Thomas Robert Malthus:Does a miserable environment produce sympathy for others and a reduction in vices?

Humans are always going to die. The fact that we have a finite amount of time to live and no hope at the end of it makes our lives even happier. Malthus's view of people can be summed up in a nutshell. Today, Malthus, who is famous for the name of the law of population, on the other hand, occupies a position in the history of economic thought that can be called orphaned because he showered cold water on the easy Enlightenment and the perfection of man.

It goes without saying that Malthus's anti-enlightenment position stands out in his genius maiden book, An Essay on the Principle of Population(1798). Malthus applied the "paradox" of individual human happiness because of the despair of the future to the human race as a whole. He focuses first on two of the characteristics of the human race. One is the need for food intake for human survival, and the other is the very strong sexual desires of men and women. Assuming this canon, Malthus pointed out that it is not possible to assume that humanity will continue to improve and life will continue to be richer.

The intensity of sexual desire increases the population. If the world's population is 1 billion, it will double every 25 years to 1, 2, 4, 8, and so on. On the other hand, the harvest of agricultural products from the land will gradually diminish, and the yield will only increase at the speed of an arithmetic progression (1, 2, 3, 4, ...). If that were to happen, Malthus pointed out, the rate of population growth would outpace the rate of increase in food production, and eventually the population itself would outstrip the food that only feeds the population.

Malthus's prophecy is a very pessimistic one, that each time the population hit the wall of food production enough to feed this population, humanity adopted " positive check ". It is evident in the increase in mortality rates. In particular, Malthus pays attention to the situation of the lower classes of society. What Malthus refers to as the " positive check " of the population, with particular attention to the early deaths of children of the lower classes from malnutrition, poor health, and other deprivations. In contrast, " preventive check " is hardly mentioned in this first edition, although its description has become more and more detailed in the course of repeated reprints of An Essay. Malthus explains that " preventive check " include sexual restraint, contraception, and delaying the age of marriage. However, these were only coping therapies, and Malthus did not fundamentally correct the "depressive predictions" from the laws of population.

Malthus's population law raises a point when considering today's working poor problem. Malthus argued that the policies of the Poor Law in England at the time, as well as the redistribution of income from the rich to the poor, would make the conditions of the poor worse and threaten the lives of the entire nation.


Consider, for example, food aid to the poor. Having more food would increase the population of the poor class. Then the entire nation would have to share less food than before. In other words, improving the lives of the poor will eventually push down the standard of living not only for the poor themselves, but for the nation as a whole. This point goes from the first edition of An Essay to his economics maiden work, The present high price of provisions (1800), in which he argues that food aid aimed at saving poverty leads to high prices for food.

 Malthus also points out that by redistributing from the rich to the poor, it is also a redistribution from one's own labour to dependence on others. That transferring income to the poor would cause them to consume it in taverns, undermining the savings of the nation as a whole, is probably the crux of Malthus's theory of income distribution. The argument that this redistribution of income to the poor will stifle economic growth by hurting work and reducing savings is an argument that continues in one form or another to this day.

 This Malthusian "Theory of Population" was also intended to be a rebuttal to Adam Smith's theory of economic growth. According to Malthus, Smith considers himself to have preached a kind of "trickle-down" theory. This means that the increase in the wealth of society will also improve the lives of the poor. But that there is no possibility of such an improvement would be self-evident from the application of Malthus's population law. If food production is constant, Malthus writes, the increase in wealth lowers the purchasing power of poor people for the necessities and comforts of life. Malthus is also pessimistic about industrialization and commercialization. The fund to sustain labor (which according to Malthus would be the agricultural produce itself) would stagnate or diminish as it industrializes and commercializes. A country that specializes in agriculture will have a faster population growth, while a country that specializes in commerce and industry will have a stagnant population. But in any particular pattern, as long as Malthusian population laws are eventually applied, the result is nothing more than a "gloomy prediction" for humanity.

Now, going back to the beginning, what kind of view of happiness did Malthus have to say in this kind of dystopian worldview? Malthus seems to be preaching that the stimulation of dire circumstances can lead to social empathy and the motivation to reduce one's moral harm. It should be called good and happiness only in the presence of evil and misery. Today, Malthusian population laws cannot be maintained intact. It can also be said that his theory of income redistribution and his view of the human condition are still open to debate. Malthus also developed his other theory of the Depression in Principles of political economy(1820). It would have to be looked back at as the origin of today's theory of secular stagnation theory.

HIdetomi Tanaka (Professor, Jobu University)