An Essay on the Principle of Population
Thomas Malthus
1798

One of the most important non-fiction books of its day, and still a classic of economic thought, Malthus’ theory of population continues to influence thinking on resource use, distribution, demographics and population health – and continues, too, to inspire significant controversy and debate.

Originally published anonymously, …The Principle of Population outlined the Reverend Thomas Malthus’ “iron law of population” – that continued population growth would increase the supply of labour and drive down wages, ultimately triggering crises that would only be resolved by significant population loss. War, famine, and disease would signal severe population crisis, and result in widespread and furious struggles for survival until such time as the population was reduced to manageable numbers – only, however, a temporary relief, before the cycle repeated itself.

Malthus’ solution? Active state management of populations, through the enacting of poor laws, celibacy for those deemed ‘unproductive’, discouragement of charity, and higher wages for those who were working productively. Attacked as lacking in morality and effectively promoting an increase in social inequality and the use of state power to control the poor, Malthus’ book has for over 200 years been both a central target of reformers and radicals and a foundational text of classical economic theory.

Advertisements