The Principle of Population: an Economist’s Theory that Explains Society

In 1798, Thomas Robert Malthus published his book An Essay on the Principle of Population. Although this piece was from the niche of political economy and demography, it determined some of the basic principles of society, as well as the nature of human race. Malthus used empirical data to support the thesis that human population grows exponentially, as opposed to the production of food, which grows at an arithmetic rate. By combining these two parameters, Malthus came to the conclusion that humans would eventually come to a point of lack of resources to survive on. The suggested preventive measure is systematic control of the growth of human population.

Countries have been trying to motivate population growth for centuries by promoting different measures. For example, Greece simply ordered its citizens to get into marriage, while Roman emperors lured their citizens into this community by providing rewards and privileges. A growing nation has always been considered to be a healthy nation. Malthus confuted these principles, although his access to accurate and verified facts was very limited. Due to lack of statistical data, the author had to conduct a research and compile facts that would lead him to a precise theory.

According to Malthus, the lack of proportion between reproduction and production can only be balanced out by keeping the population “down to the level of the means of subsistence.” However, the author did not suggest governments to impose restrictive measures in order to maintain this level of population. Instead, Malthus offered another solution defined as “moral restraint”. According to this principle, men should not act in accordance with the natural instinct for reproduction. They should refrain from creating a family before they come to the stage when they are fully capable of supporting it.

The moral restraint would reduce the number of family members, and would lead to fewer families in the overall society in time. Although his principle of population is opposed to human nature at some degree, Malthus did not justify birth control within marriage. According to his theory, men who have achieved the state of being able to support families should not try to restrict the number of children they have. The author was aware of the problems that might occur from marriage postponement, but did not considered them to be serious enough to affect the moral of the society.

The criticism on this theory is mostly based upon the lack of prediction for dramatic increase in food production. However, Malthus did consider the revolution in agriculture and ended up with the conclusion that the expansion of food production cannot keep up with unrestrained reproduction of the human species. With the increase of food production, it would become cheaper, so more people would decide to have children. As a result, there would be more mouths to feed, so the products would eventually become more expensive and certain areas of the world would face lack of resources. Although this simplified theory did not reflect the complexity of human interactions, it was bold enough to raise important questions about population. From today’s point of view, we can state that Malthus was a visionary scientist who anticipated the problems and offered a possible solution.