Thomas Robert Malthus 1766-1834
Early Life • Born in 1766 in a small town in Surrey, just south of London • One of eight children • His father regularly met with Rousseau, Hume and Voltaire. • Malthus was schooled by Richard Graves, the rector of Calverton
Academic Career • At 18, Malthus went to Jesus College at Cambridge where he majored in mathematics, and won prizes in English, Latin and Greek. • He was ordained as an Anglican cleric in 1797 and became curate of the parish of Albury in Surrey in 1798.
Fellowship • Malthus was appointed to a fellowship at Jesus College in 1793 and forfeited it in 1804. • During this time he wrote his most important work, Essay on the Principle of Population. • He published six editions of the work, which was a best seller.
Later Life • In 1818, he became a fellow of the Royal Society. • Malthus was appointed a professor of history and political economy at Haileybury College, where he worked for the rest of his life.
Essay on the Principle of Population • Originally wrote it to argue with the current optimistic popular writers, such as his father’s friend Rousseau. • Main postulate of the essay (now known as Malthus’ Iron Law of Population): The population increases in a geometric ratio, while the means of subsistence increases in an arithmetic ratio. • Basically, that the population is growing too fast, and eventually the world’s food supply will be insufficient to provide for everyone.
Essay on the Principle of Population • Malthus believed that natural disasters, wars and poverty (“positive checks”) were all necessary in order to keep a check on the population. • In later editions, Malthus started to advocate abstinence and birth control in order to limit the population.
Criticisms • Malthus had many critics because at the time, there was an optimistic belief that prevailed his contemporaries’ theories. • Communists, such as Engels and Lenin, thought that Malthus’s ideas were “completely barbaric”.
Influence • John Maynard Keynes, known for Keynesian economics, modeled his theories upon Malthus’s. • His theories helped to shoot down the reform acts of the British Prime Minister, who thought that larger families should be rewarded financially. • In 1834, the Poor Law Amendment was passed, strongly influenced by Malthus. • Amendment put into law that no able-bodied person was to receive money or other help from the Poor Law authorities • Due to the Essay, there was a census taken in 1800 in Great Britian, Scotland and Wales.
Darwin and Malthus • Malthus’s theories influenced Charles Darwin. • Idea that animals will continue to breed until the food supply becomes limited, at which point there will be competition for the scarce resources. Which led Darwin to theorize about biological fitness. • "It is the doctrine of Malthus applied with manifold force to the whole animal and vegetable kingdoms"
Darwin on Malthus: “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”
Wallace’s thoughts on Malthus • “It then occurred to me that these causes or their equivalents are continually acting in the case of animals also; and as animals usually breed much more quickly than does mankind, the destruction every year from these causes must be enormous in order to keep down the numbers of each species, since evidently they do not increase regularly from year to year, as otherwise the world would long ago have been crowded with those that breed most quickly. Vaguely thinking over the enormous and constant destruction which this implied, it occurred to me to ask the question, why do some die and some live? And the answer was clearly, on the whole the best fitted live… and considering the amount of individual variation that my experience as a collector had shown me to exist, then it followed that all the changes necessary for the adaptation of the species to the changing conditions would be brought about… In this way every part of an animals organization could be modified exactly as required, and in the very process of this modification the unmodified would die out, and thus the definite characters and the clear isolation of each new species would be explained.”
Evolution and Malthus • Wallace said that the Essay was one of the most important books he’d ever read. • Basically, Wallace thought that Malthus’s theories showed that in the animal kingdom, much like among humans, only the toughest survive and the environment weeds out the weak.
Summary • Malthus’s Iron Law of Population said that competition would be created by the fact that population growth is much more substantial than the growth of resources. • This influenced both Darwin and Wallace’s theories of biological fitness and natural selection.
Works of Malthus • An Essay on the Principle of Population, as it affects the Future Improvement of Society, with Remarks on the Speculations of Mr Godwin, M. Condorcet and Other Writers, • An Investigation of the Cause of the Present High Price of Provisions, Containing an illustration of the nature and limits of fair price in time of scarcity and its application to the particular circumstances of the country, 1800. • An Essay on the Principle of Population; or a View of its past and present Effects on Human Happiness; with an Inquiry into our Prospects respecting the Removal or Mitigation of the Evils which it occasions, 1803, • Observations on the Effects of the Corn Laws, and of a rise or fall in the price of corn on the agriculture and general wealth of the country, 1814. • In Inquiry into the Nature and Progress of Rent, and the principles by which it is regulated, 1815. • The Grounds of an Opinion on the Policy of Restricting the Importation of Foreign Corn , 1815.
Major Works • Principles of Political Economy: Considered with a view to their practical application, 1820. • The Measure of Value Stated and Illustrated, With an Application of it to the alterations in the value of English currency, 1823. • "Tooke -- On High and Low Prices", 1823, Quaterly Review • "Political Economy", 1824, Quarterly Review • "Population", 1824, Encyclopedia Britannica. • Definitions in Political economy: Preceded by an inquiry into the rules which ought to guide political economists in the definition and use of their terms; with remarks on the derivation from these rules in their writings, 1827. • A Summary View of the Principle of Population, 1830
Works Cited • “An Essay on the Principles of Population”: http://books.google.com/books?id=BcNEZlXh • My Life by Alfred Russel Wallace, http://books.google.com/books?id=iHRbU5PbEnMC • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Malthus • http://www.blupete.com/Literature/Biographies/Philosophy/Malthus.htm • http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/history/malthus.html • http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/Thomas_Malthus