nothing!" Scrooge replied.
  • "You wish to be anonymous?"
  • "I wish to be left alone … Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer.  I don't make merry myself at Christmas and I can't afford to make idle people merry.  I help to support the establishments I have mentioned -- they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there."
  • "Many can't go there; and many would rather die."
  • "If they would rather die," said Scrooge, "they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population…”

Europe in the 1700s

  • Review of Feudalism
    • The King = God; The Manor; Serfs
  • Transition begins into an age of…
    • Reason / Humanism
    • Wit (Freedom of the word, Press, Satire)
    • Enlightenment (Sapere aude, or “dare to know”)
    • Scientific Thought
    • Industrialism
    • Society versus the Manor (Revolution!)

Europe in the 1700s

  • 1694/98: Bank of England and LSE are chartered
  • 1707: United Kingdom is formed by the union of England and Scotland
  • 1710: First British copyright law
  • 1756-1763: Seven Years’ War
    • 9 European powers are involved
    • England “wins” Canada (called “New France” at that time) from France and Florida from Spain
    • Spain gets Cuba and the Philippines and some parts of Gulf US (Louisiana) from France
    • France wins colonies in India, Africa and the Carribean
    • Prussia gains Silesia (Eastern Europe)
  • 1765: Watt’s steam engine is developed
  • 1775-1783: US War of Independence from England
  • 1789: French Revolution

Europe in the 1700s

  • Some thinkers we have already met in this time period in class:
    • Francois Quesnay (1694-1774)
    • David Hume (1711-1776)
    • Adam Smith (1723-1790)
  • Some other thinkers before or during this period:
    • Isaac Newton (1642-1716)
    • Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) - A Dictionary of the English Language
    • Immanuel Kant, J. W. von Goethe, Carl Gauss (German scholars)
    • Thomas Paine (1737-1809) - Common Sense
    • Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, John Adams (USA! USA!)
    • Marquis de Sade (1740-1814) - !!!

The Age of Enlightenment

  • Enlightenment – reason and rationality, natural rights versus social contracts, civil liberties, free markets and capitalism, democracy, deism (God made universe but doesn’t control it or interfere with human life)
  • John Locke (1632-1704)
    • His theory of mind is often cited as the origin for modern conceptions of identity and "the self”
    • Property is a natural right and it is derived from labor – essentially rejecting feudalism
  • Gottfried Liebniz (1646-1706) – Theodicy (1710)
    • Tries to justify the apparent imperfections of the world by claiming that it is optimal among all possible worlds
  • Alexander Pope (1688-1744) – An Essay on Man (1734)
    • Man is only part of a “Great Chain of Being”
  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) – The Social Contract (1762)
    • Man “is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. One man thinks himself the master of others, but remains more of a slave than they are…”
  • John Locke
  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau

The Age of Wit

  • Satirist Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)
    • A Modest Proposal: For Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland from Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick (1729) – an interesting economic theory:
    • "A young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee, or a ragout."
  • A Top Chef making delicious Irish Baby Sandwiches

Population in the 1700s

  • Huge population growth here

Problems in England in the 1700s

  • Some of the negative effects of the Industrial Revolution and growing urbanization began to appear:
    • Unemployment and poverty were increasing
    • “Poor Laws” (first established in 1601) were always amended as effects became more and more obvious
      • The poor should have a minimum income regardless of their earnings
      • Linked family income to price of bread; if earnings fell below a level, allowances to make up the difference were granted
      • Caused debate – the propertied class denied responsibility for poverty (SCROOGE) and actively opposed income redistribution.

Life and Times of Thomas Malthus

  • Born February 13th, 1766
    • 6th of 7 Children Born to Wealthy British Family
    • Born with a harelip and cleft palate and refused to have his portrait painted until they were surgically corrected in 1833, a year before he died (which is why very few portraits of him exist)
  • Married his first cousin in 1804 at age 38; they had three children: Henry, Emily, and Lucy (no grandchildren)
  • Died December 29th, 1834
    • Note that Dickens’s A Christmas Carol was published 8 years later

Life and Times - Education

  • “Robert” is educated at Home – Father (Daniel) was a personal friend of economist David Hume
  • Father was also a friend of Rousseau:
    • "...[Daniel] was a gentleman of a good family and independent fortune, a man of considerable culture both in literature and philosophy, the friend and correspondent of Rousseau and one of his executors, one, too, who showed no little interest in those social problems in which his son was to be an original enquirer”

Life and Times - Education

  • Father also encouraged study of contemporary writers, William Godwin (1756-1836) and Marquis de Condorcet (1743-1794)
    • Both writers encouraged individualism (versus collective action), equality for all, rule of reason
  • However, Godwin believed population growth would not be a problem (Liebniz optimism) and Condorcet believed in the abolition of war, redistribution of property and that food supply would increase as rapidly as population
    • “War - What Is It Good For?” Malthus: If you have to ask …

Life and Times – Profession

  • Attended Jesus College (part of the University of Cambridge) in 1784
    • Main subject was Mathematics, But also excelled in Greek, Latin, English and French Literature
    • Earned a Masters Degree in 1791
  • 1793 – Elected a Fellow of Jesus College
    • Entered the Church – although some felt his speech impediment would hinder his career
    • Leaves position in 1804 due to his marriage

Life and Times – Profession

  • 1796 – Ordained in Anglican Church, and becomes a Country Parson in Okewood Chapel in Surrey (near his parents’ home in Albury)
    • Discovers life of the poor was a constant battle for the necessities of life
    • "It cannot fail to be remarked by those who live much in the country, that the sons of labourers are very apt to be stunted in their growth, and are a long while arriving at maturity. Boys that you would guess to be fourteen or fifteen, are upon enquiry, frequently found to be eighteen or nineteen.“

Life and Times – Profession

  • 1798 – First Publication of An Essay on The Principle of Population (several expanded re-issues over the next two decades)
    • Family historian J. O. Payne notes “his Essay originated in a discussion which he held with his father, Daniel, on the 'perfectibility of society,' and that the parent, struck by the arguments and observations of his son, recommended him to commit them to paper, and afterwards to give them publication”
  • Begins extensive travel – allowing him to observe life in foreign land, prices of commodities and services, wealth and health, laws, war effects, climate, etc.
  • 1805 – Becomes Britain’s First Professor of Political Economy at East India Company College in Haileybury (a post he holds until his death)
  • 1818 – Selected as a Fellow in the English Royal Society

An Essay on The Principle Of Population

  • Population level is severely limited by subsistence
  • When the means of subsistence increase, population increases
  • Population pressures stimulate increases in productivity
  • Increases in productivity stimulate further population growth

Since this productivity can never keep up with the potential of population growth for long, there must be strong checks on population to keep it in line with carrying capacity

  • Since this productivity can never keep up with the potential of population growth for long, there must be strong checks on population to keep it in line with carrying capacity
  • It is through individual cost/benefit decisions regarding sex, work, and children that population and production are expanded or contracted
  • An Essay on The Principle Of Population

Checks will come into operation as population exceeds subsistence level

  • Checks will come into operation as population exceeds subsistence level
  • The nature of these checks will have significant effect on the rest of the sociocultural system—Malthus points specifically to misery, vice, and poverty
  • An Essay on The Principle Of Population
  • “I think I may fairly make two postulata.
  • First, That food is necessary to the existence of man.
  • Secondly, That the passion between the sexes is necessary and will remain nearly in its present state.
  • An Essay on The Principle Of Population

An Essay on The Principle Of Population

  • In Malthus’s worldview, total population will remain fairly stagnant in the long run because growth in population occurs at a geometric (exponential) rate, and food supply grows at an arithmetic (linear) rate.
  • When population > food supply, natural checks such as famine and war will bring population down to a sustainable level.

Previously, high fertility was thought to be advantageous because it increased a country’s total output. Malthus convinced many economists that although a larger population increases total output, output per capita (and the standard of living) would decline.

  • Previously, high fertility was thought to be advantageous because it increased a country’s total output. Malthus convinced many economists that although a larger population increases total output, output per capita (and the standard of living) would decline.
  • An Essay on The Principle Of Population

“The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race. The vices of mankind are active and able ministers of depopulation. They are the precursors in the great army of destruction, and often finish the dreadful work themselves. But should they fail in this war of extermination, sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence, and plague advance in terrific array, and sweep off their thousands and tens of thousands. Should success be still incomplete, gigantic inevitable famine stalks in the rear, and with one mighty blow levels the population with the food of the world “

  • “The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race. The vices of mankind are active and able ministers of depopulation. They are the precursors in the great army of destruction, and often finish the dreadful work themselves. But should they fail in this war of extermination, sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence, and plague advance in terrific array, and sweep off their thousands and tens of thousands. Should success be still incomplete, gigantic inevitable famine stalks in the rear, and with one mighty blow levels the population with the food of the world “
  • An Essay on The Principle Of Population

PREVENTIVE CHECKS – reduces the birth rate

  • PREVENTIVE CHECKS – reduces the birth rate
  • Malthus approved of “Moral Restraint”
    • Postpone marriage – and no sex before then!
    • Forget about marriage! Be celibate!
  • Malthus disapproved “Vice” (even though these methods also reduced birth rate)
    • Prostitution
    • Birth control
    • Homosexuality
  • An Essay on The Principle Of Population

POSITIVE CHECKS – increases the death rate

  • POSITIVE CHECKS – increases the death rate
  • Malthus elevated these to natural phenomena or laws - unfortunate evils needed to limit the population
    • Famine
    • Misery
    • Plague
    • War!
  • Positive checks were “punishment” for those who did not practice “Moral Restraint” (OUCH!)
  • An Essay on The Principle Of Population

Malthusian Model

  • The main principle of the Malthusian Model, like Malthus’s Essay, is that population and standard of living do not grow in the long run.
  • We start with the consumers: They consume food and provide I unit of labor to produce this food (the output )

Malthusian Model

  • Yt = f(At, , Lt) = AtLt1- , 0 <  < 1
  • Output at time t is a function of inputs productivity, land and labor at that time.
  • Note, there is no subscript for time for land (); this is due to the fact that land is a fixed amount (all of the land is cultivated to produce food at all times in history).

Malthusian Model

  • Population is growing at an exponential rate:
  • Lt+1 / Lt = g(yt)
  • Where g(yt) is a function of output per capita:
  • yt = Yt / Lt
  • Therefore, output per capita
  • yt = AtLt1- / Lt = (At)/ Lt

Malthusian Model

  • Using the formula for output per capita, we see the next period’s output per capita to be
  • yt+1 = (At+1)/ Lt+1
  • Using the formula for population growth (and some algebra chicanery), we get
  • yt+1 / yt = [(At+1/ At)/ g(y)]

Malthusian Model

  • yt+1 / yt = [(At+1/ At)/ g(y)]
  • The growth of output is equal to the ratio of the growth in productivity and the growth of population (which is exponential – hence the exponent ).

Malthusian Model

  • yt+1 / yt = [(At+1/ At)/ g(y)]
  • Is there a better way to describe this???
  • Let this guy tell you …

Critics feel that Malthus appears to target the poor and extremely pessimistic (especially during this optimistic time).

  • Critics feel that Malthus appears to target the poor and extremely pessimistic (especially during this optimistic time).
    • They believed he was more interested in maintaining a large, hard-working, poorly-paid population than establishing effective measures of limiting population growth
    • Felt he was overly “pessimistic” and appealed to conservatives as a defense of the status quo
      • Malthus: vices and misery that plague society are due to prolific fertility rather than evil human institutions
      • Poverty and misery are the natural punishment for the failure of the lower class to restrain their reproduction
  • Problems with Malthusian Theory

Problems with Malthusian Model

Because Malthus was writing at the beginning of England’s industrial revolution, he didn’t include improvements in agricultural technology into his theory.

  • Because Malthus was writing at the beginning of England’s industrial revolution, he didn’t include improvements in agricultural technology into his theory.
  • In the centuries prior to his lifetime, frequent and wide-spread famines were the norm. His theory was revolutionary in explaining WHY these famines happen.
  • Malthus predicted that the next great famine would happen in the coming decades. (But it didn’t!)
  • Problems with Malthusian Model

Problems with Malthusian Model

  • Because Malthus was writing at the beginning of England’s industrial revolution, he didn’t include the idea of continuous innovation in technology into his theory.
  • A one-time improvement in technology results in a temporary increase in standard of living …
  • But, as history shows …

Problems with Malthusian Model

Principles of Political Economy (1820)

  • Malthus introduced the idea of a demand schedule in the modern sense (as the conceptual relationship between prices and the quantity sought by buyers rather than the empirical relationship between prices and quantities sold). 
  • He also paid much attention to the short-run stability of prices.  

Principles of Political Economy (1820)

  • Most famously, Malthus denied the validity of Say's Law and argued that there could be a "general glut" of goods.
  • Malthus believed that economic crises were characterized by a general excess supply caused by insufficient consumption.  His defense of the Corn Laws rested partly on the need for landlord consumption to "make up" for shortfalls in demand and thus avert crisis.
  • Jean-Baptiste Say (1767-1832)
  • quoted (incorrectly) as "supply creates its own demand".

Malthus’ Influence

  • Malthus’s assertion that a population cannot grow more than its food supply had a profound impact on economic thought and the development of other disciplines.
  • The influence of Malthus and his Essay was substantial in his own time as well as on subsequent economic thought throughout the next two centuries.

Immediate Influence on Public Policy

  • The Essay on Population caused an immediate stir and quickly affected policy
    • Concerns about Malthus’s population predictions influenced the decision to conduct the first modern British Census in 1801
    • Malthus devoted an entire chapter to bashing Britain’s Poor Laws, which levied taxes to support the indigent. He believed the Poor Laws encouraged the poor to have more children – there must be no government relief for the poor.

Immediate Influence on Public Policy

  • Malthus and the Poor Laws
    • In the 1830s Malthus’s writings influenced British Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger and the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834.
      • By 1840, the only way for the poor to receive assistance was to enter a Poor House
      • To discourage people from entering Poor Houses and relying on public assistance for support, conditions were terrible, as noted in writings of the time by Charles Dickens and Frances Trollope.

Immediate Influence on Public Policy

  • Corn Laws (1815-1846) controversy:
    • Tariffs were placed on imported grain (basically a minimum price on grain)
    • Growing population placed pressure on food supply, so it was necessary to import grain
      • Outside factors, like the Napoleonic wars, caused import levels to drop, and domestic grain prices to rocket
      • When wars ended, English landlords – who controlled Parliament – worried domestic grain prices would fall; they pressured for Corn Laws
      • Other business interests, however, wanted Corn Laws repealed: it prevented free trade
    • Malthus believed Corn Laws were good, and that it would be dangerous for Britain to rely on imported corn
      • lower prices would reduce laborers' wages, and manufacturers would lose out due to the fall in purchasing power of landlords and farmers

Immediate Influence on Economic Thought

  • Malthus’s work had substantial impact on the developing field of economics. Although his prediction that another European famine was only decades away proved false, his ideas on population were revolutionary and directly influenced the work of his contemporary David Ricardo, and later Alfred Marshall.

Immediate Influence on Economic Thought

  • Malthus and Ricardo
  • Around 1810 Malthus read a series of tracts by stockbroker David Ricardo on monetary questions
  • Malthus wrote Ricardo a letter, and the two corresponded for years. They were good friends, but held opposite views an almost every economic issue of the time

Immediate Influence on Economic Thought

  • Malthus and Ricardo (cont’d)
  • In 1815, Malthus, Ricardo, Robert Torrens and Edward West simultaneously discovered the differential theory of rent
  • Malthus’s An Inquiry into the Nature and Progress of Rent, and the Principles by Which it is Regulated was the first of the four to be published

Immediate Influence on Economic Thought

  • Malthus and Ricardo (cont’d)
  • Previously, rent had been considered a factor of production, but Malthus argued that it was merely a deduction from the surplus
  • Malthus argued that rent is enabled by 3 things:
    • Agricultural production yields a surplus
    • Wage-fertility dynamics ensure that the price of corn remains above its cost of productions
    • Fertile land is scarce

Immediate Influence on Economic Thought

  • Malthus and Ricardo (cont’d)
  • Ricardo’s own 1815 essay on the subject of rent was in response to Malthus’s
    • He dismissed most of Malthus’s arguments and claimed that his third – fertile land is scarce - is enough to explain rent

Immediate Influence on Economic Thought

  • Malthus and Ricardo (cont’d)
  • Ricardo and Malthus continued to have differing opinons and influence eachother’s work.
    • Ricardo combined his own theory of profits with Malthus’s theory of rents to create what we now call the “classical” statement of the theory of distribution
    • Ricardo’s 1817 work On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, which set down the doctrine of the Classical School on value, distribution, and production, incorporated the “natural wage” version of Malthus’s population theory and his theory of rent

Immediate Influence on Economic Thought

  • Malthus influenced the Classical Economists but was never fully convinced of their doctrines
  • In 1820 he published Principles of Economics, in which differs from the Classical Ricardians on several points
    • Malthus introduced the idea of a demand schedule – analyzing the conceptual relationship between prices and the quantity demanded in the market rather than analyzing the empirical relationship between prices and the quantity sold

Immediate Influence on Economic Thought

  • While Classical Economics was the school of Ricardo, Malthus had his own group of followers.
  • The Neo-Malthusian movement was born with the publication Francis Place’s Proofs on the Principle of Population in 1822.
  • Neo-Malthusians hold to Malthus’s theories about over population and argue that on the global scale, war and famine will not end until population pressure is reduced
  • Not a Neo-Malthusian

Immediate Influence on Economic Thought

  • Neo Malthusians (cont’d)
  • Neo-Malthusians argue for contraception (which Malthus was against) as a means to control global population
  • A resurgence of neo-Malthusian principles was heard in the 1960s and 1970s
    • Julian Huxley’s Evolutionary Humanism, 1964, called for a World Population Policy
    • Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb, 1968, predicted disaster for humankind over the next two decades as population outgrows resources.
    • 1972’s The Limits to Growth published by the Club of Rome modeled the exhaustion of natural resources over the coming decades if current trends continued. It was influential in the establishment of Federal controls on pollution and general awareness of the cumulative impact of humans on the Earth.

Immediate Influence on Economic Thought

  • Amartya Sen (born 1933)
  • Nobel Prize winner, 1998
  • Acknowledged the “Malthusian” causes of famine, but also believed that Malthus’s contributions added to the problem of starvation!
  • He believed that the “Malthusian Optimism” – putting attention on food output per capita – caused policy-makers to concentrate on the wrong issues.

Immediate Influence

  • The Chinese government introduced the one-child policy in 1979 to alleviate overpopulation, social and environmental problems.
  • The policy is controversial both within and outside China because of human rights issues it raises; because of the manner in which the policy has been implemented; and because of concerns about negative economic and social consequences.

Immediate Influence on Other Disciplines

  • An early believer in Malthus’s population theory was the leading creationist and natural theologian writer of the time, William Paley.
    • Natural Theology attempts to find evidence of a supreme deity through reason, science, and nature.
    • Paley and Malthus both saw positive checks on population as evidence of a higher power

Immediate Influence on Other Disciplines

  • Although Malthus was a Christian and creationist, his work had a profound impact on Charles Darwin and the emerging study of evolution.
  • Evolutionists applied Malthus’s idea of man’s “struggle for existence” to all plants and animals. This struggle is the catalyst for natural selection and “survival of the fittest”

Immediate Influence on Other Disciplines

  • Malthus’s Influence on Evolution (cont’d)
    • In his book Origin of the Species, Charles Darwin called his theories “an application of the doctrines of Malthus without the complicating factor of human intelligence.”
      • Through Malthus, Darwin recognized the significance of competition between populations of the same species as well as competition between species of plants and animals

Immediate Influence on Other Disciplines

  • "In October 1838, that is, fifteen months after I had begun my systematic inquiry, I happened to read for amusement Malthus on Population, and being well prepared to appreciate the struggle for existence which everywhere goes on from long- continued observation of the habits of animals and plants, it at once struck me that under these circumstances favourable variations would tend to be preserved, and unfavourable ones to be destroyed. The results of this would be the formation of a new species. Here, then I had at last got a theory by which to work".
  • Charles Darwin, from his autobiography. (1876)

Immediate Influence on Other Disciplines

  • Most of Charles Dickens’s works
    • A Christmas Carol
    • David Copperfield
    • Oliver Twist
    • Hard Times
    • “Smith and Malthus Gradgind”
  • Aldous Huxley,
  • Brave New World (1932)
    • The “Malthusian belt”
  • Charles Dickens
  • Never judge a book by its cover …

Malthusian Model and Today

  • Questions …
  • Is it still relevant?
  • Is it completely wrong?
    • What countries (if any) are affected?
  • Is famine unavoidable?
  • If population is unchecked, what happens?
  • Is this on the final?


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