Thomas Malthus

Who is Thomas Malthus?

Thomas Robert Malthus was a prominent 18th-century British economist, best known for his philosophy of population growth outlined in his 1798 book Essays on the Principle of Population. In it, Malthus speculated that the population would continue to expand until growth was halted or reversed by disease, famine, war, or disaster. He is also known for developing an exponential formula for predicting population growth, currently known as the Malthusian growth model.

key takeaways

  • Thomas Malthus was an 18th century English philosopher and economist best known for his Malthusian growth model, an exponential formula for predicting population growth.
  • The theory states that food production will not be able to keep up with population growth, leading to disease, famine, war and disaster.
  • A renowned statistician and proponent of political economy, Malthus founded the London Statistical Society.

Understanding the Thought of Thomas Malthus

During the 18th and early 19th centuries, philosophers generally believed that human beings would continue to grow and tend to utopianism. Malthus countered this view, arguing that a portion of the general population was always poor and miserable, which actually slowed population growth.

After observing conditions in England in the early 1800s, Malthus wrote “An Inquiry into the Nature and Progress of Rent” (1815) and “Principles of Political Economy” (1820), in which he argued that the available farmland was insufficient to feed the world The population keeps increasing. In particular, Malthus pointed out that population increased geometrically, while food production increased arithmetically. Under this paradigm, humans will ultimately be unable to produce enough food to sustain themselves.

This theory was criticized and eventually overthrown by economists. Even as the population continues to increase, technological development and immigration ensure that the proportion of the population living below the poverty line continues to decline. In addition, global interconnectedness stimulates aid flows from food-rich countries to developing regions.

In India, which has the world’s second-largest population, Punjab’s Green Revolution has helped feed a growing population. In Western economies such as Germany, which were devastated during World War II, population growth has not hindered development.

The famous naturalist Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection was based in part on Malthus’ analysis of population growth. Furthermore, with the advent of Keynesian economics, Malthusian views were revived in the 20th century.

When Malthus was a professor of history and political economy at the East India Company College in Haileybury, it marked the first time the term “political economy” was introduced to academia.

background of thomas malthus

Malthus was born on February 13, 1766, into a prominent family near Guilford, Surrey, England. Malthus was educated at home before being admitted to Jesus College, Cambridge University in 1784. There he received his master’s degree in 1791 and became a researcher two years later. In 1805, Malthus became professor of history and political economy at the Haileybury East India Company College.

Malthus became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1819. Two years later, he joined the Political Economy Club with economist David Ricardo and Scottish philosopher James Mill. In 1824, Malthus was elected one of 10 members of the Royal Family of the Royal Literary Society. In 1833 he was elected to the French Academy of Moral and Political Sciences and to the Royal Academy in Berlin. Malthus also co-founded the London Statistical Society in 1834. He died in 1834 in St Catherine, near Bath, Somerset.

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