thomas
[Thomas Malthus, population]
biography

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Thomas Malthus biography

An Essay on the
Principle of Population


  Thomas Malthus was born near Guildford, Surrey, England in 1766 into a well-off family. He was educated from 1784 at Jesus College, Cambridge where he achieved distinguished marks in his mathematical studies. He was subsequently ordained as an Anglican cleric in 1797 despite having an inconvenient speech impediment. He became curate of the parish of Albury in Surrey in 1798 and held this post for a short time.

  His main contribution is to Economics where a theory, published anonymously as "An Essay on the Principle of Population" in 1798 has as a central argument that populations tend to increase faster than the supply of food available for their needs.

  To quote directly from the essay:-
  "Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsistence only increases in an arithmetical ratio. A slight acquaintance with numbers will show the immensity of the first power compared to the second".

  The essay thus anticipated that this propensity could only lead to real distress:-
  " The number of labourers also being above the proportion of work in the market, the price of labor must tend towards a decrease; while the price of provisions would at the same time tend to rise".

  This theory of the effective inevitability of poverty and distress contradicted the optimistic belief prevailing in the early 19th century, that a society's fertility would lead to economic progress and helped to give Economics, then more frequently known as "Political Economy" the alternative name of "The Dismal Science."

  Earlier that year the British statesman William Pitt had proposed that poor relief should give special consideration to the encouragement of large families as "those who, after having enriched their country with a number of children, have a claim upon its assistance for their support." In the event Malthus's theory was often used as an argument against efforts to better the condition of the poor.

  Malthus later went so far as to suggest that, for the lessening of the probability of a miserable existence for the poor, it was advisable to seek to cut the birth rate in society. This suggestion was unmistakably outrageous given the moralities of the times (and would doubtless be most controversial today).

  The Essay on the Principles of Population and other writings encouraged the first systematic demographic studies and also had a significant influence in several ways:-

  In Economics David Ricardo's, "iron law of wages" and theory of distribution of wealth contain some elements of Malthus' theory.

  Of far more dramatic significance is the fact that both Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace admitted that the food scarcities regarded as being normal by Malthus had been of KEY influence on their seperate development of theories of the evolutionary Origin of Species.

  From 1805 until his death Thomas Malthus was Professor of Modern History and Political Economy at the newly established college of the East India Company at Haileybury. This appointment may have been the first professional post in Economics held by anyone in human history.

  Other works include An Inquiry into the Nature and Progress of Rent (1815) and Principles of Political Economy (1820).








Introductory quotations
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Darwin
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Wallace
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Thomas Malthus biography
Essay on the Principles of Population
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Darwin
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T H Huxley
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Thomas Malthus biography
Essay on the Principles of Population