Critical Essay of Thomas Robert Malthus’ Essay on the Principles of Population

This critical essay will summarize Thomas Robert Malthus’ intriguing ‘’Principles of Population,’’ a book that dates back to 1798. Malthus was an English scholar and economist who had quite controversial ideas for his era. The purpose of this essay is to thoroughly analyze Malthus’ ideas and talk about the cultural significance it has had since the day it was published.

One of the main ideas in Malthus’ work is that population, if unmonitored, will double in size every twenty-five years, and because of that, the quality of life will gradually decrease. He states that human nature is unalterable and that it is in human nature to be passionate towards the opposite sex. Malthus wasn’t the first one to notice that production and reproduction levels are unequal. However, he was the first one to publicly share his thoughts about preventing overpopulation and how overpopulation has a negative impact on the socio-economic dynamics of society. 

His work was publicly criticized over the years, and one argument has stood out. Namely, Malthus was using a mathematical illustration to exemplify the unequal relationship between production and reproduction. He concluded that if the world’s population doubled every twenty-five years, agricultural production would not be able to keep up with the demand. Although he was most likely aware of the fact that the population cannot continuously grow if there aren’t enough resources to support the growth, he merely wanted to explain how population checks are necessary to keep the quality of life from decreasing.

Malthus is often accused of predicting a future where the population would collapse by outpacing the food supply. Moreover, many critics argue that he was wrong because he didn’t consider the possibility of significant increases in food production. However, Malthus already had an argument that would defend his ideas. 

Namely, he makes it clear that, regardless of how much production increases in the future, it would still be unable to keep up with unchecked growth in population. He concludes that certain checks are necessary to keep everything in order – positive and preventive checks. Positive checks refer to raising the death rate, while preventive checks lower the birth rate. Positive checks are “actual distresses of some of the lower classes, by which they are disabled from giving the proper food and attention to their children,” and they include wars, disease, and hunger, while preventive checks occur among the upper class, and include celibacy and birth control.

We can safely compare his ideas to the vicious circle of supply and demand. Growing food production leads to lower prices, which consequently leads to an increase in the birth rate. An increase in birth rate is followed up with an increase in demand, which then leads to an increase in food prices. That demand causes an increase in the production of the land itself. So, it is safe to assume that the relationship between the fertility of land and people is reciprocal. One has a significant impact on the other and vice-versa.

Although Thomas Robert Malthus was very direct and intense with the wording of his ideas, there is still some truth when it comes to the essence of his work. It is a proven fact that the increase in production capabilities was always met with a growth in population. It is also true that people can reproduce more rapidly than they can increase food production. If we remove all the controversies that surround his work, we can strip down the whole essay to a single point – the population is, and must be, controlled through a series of positive or preventive means. Whether we like it or not, such checks are nearly always out of our control.

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