Essay on principle of population Essay
Thomas Malthus, in the early 19th century published an essay on the principle of population as it affects the future improvement of the society with remarks on the Speculations of Mr. Godwin, M. Condorcet, and Other Writers. He criticized the views of the Utopians who believed that life could and would definitely improve for humans on earth. Populations are growing most rapidly where such growth can be afforded the least — where pollution, resource shortages, and environmental damage create additional stresses on the ability of governments to meet the basic food, clothing, and shelter needs of their populations.
The relationship between human population growth and the availability of natural resources has occupied the minds of many thinkers since at least the 18th century. However, it was Thomas Robert Malthus who for the first time gave a systematic analysis of population and resources. Thomas Robert Malthus published his Essay on the Principle of Population as a response to the Utopians, based on the facts of the poverty he saw around him. As he saw it, there was one simple reason why the Utopian ideas could never work: there could never be enough food to support such an idealistic society.
Human misery and suffering were practically inevitable. Malthus began his argument with two postulates: “First, That food is necessary to the existence of man. Secondly, that the passion between the sexes is necessary and will remain nearly in its present state” . In other words, man will continue to eat, and man will continue to reproduce. Assuming these two conditions, Malthus goes on to state the core of his argument within three short paragraphs: “Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio.
Subsistence increases only in an arithmetical ratio. A slight acquaintance with numbers wills shed the immensity of the first power in comparison to the second. “By that law of our nature which makes food necessary to the life of man, the effects of these two unequal powers must be kept equal. “This implies a strong and constantly operating check on population from the difficulty of subsistence. This difficulty must fall somewhere and must necessarily be severely felt by a large portion of mankind.
” A society of the type the Utopians predicted, without hunger or poverty, was impossible. Mankind will continue to reproduce until he consumes all available food supply, and then will only be prevented from expanding further by simple hunger. Therefore: “The natural inequality of the two powers of population and of production in the earth, and that great law of our nature which must constantly keep their effects equal, form the great difficulty that to me appears insurmountable in the way to the perfectibility of society.
And it appears, therefore, to be decisive against the possible existence of a society, all the members of which should live in ease, happiness, and comparative leisure; and feel no anxiety about providing the means of subsistence for themselves and families. “Consequently, if the premises are just, the argument is conclusive against the perfectibility of the mass of mankind. ” This ‘conclusive argument’ by no means settled the debate; on the contrary, Malthus’ grim predictions provoked a storm of rebuttals, which damaged but never quite destroyed the credibility of his theory.
His two initial postulates, that man must eat and will continue to reproduce, Malthus felt needed little defence. Obviously, a person must eat in order to survive, and despite some speculation by the Utopian William Godwin that the sexual instinct may eventually diminish, Malthus saw little sign of this occurring at any point in the near future, and dismissed the possibility as mere conjecture. Populations in general have the capacity to increase geometrically, but this capacity is almost never fully exploited.
While this distinction was fully understood by Malthus, it was often misrepresented by his critics, who chose to interpret his Essay as claiming that population did, in actuality, increase in a geometric ratio. Malthus used as a hypothetical example of geometric growth a certain strain of wheat, which, under normal circumstances, produced six grains for every one planted. Therefore, this wheat had the capacity to sextuple in population every year – at which rate; a single acre would have expanded to cover the earth’s surface in fourteen years.
Obviously, wheat did not reproduce at its full capacity. However, the question of the maximum growth rate of a human population was somewhat more obscure. Humans, unlike wheat, cannot be said to simply double in number every nine months. In his attempt to find such a maximum growth rate, Malthus turned to the newly independent United States of America, using the country, with its vast surpluses of land and food, as his main evidence for the natural increase of human population in a geometric ratio. Fortunately for Malthus, the recently-formed US government
had readily available demographic statistics, in the form of census data. Strangely, however, in his first Essay on the Principle of Population, he summarized these statistics with the single phrase, “the population has been found to double itself in twenty-five years,” While in later works, notably his 1830 Summary View of the Principle of Population, Malthus would make full use of this data, in the first Essay it was all but ignored. Malthus’ proof of the growth of the food supply in an arithmetic ratio was even less supported.
He dismissed the possibility of geometric growth of the food supply as “contrary to all our knowledge of the qualities of land,” and proposed instead that, at most, the producer of the land could be increased every twenty-five years by an amount equal to its present production, justifying this with the statement, “The most enthusiastic speculator cannot suppose a greater increase than this,” This illustrates a persistent weakness in Malthus’ “proof”; namely, his apparent love of theory and disregard for more convincing empirical evidence.
Accepting Malthus’ ideas of the relative growth rates of the population and the food supply, the next, and perhaps more important stage of his argument is the analysis of the consequences of this hypothesis. Within several twenty-five year generations, the population, if unchecked, would far surpass the available food supply: “In two centuries and a quarter, the population would be to the means of subsistence as 512 to 10: in three centuries as 4096 to 13, and in two thousand years the difference would be almost incalculable, though the produce in that time would have increased to an immense extent,” .
The effects of these vast differences are easy to predict for plants and animals: excess population would be cut down by lack of food. But with intelligent, reasoning human beings, the prediction is made more difficult. Malthus’s principle of population is basically the law of supply and demand applied to the relationships between food production and population growth, which he makes clear time and again throughout the Essay. As the food supply increases, food becomes cheaper, and more children are brought into the world.
As there are more mouths to feed, food becomes more expensive, thus causing stress on families, more children dying or steps taken to prevent conception itself. As food prices rise, more land is put under the plod, or greater efforts made in intensifying the production of the land itself. While Malthus recognized that the relationships among the fertility of people and land are a good deal more complex than this simplified assertion, he maintained there is a recurrent reciprocal relationship between the two.
Because of this reciprocal relationship between population and production, over the course of sociocultural evolution, both population and food production have grown in tandem. Periods of increase in food productivity, whether because of the application of technology or the expansion of cultivated land, have been met with expansions of population. Periods of stability in food production, or contraction in productivity, have been marked by the same phenomena in population level.
Because people can reproduce faster than they can increase the production of food, population must always be checked through positive or preventive means. This and nothing more, is Malthus’s “Principle of Population. ” Over the course of sociocultural evolution, however, the long-term tendency has been for both productivity and population to intensify. This reciprocal growth, of course, has great effect on other parts of the sociocultural system.
In Essay on the Principle of Population, Malthus proposes the principle that human populations grow exponentially (i. e. , doubling with each cycle) while food production grows at an arithmetic rate (i. e. by the repeated addition of a uniform increment in each uniform interval of time). Thus, while food output was likely to increase in a series of twenty-five year intervals in the arithmetic progression 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and so on, population was capable of increasing in the geometric progression 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, and so forth.
This scenario of arithmetic food growth with simultaneous geometric human population growth predicted a future when humans would have no resources to survive on. To avoid such a catastrophe, Malthus urged controls on population growth. Malthus believed that only bad could come from population growth. Population he said grows faster than food supply. This he said was because food supply can only grow arithmetically. Consequently, there is no way food supply can keep up with population growth. Population grows exponentially, for example, 1-2-4-8-16-32-64.
Food supply grows arithmetically, for example, 1-2-3-4-5-6. Therefore, population will inevitably exceed food supply. Every growth model has variables and parameters, and Malthusian model is no exception. In this model, the variable is population, a number in which you need to take keen interest, and the parameter is population growth rate – which is known to you beforehand. While variables are known to change in course of time, parameters are mostly constant – but do have the tendency to change at times.