In 1798, Thomas Robert Malthus created

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1 In 1798, Thomas Robert Malthus created a stir when he published An Essay on the Principle of Population. Patricia James - Malthus's biographer - wrote that the publication had brought on the head of a young, gentle and possibly shy man an unprecedented eruption of fury and prejudice. Not only had he undermined the popular utopian notions about the perfectibility of man, he was also widely misunderstood in his views and critique of the Poor Laws. According to Malthus, these laws, which had been in place for over 200 years, alleviated immediate suffering, but were in the long run very damaging for the poor and perpetuated their predicament. Malthus, keen to improve their lot, called for the abolition of the Poor Laws, a proposal which met with a bitter response. Decades after his death, Marx and Engels viciously attacked Malthus. They belittled his theoretical achievements and dismissed him as an apologist for the wealthy aristocracy. A century after his death, Keynes glorified Malthus and predicted that on the bicentenary of his death, "We shall commemorate him with undiminished regard." 1 After Keynes death, Malthus's works continued to inspire and fascinate people, so much so that there was a so called "neo-malthusian" revival in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. However, in 1798, rather than being fascinated, people who looked with hope to the 19th century's utopian potential, were angry and upset; after all, with his theories about overpopulation Malthus had robbed them of their romantic dreams. Early Life Born on February 13, 1766, at the Rookery, a country house in Surrey, Thomas Robert Malthus was the sixth of seven children: Sydenham, 12, Henrietta Sarah, 9, Eliza Maria, 4, Anne Catherine Lucy, 3, and Mary Catherine Charlotte, 19 months. His younger sister, Mary Anne Catherine was born in 1771 and was the mother of Louisa Bray who wrote the unpublished manuscript Recollections. 2 His mother Henrietta was affectionate,indulgent and very much loved by her children. His father, Daniel was, according to Louisa Bray, a peculiar

2 68 The Life and Works of Thomas Robert Malthus: man with eccentric opinions; "with a highly cultivated mind and very fascinating manners, he was cold and reserved in his own family, except towards his eldest daughter and youngest son, whose talents probably early attracted his attention".3 Daniel was an acquaintance and correspondent of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and before baby Malthus was three weeks old he had met the Genevan philosopher, who after being forced to flee had taken refuge in Britain with his friend Scottish philosopher David Hume.4 Education Malthus was home-schooled by his armchair philosopher father for the first part of his life. His first tutor, Richard Graves, was an ordained graduate of All Souls College who lost his fellowship and offended his conventional family by marrying a lower-class girl. Graves took over tutoring from Malthus s father when the boy was ten. Malthus subsequently attended the Dissenting Academy at Warrington in Lancashire - an institution for Protestant nonconformists - until the school's dissolution in The next year, Malthus entered Jesus College Cambridge where he studied for the clergy but also read mathematics and philosophy. He was known as a serious scholar with weighty intellectual interests. Yet he was also a popular man with a witty thus ignored the advice, took holy orders and practiced for a short period of time at a church in Okewood. He returned to Jesus College as a Fellow in Besides his becoming a Fellow, little is known about Malthus's life between 1788 and1798. This period was filled with drama and political turmoil. In 1793, Louis XVI was guillotined and the French republic declared war on England. personality and good looks, who wore his sometimes pink powdered hair in little ringlets, whereas most other wore white powdered pigtails.6 Born with a cleft palate, Malthus had a speech impediment which, according to the Master of Jesus College, would affect his chances of rising in the church. Mal- The Essay Despite the tumult, a number of writers and preachers suggested that calm and idyllic times would follow this period of upheaval. One of these men was the English social philosopher and political journalist William Godwin, author of Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Political Justice and Its Influence on General Virtue and Happiness (1793). Godwin was particularly optimistic about the future. Following Rousseau's claim that the history of civil society was the history of human sickness, Godwin advanced a doctrine of extreme individualism, arguing that small

3 70 The Life and Works of Thomas Robert Malthus: self-subsisting groups should replace large al, moral and physical perfection. 9 arithmetical ratio - in uniform incremental marriage or childbirth, especially when government and social institutions to en- Malthus, unlike his father, did not increases. Thus population would quickly the Poor Law encouraged couples to have sure the future improvement of society. agree with these utopian views. He wrote exceed levels of subsistence." 10 According children. 11 He felt that all forms of social organiza- An Essay on the Principle of Population as to Malthus there were two kinds of obsta- Despite the fact that Malthus's con- tions were oppressive and that, after their It Affects the Future Improvement of So- cles that could block this advance; positive clusions weren't exactly new - Franklin removal, humankind would be freed from ciety, with Remarks on the Speculations checks, i.e. checks which raise the death and Sir James Stewart each had previously ignorance, misery and poverty and live in of M. Godwin, M. Condorcet and Other rate like war famine and plagues; pre- published similarly foreboding essays - An a world full of morality, happiness and vir- Writers - which was anonymously pub- ventative checks, i.e. checks which lower Essay captured the theory and the atten- tue. Regarding any potential population lished - as a critique of the utopian theo- the birth rate like voluntary abstinence tion of Britain. One of the people won over problems Godwin predicted that humans ries. He attacked Condorcet's theory of the from sex and delaying marriage. Malthus was Prime Minister Pitt. He adopted Mal- would 'probably cease to propagate' and 'indefinite' perfectibility of humankind and didn't think preventative checks were like- thus's thesis and withdrew a Bill he had 'perhaps be immortal' after their liberat- thought it was unrealistic to suppose that ly to happen and thought he had no or little introduced that called for the extension of ed rationality eliminated sexual passions. 8 the capacity for biological improvement chance of persuading the lower classes to Poor Relief. In line with Malthus's ideas, French philosopher and mathematician M. had no limits. Similarly he felt that God- embrace his argument and abstain from he too opposed certain welfare handouts Condorcet had similar views. In his Sketch win's notion of human 'immortality' was to the poor on the supposed grounds that for a Historical View of the Progress of the an invention of the imagination. they added to the upward pressures on both Human Mind (1794) he too showed strik- Using data from the United States prices and population and thereby exacer- ing optimism. He proposed that the human supplied by Benjamin Franklin, Malthus bated the very conditions that they were race had gone through great 'epochs' of came with a rather damning thesis. His meant to relieve. 12 Malthus's conclusions history, in which humans had been in con- argument concerned two main premises: regarding the Poor Laws met with criticism tinuous progress from a state of savagery "first, population when unchecked, grows and may still be hard to digest for mod- through levels of increasing enlightenment at a geometrical ratio, doubling itself every ern readers. Nevertheless, several writers and happiness. In a future epoch, he ar- twenty-five years or so. Second, subsist- have pointed out that Malthus should not gued, inequality between nations, classes, ence, which meant the minimum standard be criticized as a heartless man who has and ultimately individuals would be elimi- of living and the amount of food necessary no sympathy for the poor. For example, nated, and humans would enjoy intellectu- to the life of a human, increases only in an Patricia James states: "Malthus's concern

4 72 The Life and Works of Thomas Robert Malthus: for the causes which affect the happiness collected data, Malthus's views changed Consequently Malthus - in an attempt to and comfort of the lower orders of society substantially. He didn't only want to ad- putting his own guidelines into practice - seems more humanitarian. The Poor Laws, just the Essay's content, he also had some altered the emphasis of his analysis in the according to him, were bad because they issues with its methodology. He had for- first Essay and learnt that his assumption diminished both the power and the will to mulated his analysis in a deductive form, about the course of the English population save, and thus weakened one of the strong- but became averse to arguments set forth was, unlike his views about the behavior of est incentives to sobriety and industry and that way. In his book Principles of Political colonial populations in North America, not consequently to happiness". 13 Economy (1820) he makes his disposition supported by empirical evidence. He also In the five years separating the first on the topic very clear: discovered, having the evidence of the first from the second edition of the Essay (1798- census before him, that the English pop- 1803), Malthus collected much empirical "The tendency to premature generaliza- ulation was growing rapidly (the rate of data both by studying the available litera- tion occasions also, in some of the princi- growth was not only high but also rising). ture but primarily by travel. The diaries he pal writers on political economy, an un- On his travels he had also found evidence kept of his travels, edited by Patricia James willingness to bring their theories to the that showed that in some European coun- and published in 1966, are a thorough and test of experience. I should be the last per- tries, notably in Switzerland, both fertility detailed record of his observations of life son to lay an undue stress upon isolated and mortality had fallen considerably from in foreign lands: the health and wealth - or facts, or to think that a consistent theory, the levels prevailing in earlier periods. This lack thereof - of the people, and the prices which would account for the great mass kind of evidence demonstrated that pop- of various commodities and services, and of phenomena observable, was immedi- ulation behavior in relation to econom- how they may have been affected by cli- ately invalidated by a few discordant ap- ic opportunity was a much more complex mate, wars and laws. 14 pearances, the reality and the bearings of phenomenon than he had anticipated. An the difference between European patterns which there might not have been an op- important realization was that the relative of relationship between production and 'A change of heart' - the Essay's portunity of fully examining. But certain- importance of the preventative checks as those to be found elsewhere in the world. second edition ly no theory can have any pretension to be opposed to the positive checks was much E.A. Wrigley, author of Poverty, Progress After the publication of the first edition of accepted as correct, which is inconsistent greater than he had supposed. This is why and Population, describes Malthus's more the Essay, and under influence of his newly with general experience." 15 he decided to put a greater emphasis on mature position in the following terms:

5 74 The Life and Works of Thomas Robert Malthus: "The material technology at the disposal Malthus became increasingly convinced 1820 book On Population, William Godwin of a given community sets limits to what it can produce and therefore imposes a ceiling to its possible output, though improvements in technology, investment, and change in the institutional structure of the polity may all enable a growth in output to occur so that the ceiling rather than being fixed, might be regarded as rising gradually in favorable circumstances. It still represented a constraint upon population growth, however since population that nuptality in Western Europe responded to economic circumstances and that the so called 'nuptiality valve' could be effective in restraining growth and secure a brighter future for people. As such Malthus in his mature years, adopted a much less black and white and at times guardedly optimistic view of future prospects. 17 The second edition of his Essay complete with new title: An Essay on the Principle of Population or a View of its Past and Lord Robbins describes the first Essay as a brilliant a priori polemic, and the second edition as a weighty empirical treatise bolstered by those careful observations criticized Malthus's criticisms of his own argument. Other contemporaries also delivered theoretical and political critiques of Malthus and his thinking. Reformist industrialist Robert Owen, essayist William Hazlitt, economist Nassau William Senior and the moralist William Cobbett, to name but a few, opposed Malthus. Many attacked his suggestion that the problems of the poor were caused by their reproductive practices and his belief that poor relief did more if left unhindered was capable of outpac- Present Effects on Human Happiness, with harm than good in alleviating those prob- ing economic growth. What mattered was an Inquiry into Our Prospects Respecting lems. The most vicious attack came from how the constraint on numbers operated. the Future Removal or Mitigation of the Less than two years later; the Monthly Marx and Engels who perceived Malthus s If it operated solely through mortality ris- Evils Which It Occasions, was published in Magazine announced the preparation of general laws of nature as a sell-out to ing to match a prevailing level of fertili Reviews from leading journals and a third edition, which appeared in 1806 the bourgeois. They wrote the following ty the result would tend to be misery and magazines praised Malthus (whose name followed by a fourth edition the next year. in their book Grundrisse Der Politischen deprivation. If it operated rather through now appeared on the previously anony- In total 6 editions were to be published be- Ökonomie (1859) : reduced fertility and occurred before mor- mous work) "for his insight and diligence, tween 1798 and tality had risen, a much higher equilibri- if not for his brevity". 18 Lord Robbins, in This baboon [Malthus] thereby implies um level of real wages was attainable and the foreword to The Travel Diaries of T.R. Causing Controversies that the increase of humanity is a purely might be sustained indefinitely. Fertility Malthus, describes the first Essay as "a In the introduction it was already briefly natural process, which requires external within marriage might be high and invar- brilliant a priori polemic", and the second mentioned that Malthus was both loved restraints, checks, to prevent it from pro- iant, but delay in marriage could reduce edition as "a weighty empirical treatise" and despised. Each new edition of his Es- ceeding in geometrical progression. This family size substantially." 16 bolstered by those careful observations. say brought along new controversies. In his geometrical reproduction is the natural re-

6 76 The Life and Works of Thomas Robert Malthus: production process of mankind. He would limit of the productivity of the necessar- Say more or less accepted Malthus ide- al Theory (1936) presented Say's Law as a find in history that population proceeds ies of life, but by limits posited rather by as on population, but disagreed with him summary of all that was wrong with classi- in very different relations, and that over- specific conditions of production. As well about the self-equilibrating potential of a cal (or perhaps even all pre-keynesian) eco- population is likewise a historically de- as restricted numerically." 19 John Stuart market economy. Malthus believed in the nomics. Keynes probably never went deep- termined relation, in no way determined Mill on the other hand strongly defend- possibly persistent character of a deficient ly into Say himself, but came to the law in by abstract numbers or by the absolute ed him in his book Principles of Political effective demand, while Say proclaimed a a roundabout way through his biographical Economy (1848) and naturalists Charles fairly rapid return to a more or less full study of Malthus. It has been said that both Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace were employment equilibrium. Say s Law, the of them rebelled against doctrines of mac- I saw Mr. Malthus in Paris recently, and I was much happier with his conversation than with his book. He is a respectable man and he gave the impression of not being too displeased with me, in spite of our disagreements. (Jean-Baptiste Say) equally inspired by Malthus. During Malthus s lifetime, his most fierce critic was the French economist Jean-Baptiste Say ( ). His Letters to Malthus (1820) were an astounding success among economists and the public at large 20. The two economists met at least once, in Paris in the summer of In a letter of August to Sismondi, Say wrote: I saw Mr. Malthus in Paris recently, and I was much happier with his conversation than with his book. He is a respectable man and he gave the impression of not being too displeased with me, in spite of our disagreements. I wish you would say the notion that 'supply creates its own demand', or more precisely that in order to be a demander, one must be a supplier, was known in economic theory before Jean-Baptiste Say. It can be found in Physiocratic literature and in Adam Smith. In its simplest wording, it is no more than a tautology. Regarding its more sophisticated versions, the real question is not whether the law is true or false, but rather under what conditions it holds. This question gave occasion to much debate among the classical economists. In the post-napoleonic stagnation, the practical side of the debate was known as the General Glut Controversy. Later in the nineteenth and early twentieth century the law went into relative oblivion, but roeconomic self-adjustment and self-equilibration. Malthus's theories were highly controversial in his own time and have continued to cause debate ever since. Modern critics have been divided between those who claim Malthus's theories have been misunderstood and those who echo earlier critics in charging that his theories supported an economic system based on inequality. Regarding the latter school of criticism Geoffrey M Hodgson notes the following: While to the modern reader Malthus s social and economic policies are reactionary and conservative, they should be put into the context of his time. Most economists of same about me, my dear Monsieur. 21 was revived by Keynes who in his Gener- this period tolerated no more than limited

7 78 The Life and Works of Thomas Robert Malthus: social engineering and economic inter- 1834, after being taken ill suddenly during A few years after Malthus's death Professor vention, excepting some relatively minor intercessions deemed to enhance competition, to clear the way for the market, or to promote growth. While Malthus was politically no radical, his aptitude for penetrating causal analysis and his concern for practical policies led to a critique of absolute laisser-faire and ideas that are remarkably similar to those of Keynes. 22 Marriage and further career In April 1804 Malthus, aged 38, married his first cousin once removed, Harriet Eckersall. The couple had three children. 23 He Mr Malthus was a clergyman - a most conscientious one, pure and pious. We never knew one of this description so entirely free from the vices of his caste a Christmas visit to his parents-in-law at Bath. He was buried in the north aisle of Bath Abbey; a memorial tablet is now in the north porch. He left no descendants beyond his three children. His youngest had died at the age of 17 and the eldest two, Henry and Emily, married late and had no children of their own. 25 William Empson, of Haileybury, wrote the following words that seem an appropriate ending to this short biography: "Mr Malthus was a clergyman - a most conscientious one, pure and pious. We never knew one of this description so entirely free from the vices of his caste [...] Mr Malthus owed the discovery, which will immortalize his name, mainly to his benevolence. Instead of his speculations on population having hardened his heart against the interests of the poor, it was the earnestness and the perseverance with which he set himself to work in behalf of those very interests, that vacated his Fellowship and was appointed the chair of Modern History and Political (Professor William Empson) first fixed his attention upon these particular speculations." 26 Economy at the East India College established at Haileybury for the general education of cadets for the Indian service. He is thus the first English (as opposed to Scottish) professional academic economist. He remained at Haileybury for the rest of his of Political Economy which is regarded as his last work of importance, he also wrote works including Observations on the effect of the Corn Laws (1814) and The poli- Endnotes 1 Todd G. Buchholz, New Ideas from Dead Economists - An Introduction to Modern Economic Thought (April 2007 Plume New York), The author Patricia James who wrote : Population Malthus, His life and Times life. Although never creating such a stir as with his Essay, Malthus continued to publish, besides the aforementioned Principles cy of restricting the importation of Grain (1815). Malthus was elected into the Royal Society in He died on December 29, (1979) and edited The Travel Diaries of Thomas Robert Malthus (1966) has drawn heavily on this unpublished manuscript. 3 Patricia James, Population Malthus: his life and

8 80 The Life and Works of Thomas Robert Malthus: times. (1979 London: Routledge and Kegan Paul) Ibid, pp William Petersen, Malthus, (1979 Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press) pp Todd G. Buchholz, New Ideas from Dead Economists - An Introduction to Modern Economic Thought p Patricia James, Population Malthus: his life and times. p Brian Dolan, Malthus, Medicine & Morality: Malthusianism After 1798 (RodopI, 2000) p Keith Michael Baker, Condorcet: From Natural Philosophy to Social Mathematics: introduction: staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3ftitle=1669&itemid=27 10 Brian Dolan, Malthus, Medicine & Morality: Malthusianism After 1798, p Todd G. Buchholz, New Ideas from Dead Economists - An Introduction to Modern Economic Thought p This is quite remarkable considering that Pitt in 1796 had said "Let us make relief a matter of right and honor. This will make a large family a blessing and not a curse; and this will draw a proper line of distinction between those who are to provide for themselves by their labour and those who after enriching their country with a number of children, have claim upon its assistance for their support (James Bonar, Malthus and His Work, London: Macmillan, 1885 p. 127) 13 Patricia James, Population Malthus: his life and times p Patricia James, The travel diaries of Thomas Robert (1966). 15 Malthus, Principals of political economy, p E.A. Wrigley, Poverty, Progress, and Population (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004) p Ibid, Todd G. Buchholz, New Ideas, p Karl Marx, Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy (Penguin edition, transl. Martin Nicolaus, 1973) p Say (1820), Lettres à M. Malthus sur différens sujets d Economie Politique, notamment sur les causes de la stagnation générale du commerce; Paris and London (Bossange). 21 Say to Sismondi, 16 August 1820; Hashimoto photocopies collection, Institut Triangle, Université Lyon p Geoffrey M. Hodgson, 'Thomas Robert Malthus ( )' in: Biographical Dictionary of British Economists, edited by Donald Rutherford (2004 Bristol, Thoemmes Continuum) p Critics loved to jeer at the multiplication of his own offspring, and although the Malthuses had only three children, somehow the 1958 and 1967 Everyman's Library editions of An Essay awarded him eight more. 24 H.J. Habakkuk, Thomas Robert Malthus, F.R.S. ( ) in: Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, Vol. 14, No. 1 (Jun., 1959), p Patricia James, Population Malthus, p Ibid, p 52. ARTICLE ONE

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