The Malthusian Theory of Population Growth

The Malthusian Theory of Population Growth

Men must have been dimly aware of the human population being a huge problem from very early times. It was not, however, until the dawn of the nineteenth century that anyone worked out a theory of population growth. The man who did this was Thomas R. Malthus, an English clergyman.

So, let’s see what’s so great about this theory that it was even mentioned in Dan Brown’s Inferno. (PS: For the connection between the Malthusian Theory and Dan Brown’s novel, you can have a look at: The Inferno Principle: Can the World Support Us?)

The History

The History

In the closing years of the eighteenth century, men were very much interested in the possibility of unlimited progress of mankind. Malthus’ father believed firmly that such progress was possible. He maintained that if men could only perfect their political systems, life would be forever more happy, prosperous and peaceful throughout the world. The younger Malthus denied that this was possible – he maintained that the pressure of population would inevitably result in misery for mankind. Father and son took part in heated discussions over the matter. The son eagerly sought support for the arguments that he sometimes drew out of thin air. Thus, he was led to examine the whole problem of population size and growth. His famous Essay on the Principle of Population appeared in 1798. An immediate sensation, it brought about heated controversy, which has not yet died down. Malthus devoted five years to research and travel and then brought to research and travel and then brought a second edition of his work.

The Theory

The Theory

The Malthusian theory is based to a large extent on the difference between geometric and arithmetic progression.

Malthus took the position that human beings can produce their young in what is practically a geometric progression. His study of population problems in the American colonies convinced him that under favorable conditions a human group could double itself every twenty-five years. Such a progression would lead to enormous numbers in a very few centuries. But, of course, all these individuals would have to be fed. Malthus, therefore, turned his attention to the practical possibilities of increasing food production. He came to the conclusion that mankind could not hope to increase its subsistence by more than an arithmetic ratio. That is, man would add to food production every twenty-five years an amount equal to that which was being produced at the time that Malthus wrote.

Under such conditions, the geometrical increase in population would have to be limited by the arithmetical increase in food. Population would always tend to press upon food supplies and in Malthus’s opinion, this pressure would be so great that food supplies would always run short and much of the population would be condemned to a life of misery.

Malthus realized that food supplies could be increased by advances in farming and other techniques. But he claimed that no society would ever succeed in providing for all the offspring that man could produce. Therefore there must be some checks. Malthus divided these into two groups. In the first group, he included the preventive checks that limit the birth rate such as celibacy, deferred marriage and vice. The second group consisted of positive checks that increased the death rate – here he included war, famine, pestilence and again, vice. All of these checks involved misery, said Malthus. But he insisted that the minor misery of the preventive checks was preferable to the major misery of the positive checks.

Don’t be surprised, but he even advised young people to postpone marriage until they felt reasonably sure that they could provide satisfactorily for their children. Well, on that, I agree with him. In this way, they would be serving both themselves and society.









The Inferno Principle: Can the World Support Us?

The Inferno Principle: Can the World Support Us?

Today, people are increasingly confronting the undesirable social, health, economic and environmental impacts of an ever-expanding world – take the example of soaring housing costs, increased taxes, overcrowded schools, deadlock traffic, inadequate food and water along with air, light and noise pollution. Even when you go on vacations, you’ll be disappointed with beach closures because of pollution run-off and overflowing or failing sewage systems.

A complete stunner: human population growth is seen as the root of these pressing social, economic and environmental problems.

Over the last century, the human population has more than quadrupled, surpassing the 7 billion mark and is predicted to grow over 9 billion by 2043. The rise in numbers has been so drastic and rapid that development objectives, consumption, production, employment and income distribution have been significantly affected.

You see, the challenge of this century is to meet the increasing needs and wants of a growing population while at the same time ensuring that current production and consumption patterns follow a more sustainable development model.

How can that be possible, especially when we have reached over 7 billion and the sustainable population size is around 3 billion?

If we go by Paul Ehrlich’s definition, “overpopulation is a population being unable to sustain itself without depleting non-renewable resources.”

In fact, many experts even supported the fact that stopping unsustainable population growth was the key to protecting the environment.

Now, the question is how do we deal with this new rising challenge?

The Malthusian Theory

The Malthusian Theory

In an era of sinking economies, fewer jobs, higher-priced food and changing climates, it’s not surprising if an old sore concept is making a comeback.

I remember learning about the Malthusian theory of population growth in Dan Brown’s opus of fiction and opus of facts. The man predicted that the exponential increases in human population growth would surpass the arithmetical increases in food supply, thus leading to dire consequences like famine, disease and war.

I don’t know how many agree with this notion, but somewhere his theory simply makes sense to me. He might have been wrong on some points, but his fundamental message is not completely wrong.

The absolute law of nature is that all powers of the earth must be equal to ensure the existence of a society. But, when food production cannot keep up with the rising population, chances are communities might suffer due to this imbalance.

So, Thomas Malthus was not wrong. His theory was an attempt to warn the human civilization of an impending catastrophe – a by-product of a grossly bloated human population and its never-ending needs.

But, the thing is until some natural calamity leaps out and make a dent in the world population growth, there will be no end to the need to limit people’s consumption of the earth’s resources.

But, we cannot wait for God in his superiority and divinity to unburden man and send a calamity from His heavenly abode.

Time is limited and the world population growth is constantly pushing the consequences of an imminent crisis to a higher plateau.

But, does that mean we follow in the footsteps of Bertrand Zobrist? More precisely, a mass extinction event?

And, so Bertrand Zobrist Enters the Picture

And, so Bertrand Zobrist Enters the Picture

So, to answer your question, especially those who have not yet read one of Dan Brown’s finest books, Bertrand Zobrist is a fictional character – more the antagonist – in the novel Inferno.

I find it better to introduce him as a Malthusian nut job who is obsessed with the fear that the world is coming to a drastic end and the entire human civilization would be swept by a nearing cataclysm, also known as overpopulation.

He blames the World Health Organization, the Catholic Church (as if the church could convince people) and just anyone who has babies – and who turn a blind eye to this catastrophe.

And, so what kind of great solution does this “genius” genetic engineer come up with?

A man-made virus that would unleash a plague and reduce the world population by 1/3.

Hmm… devising a biological weapon to get rid of people… that sounds less like a 21st-century solution to a pressing challenge and more like a logic borrowed from 18th century’s religious figures who doubted God’s plan for humanity.

I guess that’s exactly where this nut job got his inspiration from.

I know it’s a pivotal time in the human history with scary challenges and the decisions we make today will definitely affect our tomorrow.

But, is getting rid of people the only way to address this challenge?