- Malthus, Thomas Robert
- (1766-1834)An early political economist whose Essay on Population, first published in 1798 and frequently revised, had an enormous impact on theories of population. Malthus's father, a liberal English landowner and a friend of Rousseau , educated his own son until he went to Cambridge. There, Malthus was appointed a Fellow in 1793, and in 1797 he took Holy Orders. In 1805 he became Professor of History and Political Economy at the East India Company College at Haileybury.In his Essay Malthus engaged with the contemporary debate about the perfectibility of humankind. Against writers such as Godwin and Condorcet , who believed that the human race was capable of ever greater improvement and happiness, Malthus, drawing on the work of Adam Smith and David Hume , pointed to the pressures and difficulties for the human race arising from what he called the ‘principle of population’. This was the natural tendency of populations to expand faster than resources. Populations could expand geometrically; resources no more than arithmetically. Inevitably, therefore, actual population growth was checked by insufficiency of resources, either by ‘positive’ checks (deaths from disease and starvation) or by ‘preventive’ checks (postponing marriage or sexual abstinence).Malthus's views have been widely challenged, not least for the implication that attempts to remedy poverty by increasing resources must be unsuccessful since this only leads to further population expansion and further pressure on the ‘necessaries of life’, a view that was used to justify the harshness of the 1834 Poor Law Reforms in Britain. Karl Marx, for instance, contended that a population's capacity to feed itself depended primarily on economic and social organization: capitalism -not population growth-was to blame for poverty.
Dictionary of sociology. 2013.