T. Robert Malthus's Principle of Population Explained

The IPAT equation and other environmental explanations based on population and resource scarcity became very popular in the 1970's with the birth of the modern environmental movement, and they have often dominated environmental activism and regulation since that time. But the ideas are actually much older than Paul Ehrlich. These arguments originated in late 18th Century England with the work of cleric and scholar Thomas Robert Malthus. In his 1798 book An Essay on the Principle of Population, Malthus argued that human population growth is exponential while natural resources (particularly food) are fixed, and their availability can only grow linearly. Thus, he argued that unless the human population was regulated in some way, the population would surpass resource availability, leading to famine, disease, and population collapse (a moment dubbed the 'Malthusian catastrophe.' see figure 2.8 below).

Robert Malthus [1766-1834] Malthus’s Population Principle Explained

Thomas Robert Malthus was the first economist to propose a systematic theory of population

Thomas robert malthus essay on population | Dr. …

Malthus' most well known work 'An Essay on the Principle of Population' was published in 1798, although he was the author of many pamphlets and other longer tracts including 'An Inquiry into the Nature and Progress of Rent' (1815) and 'Principles of Political Economy' (1820). The main tenets of his argument were radically opposed to current thinking at the time. He argued that increases in population would eventually diminish the ability of the world to feed itself and based this conclusion on the thesis that populations expand in such a way as to overtake the development of sufficient land for crops. Associated with Darwin, whose theory of natural selection was influenced by Malthus' analysis of population growth, Malthus was often misinterpreted, but his views became popular again in the 20th century with the advent of Keynesian economics.

Malthus Essay On Population - …

Throughout the whole of the present work I have so far differed in principle from the former, as to suppose the action of another check to population which does not come under the head either of vice or misery; and, in the latter part I have endeavoured to soften some of the harshest conclusions of the first Essay. In doing this, I hope that I have not violated the principles of just reasoning; nor expressed any opinion respecting the probable improvement of society, in which I am not borne out by the experience of the past. To those who still think that any check to population whatever would be worse than the evils which it would relieve, the conclusions of the former Essay will remain in full force; and if we adopt this opinion we shall be compelled to acknowledge, that the poverty and misery which prevail among the lower classes of society are absolutely irremediable.

thomas robert malthus essay on the principle of population …
Malthusian theory of population essay

Thomas Robert Malthus - Wikipedia

As mentioned earlier, these arguments are compelling, and in absolute terms they are correct. The Earth cannot support an infinite number of humans consuming an infinite number of resources. But neomalthusian arguments are based on a number of assumptions that might be problematic. First, they assume that human population growth is generally exponential. As we will discuss later on, this has not always been, nor is it now, true. Secondly, neomalthusians assume that natural resources are essentially fixed, which is why supply will eventually not keep up with demand. The truth, as you surely know, is much more complicated than that. Technology has played a crucial role in expanding resource availability in ways that may not be adequately considered in IPAT. Lastly, the neomalthusian argument assumes that growing affluence necessarily increases consumption and environmental impact. This is certainly true in some cases, like meat consumption, but not so in others, like renewable energy. Ehrlich and his neomalthusian colleagues have many critics, and we will now read a few of their arguments. As you read these articles, keep in mind our overarching question, does the carrying capacity concept really apply to human populations?

Malthus essay on principle of population - An essay on the principle of population - wikipedia

Thomas Robert Malthus - New World Encyclopedia

Straightforward though this may seem, Malthus placed most of the blame for human population problems squarely on the shoulders of the poor and people from less developed nations, finding fault with their ignorance and lack of moral discipline. You may think that this is a rather ugly position to take, and you are not alone. Malthusian arguments had lost prominence until the middle of the 20th Century when a new group of scholars took up the mantel of unchecked population and resource scarcity. These thinkers are known as neomalthusians because their theories are an update to the work of Malthus. The main difference in neomalthusian explanations is the acknowledgment that affluence and technology influence consumption and resource supply problems (and thus environmental impact) as well as total population. In other words, richer nations are also part of the problem - hence the IPAT equation. However, the basic premise still hinges on the notion of overpopulation and resource scarcity. Paul Ehrlich is perhaps the best known and most vocal of the neomalthusian thinkers, and his work and activism have contributed to the dominant position that neomalthusian arguments have in environmental and sustainability circles.

The reputation of the English economist Thomas Robert Malthus endured because of his work An Essay on the Principle of Population…

Malthusian Theory of Population