Thursday, April 13, 2017

Thomas Robert Malthus and the population problem


Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834) is a famous economist best known his analysis of the population problem. Malthus believed that population naturally increases faster than economic production, therefore human living conditions cannot improve in the long run.

Although history says that human living standards have dramatically improved since the industrial revolution (disproving the Malthus trap), I still believe Malthus has some interesting things to say about government spending and society. This post is a collection of quotes from Malthus describing his philosophy of society.

Population problem


"Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio, Subsistence, increases only in an arithmetical ratio." (An Essay on the Principle of Population, 1798)

"The perpetual tendency of the race of man to increase beyond the means of subsistence is one of the general laws of animated nature, which we can have no reason to expect to change." (An Essay on the Principle of Population, 1798)

Support for government spending


"When Hume and Adam Smith prophesied that a little increase of national debt beyond the then amount of it, would probably occasion bankruptcy; the main cause of their error was the natural one, of not being able to see the vast increase of productive power to which the nation would subsequently obtain." (An Essay on the Principle of Population 2nd Edition, 1836)

"The employment of the poor in roads and public works, and a tendency among landlords and persons of property to build, to improve and beautify their grounds, and to employ workmen and menial servants, are the means most within our power and most directly calculated to remedy the evils arising from that disturbance in the balance of produce and consumption." (An Essay on the Principle of Population 2nd Edition, 1836)

Against the Poor Laws


"To remedy the frequent distresses of the common people, the poor laws of England have been instituted; but it is to be feared that though they may have alleviated a little the intensity of individual misfortune, they have spread the general evil over a much larger surface." (An Essay on the Principle of Population, 1798)

"The laboring poor, to use a vulgar expression, seem always to live from hand to mouth. Their present wants employ their whole attention, and they seldom think of the future. Even when they have an opportunity of saving they seldom exercise it, but all that is beyond their present necessities goes, generally speaking, to the ale house." (An Essay on the Principle of Population, 1798)

What is political economy?


"The science of political economy is essentially practical, and applicable to the common business of human life. There are few branches of human knowledge where false views may do more harm, or just views more good." (An Essay on the Principle of Population 2nd Edition, 1836)

"It has been said, and perhaps with truth, that the conclusions of Political Economy partake more of the certainty of the stricter sciences than those of most of the other branches of human knowledge." (An Essay on the Principle of Population 2nd Edition, 1836)

Philosophy of science


"It is an acknowledged truth in philosophy that a just theory will always be confirmed by experiment." (An Essay on the Principle of Population, 1798)

"To minds of a certain cast there is nothing so captivating as simplification and generalization. (An Essay on the Principle of Population 2nd Edition, 1836)

The finest minds seem to be formed rather by efforts at original thinking, by endeavors to form new combinations, and to discover new truths, than by passively receiving the impressions of other men's ideas. (An Essay on the Principle of Population, 1798 revised 1826)

The first business of philosophy is to account for things as they are; and till our theories will do this, they ought not to be the ground of any practical conclusion. (An Essay on the Principle of Population 2nd Edition, 1836)

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