There seems to be more to famine than a mere lack of food. Hunger is always at our door, even in an era like our own. Do people starve simply because there are too many of us? Or, is famine the inevitable companion of civilization? Was Malthus right in his insistence that population must necessarily outdistance food supply? Or, to counter Malthus, do the hungry die of politics instead?…
…The emotions apparently condemned by Malthus’s theory were not avarice,cruelty, or the lust for conquest, but the desire for home, wife and family: the wedding ring. the great threat to human progress and survival was not armies of disease, but the young joining hands before the altar and going forth to multiply. Out of this terrible paradox- in fact, a not altogether just version of what Malthus had actually written- was born the image of “Parson Malthus,” a black-clad, thin-lipped specter at the feast of love and reason.
Malthus seemed to personify the callous pessimism of the new “dismal science” of political economy, rebuking the poor as the authors of their own misery, condemning charity for aggravating, by sponsoring reckless breeding, the distress it tried to alleviate, scorning love, hating marriage- perhaps even a hypocrite who had himself fathered many children. As Byron mocked in Don Juan, Malthus “does the thing ‘gainst which he writes.” As a picture of Malthus the man it was a grotesque caricature, but Malthus knew quite well what he was doing.
The conflict between the outlooks of two generations, between the sentimental optimism of the late eighteenth-century and the bleak realism of the early nineteenth, had occurred, though amiably enough, in his own family. Malthus wrote in his preface that his essay ” owes its origin to a conversation with a friend.” The friend was, in fact, his father.
Daniel Malthus was born in 1766, one of eight children and was in many ways a typical product of eighteenth century England: a cultivated, fox hunting squire, amateur botanist, rather ineffectual and disappointed, but an affectionate father and an enthusiastic believer in the perfectibility of man. He was a great admirer of Rousseau, who he met during the latter’s visit to England and for whom he tried to find a house near his own in Surrey. His enlightened enthusiasms were reflected in his choice for private tutors for son Robert. one of them, Gilbert Wakefield, was a radical clergyman who was later imprisoned for expressing the hope that the French revolution would come over and conquer England.
Wakefield had been a fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge, and it was there that Robert went in 1784 to read mathematics. After a successful undergraduate career he took clerical orders. He became a Fellow of the College in 1793, just in time to join the governing body that, in December of that year, passed judgement on an errant and debt-ridden undergraduate named Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who had run away from Cambridge to join the 15th Dragoons under the name of Silas Tomkins Comberbacke. Coleridge was to be one of Malthus’s most hostile critics. ( to be continued)…
(see link at end)…The key assumption that Malthus made was that there was a very slowly improving technology. As we said before, Malthus grew up in the Industrial Revolution, when this assumption certainly did not hold, but he was a product of an era when technology in fact had not changed very quickly. This was certainly true in agricultural societies, in which technological changes were very slow. For example, English crop rotation and fertilization methods were only slowly adopted during the commercial revolution. This is one of the reasons that Malthus viewed agricultural output as growing at an arithmetic rate, instead of at a geometric rate like the population. But, according to Malthus, even if there were some once-and-for-all increase in the food base of a society, it would only lead to inexorable pressure of the population on the increased resources. He felt that when everything got sorted out, the averagvel of living would be just as low as it was before the great increase in the food base.
WHAT WENT WRONG?
What was wrong with Malthus’s thesis was that he assumed, as we mentioned, a fixed technology. He also assumed that population size was a function only of real income, and that survival rates were in fact a function of the income level. As to the first assumption, we know that starting in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the technological capacity of society increased; whether it was due to the Industrial Revolution, to increased schooling, or to other determinants, it did increase.
Malthus also ignored the possibility that the real-wage curve could rise. Read More:http://wps.aw.com/aw_miller_econtoday_13/29/7556/1934428.cw/content/index.html