Malthus Essay On Population

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Malthus’ went through six editions in his lifetime (1798, 1803, 1806, 1807, 1817, and 1826).It therefore cannot be seen as the foundation for Malthus’ argument.As the great conservative economist Joseph Schumpeter remarked, “The ‘law’ of diminishing returns from land…was entirely absent from Malthus’ some four decades before the emergence of modern soil science in the work of Justus von Liebig and others.These checks, Malthus argued, were all reducible to vice and misery, taking such forms as promiscuity before marriage, which limited fecundity (a common assumption in Malthus’ time), sickness, plagues, and—ultimately, if all other checks fell short, the dreaded scourge of famine.Since such misery and vice was necessary at all times to keep population in line with subsistence any future improvement of society, as envisioned by thinkers like Godwin and Condorcet, he contended, was impossible.The 1803 edition was almost four times as long as the first edition while excluding large sections of the former.It also had a new title and represented a shift in argument. In the subsequent editions, after 1803, the changes in the text were relatively minor.Faced with Malthusian natural limits, we are told, Marx and Engels responded with “Prometheanism”—a blind faith in the capacity of technology to overcome all ecological barriers.1It therefore seems appropriate, on the bicentennial of Malthus’, to reconsider what Malthus stood for, the nature of Marx’s and Engels’ response, and the relation of this to contemporary debates about ecology and society.Contrary to most interpretations, Malthus’ theory was not about the threat of “overpopulation” which may come about at some future date.In the late nineteenth century it took on new life as a result of the Darwinian revolution and the rise of social Darwinism.And in the late twentieth century Malthusianism reemerged once again in the form of neo-Malthusian ecology.


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