The theories of Thomas Robert Malthus


THAT the checks which have been mentioned are the immediate causes of the slow increase of population, and that these checks result principally from an insufficiency of subsistence will be evident from the comparatively rapid increase which has invariably taken place whenever, by some sudden enlargement in the means of subsistence, these checks have been in any considerable degree removed. Plenty of rich land to be had for little or nothing is so powerful a cause of population as generally to overcome all obstacles. The abundance of cheap and profitable land obtained by the colonists in English North America resulted in a rapid increase of population almost without parallel in history. Such an increase does not occur in Britain, and the reason to be assigned is want of food. Want of food is certainly the most efficient of the three immediate checks to population. Population soon increases after war and disease and convulsions of nature, because the food supply is more adequate for the diminished numbers; but where food is deficient no increase of population can occur.

Since the world began, the causes of population and depopulation have been probably as constant as any of the laws of nature with which we are acquainted.

The passion between the sexes has appeared in every age to be so nearly the same that it may always be considered in algebraic language as a given quantity. The great law of necessity, which prevents population from increasing in any country beyond the food which it can either produce or acquire, is a law so obvious and evident to our understandings that we cannot doubt it.

The different modes which nature takes to repress a redundant population do not, indeed, appear to us so certain and regular; but though we cannot always predict the mode, we may with certainty predict the fact. If the proportion of the births to the deaths for a few years indicates an increase of numbers much beyond the proportional increased or acquired food of the country, we may be perfectly certain that, unless an emigration takes place, the deaths will shortly exceed the births, and that the increase which has been observed for a few years cannot be the real average increase of the population of the country.

If there were no other depopulating causes, and if the preventive check did not operate very strongly, every country would, without doubt, be subject to periodical plagues and famines.

The only true criterion of a real and permanent increase in the population of any country is the increase of the means of subsistence, and even this criterion is subject to some slight variations.

Other circumstances being the same, it may be affirmed that countries are populous according to the quantity of human food which they produce or can acquire; and happy according to the liberality with which this food is divided, or the quantity which a day's labour will purchase. This happiness does not depend either upon-their being thinly or fully inhabited, upon their poverty or their riches, their youth or age, but on the proportion which the population and the food bear to each other.

In modern Europe the positive checks to population prevail less, and the preventive checks more, than in past times and in the more uncivilized parts of the world, since wars, plagues, acute diseases and famines have become less frequent.

With regard to the preventive checks to population, though it must be acknowledged that the preventive check of moral restraint does not, at present, largely prevail, yet it is becoming more prevalent, and if we consider only the general term, which implies principally a delay of marriage from prudential considerations, it may be considered as the most potent of the checks which in modern Europe keep down the population to the level of the means of subsistence.

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