Thomas Malthus

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Person.png Thomas Malthus  Rdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
(cleric, philosopher)
Thomas Robert Malthus.jpg
Born14 February 1766
Died23 December 1834 (Age 68)
Alma materJesus College (Cambridge)
Interests • “overpopulation”
• population reduction
• British India
• British East India Company
• Irish famine
• famine
The father of depopulation justifications, both in British imperial ideology and among modern day billionaires.

Thomas Robert Malthus was an English cleric, scholar and influential economist in the fields of political economy and demography.[1] His opinions on the iron law of overpopulation and the futility of economic redistribution have found immense resonance, especially among the ruling class, to this day. His philosophy has often been used to disguise a policy of deliberate genocide through a artificially exacerbated famines as a law of nature.

And as Ann Lawler pointed out "Malthus was not just any old country parson, but the official chief economist for the British East India Company (BEIC), the largest monopoly the world had ever seen, with an army in the late 18th and early 19th centuries that was larger than that of the British government itself. In fact, the slave-trading and dope-pushing BEIC was the British Empire. And when the BEIC set up its Haileybury College in 1805 to train its officials, they appointed Malthus as the very first professor of political economy in Britain, actually in the world. Malthus's students over the next several decades became the BEIC's administrators, and systematically applied his policies of genocide to keep the native populations under control. They killed tens of millions in India alone, including by forcing them to grow opium instead of food, which opium the BEIC then used to poison the Chinese. It is likely that the BEIC promoted Malthus precisely because he was a reverend, to justify the kind of mass murder which most even nominal Christians would find objectionable."[2]

His views became influential and controversial across economic, political, social and scientific thought. Pioneers of evolutionary biology read him, notably Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace.[3][4] Malthus laid the "...theoretical foundation of the conventional wisdom that has dominated the debate, both scientifically and ideologically,[5] on global hunger and famines for almost two centuries.[6]" He remains a much-debated writer.

Malthusian trap

In his 1798 book An Essay on the Principle of Population, Malthus observed that an increase in a nation's food production improved the well-being of the population, but the improvement was temporary because it led to population growth, which in turn restored the original per capita production level. In other words, humans had a propensity to utilize abundance for population growth rather than for maintaining a high standard of living, a view that has become known as the "Malthusian trap" or the "Malthusian spectre". Populations had a tendency to grow until the lower class suffered hardship, want and greater susceptibility to famine and disease, a view that is sometimes referred to as a Malthusian catastrophe. Malthus wrote in opposition to the popular view in 18th-century Europe that saw society as improving and in principle as perfectible.[7]

Malthus saw population growth as inevitable whenever conditions improved, thereby precluding real progress towards a utopian society: "The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man."[8] As an Anglican cleric, he saw this situation as divinely imposed to teach virtuous behavior.[9] Malthus wrote that "the increase of population is necessarily limited by subsistence," "population does invariably increase when the means of subsistence increase," and "the superior power of population repress by moral restraint, vice, and misery."[10]

Poor Laws

Because of the war Britain had launched against France in 1793, by the mid-1790s Britain was suffering a deep depression, food riots were common, and rioters even attacked the King's own carriage in 1795. Subsidizing the poor was costing a lot of money, even with the minuscule welfare system of the day, known as the Poor Laws, so Prime Minister William Pitt (The Younger) asked Malthus to write a tract to justify cancelling those laws[2]. Malthus duly criticized the Poor Laws for leading to inflation rather than improving the well-being of the poor.[11] He supported taxes on grain imports (the Corn Laws).[12]


  1. Petersen, William (1979). Malthus: Founder of Modern Demography. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. p. 19. ISBN 9780674544253.
  2. a b
  3. 385–390
  5. Daoud, Adel. (2010) "Robbins and Malthus on scarcity, abundance, and sufficiency: The missing sociocultural element." American Journal of Economics and Sociology 69.4 (2010): 1206-1229.-Daoud citing Harvey, David. (1974). "Population, Resources, and the Ideology of Science". Economic Geography 50(3): 256–277.
  6. Daoud, Adel. (2010) "Robbins and Malthus on scarcity, abundance, and sufficiency: The missing sociocultural element." American Journal of Economics and Sociology 69.4 (2010): 1206-1229.-Daoud citing Kutzner, Patricia L. (1991). World Hunger: A Reference Handbook. Santa Barbara: ABC-Clio.
  7. Geoffrey Gilbert, introduction to Malthus T.R. 1798. An Essay on the Principle of Population. Oxford World's Classics reprint. viii in Oxford World's Classics reprint.
  9. 104–05
  10. Malthus, p. 61.
  11. Malthus, pp. 39–45.
  12. Malthus, p. xx.
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