Mr. Dhamee's discussion focuses strictly on Malthus' population theory, which is a small part of his overall economic theory. This emphasis can be forgiven since Malthus' Principles of Political Economy did not have its full impact on economic theory until it was revived by J.M. Keynes and P. Sraffa in the twentieth century. However, Mr. Dhamee also misses the core of Malthus' theory of population for the Victorian period — the forced balance of "corrective" and "preventative" checks to population. Math and technology aside, Malthus argues not that society tends toward cannibalistic starvation but that either society will "preventatively" control its population or nature will "correctively" reduce population. Even today this hypothesis stands unchallenged (given constant technology). During Malthus's day birth control methods were anything but reliable and were not commonly available. Therefore, "corrective" to Malthus meant abstinence, specifically abstinence from early marriage.

From this chain of thought came the idea that humanitarian aid could not help the poor, since they would overpopulate as a result of the aid, making it futile, and therefore sexual restraint provided the only route to prosperity. It would later take J.S. Mill to develop this theory further in order to show that, given constant population, real wages could rise at the expense of profits. However in Malthus's and Ricardo's theory, the "iron law of wages" holds that worker's wages will remain at subsistence levels. This concept of subsistence can also be found in Marx's work, and in the twentieth century a modernized version was put forth by T.B. Veblen.

Related Materials

Some recent writings on Malthus

Macfarlane, Alan. Thomas Malthus and the Making of the Modern World. Amazon Create Space, 2014.

Mayhew, Robert J. Malthus: The Life and Legacies of an Untimely Prophet. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press, 2014.

In his admirably rounded Malthus . .. . Mayhew draws our attention to the actual writings of this pioneer of demography and political economy, and to his historical context. . . . [A later phase of Malthusian thought] began in the later twentieth-century with a new Malthusianism aligned with ecology” (Jonnathan Benthall, “At Trondheim,” TLS [13 June 2014]: 28.)

Last modified 11 September 2015