An Essay on the Principle of Population (Paperback)

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About the Author


Thomas Malthus (1766-1834), was a British scholar, influential in political economy and demography. Malthus popularized the economic theory of rent. Malthus has become widely known for his analysis according to which societal improvements result in population growth. The six editions of his Principles of Population, published from 1798 to 1826, predict that sooner or later population gets checked by famine, disease, and widespread mortality. He wrote in the context of the popular view, in 18th century Europe, that saw society as improving, and in principle as perfectible. William Godwin and the Marquis de Condorcet, for example, believed in the possibility of almost limitless improvement of society. So, in a more complex way, did Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose notions centered on the goodness of man and the liberty of citizens bound only by the social contract, a form of popular sovereignty. Malthus thought that the dangers of population growth would preclude endless progress towards a utopian society: "The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man." As an Anglican clergyman, Malthus saw this situation as divinely imposed to teach virtuous behavior. Believing that one could not change human nature, and that egalitarian societies were prone to over-population], Malthus wrote in dramatic terms: "epidemics, pestilence and plague advance in terrific array, and sweep off their thousands and ten thousands. Should success be still incomplete, gigantic famine stalks in the rear, and with one mighty blow, levels the population with the food of the world." Malthus placed the longer-term stability of the economy above short-term expediency. He criticized the Poor Laws, and (alone among important contemporary economists) supported the Corn Laws, which introduced a system of taxes on British imports of wheat. He thought these measures would encourage domestic production, and so promote long-terms of benefit. Malthus became hugely influential, and controversial, in economic, political, social and scientific thought. Many of those whom subsequent centuries sometimes term "evolutionary biologists" also read him, notably Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, for each of whom Malthusianism became an intellectual stepping-stone to the idea of natural selection. Malthus remains a writer of great significance, and debate continues as to whether his direst expectations will come about.


Product Details
ISBN: 9781450551090
Publisher: Createspace
Publication Date: January 1st, 2010
Pages: 126