Thomas Malthus in the 21st Century

Thomas Malthus was born into the British aristocracy during the late 18th century, so his political and economic views of the times were influenced by his upbringing, as were his observations and research regarding social evolution. His most acclaimed writing is “An Essay in the Principle of Population”, which espouses the concept that a decrease in the availability of food, brought on by population growth, will cause people to choose to take actions that will reduce the population growth and decrease the consumption of food.

It would be hard to argue that population growth has increased into the 21st century, along with climate change and drought conditions, and that food production has not been able to keep up with that growth. On that point I can concur with Malthus. But Malthus goes on to assert that it is the undisciplined approach to consumption, and lack of the utilization of proper birth control methods by the lower class that causes economic decline.

Many today claim that Malthus’ theory is highly misunderstood because he goes on to state that when such challenging economic conditions occur humans will choose to give birth to children later, use contraceptives, emigrate, or even practice infanticide and genocide to mitigate economic losses. Also, a conclusion I agree with because it is in our genetic disposition to find creative means to overcome adversities, although some of the choices being made by countries like Syria  have become increasingly disturbing today.

Based on this assumption, Malthus goes on to propose that if the continued demand for food outweighs the supply then people must be choosing behaviors that are counterproductive to checking population growth. This may have been true during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, however, I wonder how relevant that postulation is today. Because, today decisions like job cuts are made by entities known as corporations, not by human beings.

According to the latest data, there are a number of our citizens who have made it their lives work to ensure that they did what they could to mitigate any undue stress on their own economic plight, which in turn affects the overall plight of those in this country. I am talking about a population of displaced Baby Boomers who have for various reasons lost their source of income and hope for a carefree retirement. For many, their losses were not a product of making poor choices. Rather, changes in technology, climate, and global markets have resulted in the displacement of many auto workers, coal miners, and even technology workers involved in the production of our countries’ goods and services.

There are many who invested wisely in pension funds, mutual funds, stocks, and commodities. These are entrepreneurs whose businesses were built on an economic model that industries such as coal and auto manufacturing would be a primary source of growth in our Gross Domestic Product in the present and into the future.

But many of our goods and services have been outsourced to other countries that can produce them more cheaply. Robotics has taken over human labor, resulting in cost reductions in production that are passed on to the consumer as lower prices. For the unfortunate, laziness, having too many children, nor making poor spending choices explains the predicament they may now find themselves in; where they have depleted their retirement funds, can no longer afford health care, and have had to choose to rely on other benefactors, such as their own children, to survive.

Malthusian economics supports the mandate in China to limit families to two children in an effort to control population growth and to reduce the overconsumption of food and other natural resources. Mankind has found alternative energy sources to combat climate change, reducing the need for coal. All good things.

But what is not good is the blatant disregard for those struggling to survive in the midst of such changes in technology, and demand for cheaper goods. When I listen to the news  about Trump’s Tax Reform, I hear about corporate tax breaks and protecting the middle class, but what about the struggling class of Boomers and others, who find themselves in a hopeless situation for reasons beyond their control?




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