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Malthus

Malthus

[mal-thuhs]
Malthus, Thomas Robert, 1766-1834, English economist, sociologist, and pioneer in modern population study. In An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798, rev. ed. 1803), he contended that poverty and distress are unavoidable, since population increases by geometrical ratio and the means of subsistence by arithmetical ratio. As checks on population growth, Malthus first accepted only war, famine, and disease, but in his revised work he admitted also the preventive check of "moral restraint." Although his theory caused general controversy, it was later adapted by neo-Malthusians, and its implications influenced classical economists, especially David Ricardo. However, unlike Ricardo, Malthus did not agree with Jean Baptiste Say's law of markets, which held that overproduction and unemployment were impossible since supply creates its own demand. Malthus believed that unemployment could occur when there was a surplus of unwanted products. He wrote Principles of Political Economy (1820) and other books.

See biography by J. Bonar (2d ed. 1924, repr. 1966); study by D. V. Glass (1953); M. Paglin, Malthus and Lauderdale; the Anti-Ricardian Tradition (1956, repr. 1973); M. Turner, ed., Malthus and His Time (1986).

(born Feb. 14/17, 1766, Rookery, near Dorking, Surrey, Eng.—died Dec. 23, 1834, St. Catherine, near Bath, Somerset) British economist and demographer. Born into a prosperous family, he studied at the University of Cambridge and was elected a fellow of Jesus College in 1793. In 1798 he published An Essay on the Principle of Population, in which he argued that population will always tend to outrun the food supply—that the increase of population will take place, if unchecked, in a geometrical progression, while the means of subsistence will increase only in an arithmetical progression. He believed population would expand to the limit of subsistence and would be held there by famine, war, and ill health. He enlarged on his ideas in later editions of his work (to 1826). He argued that relief measures for the poor should be strictly limited since they tended to encourage the growth of excess population. His theories, though largely disproven, had great influence on contemporary social policy and on such economists as David Ricardo.

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(born Feb. 14/17, 1766, Rookery, near Dorking, Surrey, Eng.—died Dec. 23, 1834, St. Catherine, near Bath, Somerset) British economist and demographer. Born into a prosperous family, he studied at the University of Cambridge and was elected a fellow of Jesus College in 1793. In 1798 he published An Essay on the Principle of Population, in which he argued that population will always tend to outrun the food supply—that the increase of population will take place, if unchecked, in a geometrical progression, while the means of subsistence will increase only in an arithmetical progression. He believed population would expand to the limit of subsistence and would be held there by famine, war, and ill health. He enlarged on his ideas in later editions of his work (to 1826). He argued that relief measures for the poor should be strictly limited since they tended to encourage the growth of excess population. His theories, though largely disproven, had great influence on contemporary social policy and on such economists as David Ricardo.

Learn more about Malthus, Thomas Robert with a free trial on Britannica.com.

Principles of Political Economy (1820) was a successful book by Thomas Malthus (1766-1834). The last chapter of the book was devoted to rebutting Say's law, and argued that the economy could stagnate with a lack of "effectual demand". In other words, wages if less than the total costs of production cannot purchase the total output of industry and that this would cause prices to fall. Price falls cause incentives to invest, and the spiral could continue indefinitely.

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