Who Is Thomas Malthus and What Did He Predict?

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Thomas Robert Malthus was an English cleric, scholar and economist who predicted that unchecked population growth would lead to famine and disease. His seminal work was titled “An Essay on the Principle of Population as it Affects the Future Improvement of Society, with Remarks on the Speculations of Mr. Godwin, Mr. Condorcet, and Other Writers.”

Malthus was born to a Utopian father, Daniel Malthus, who believed that the condition of society would continue to improve. Malthus, however, argued that because population increased geometrically, while food supplies increased only arithmetically, population would inevitably outstrip the ability of farmers to supply everyone with enough food to live. This was known as a “Malthusian Catastrophe.”

Malthus saw positive and preventative checks as means to limit population growth. Positive checks, such as disease, war, disaster and famine, increase the death rate. Preventative checks, including marrying later, not having children, birth control and homosexuality, restrict the birth rate.

Malthus also advocated for welfare reform. He felt that Poor Laws encouraged the poor to have more children in order to receive increased payments. The increase in the number of poor workers also created more poor people by forcing wages downward.

Additional works by Malthus include “The Present High Price of Provisions,” “Observations on the Effects of the Corn Laws” and “Principles of Political Economy.” Malthus died in 1882 at the age of 76.