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Author Topic: So what is the deal with Thomas Malthus?  (Read 2000 times)
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CSL
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« on: October 12, 2004, 04:12:57 AM »

I've seen some of the Malthus inspired threads before on Gonegold but only ever casually glanced over them as they looked a little dull. That and the huge posts made by RunningMn9 sorta scared me off. However recently I began university and one of my courses - Human Geography - has mentioned Thomas Malthus in our Geodemography chapter.

The textbook has this LITTLE blub on him.

Quote


Thomas R. Malthus

1766 - 1834

Born in the shire of Surrey, England, Malthus studied theology at Cambridge and became and ordained clergyman. While still a curate, he began to write his essay on population. Gradually, writing and lecturing became his major interests. In 1805, he was appointed a professor of modern history and political economy at Haileybury College in England, a position he held until his death. Long before most scholars were concerned with overpopilation, Malthus worried about it. His famous treatise, An Essay on the Principle of Population, was published in 1798. Karl Marx, Charles Darwin and others have since commented on the work. Malthus rejected most artificial birth-control techniques as theologically unacceptable, approving only delayed marriage and moal restraint. He believed warfare, famine, and disease would solve the problem if people failed to seek a more humane solution. In recent decades, his ideas have received renewed attention as the world experiences a population crisis. New commentators include such popular figures as RunningMn9



From what i've learned in the textbook and from sources like wikipedia it seems like Malthus believed that population would continue unchecked for a variety of reasons and that eventually the population would be "checked" by a variety of factors such as the previously mentioned war and famine.

But didn't he discount widespread use of contraceptives such as condoms which can allow for a check in population by itself?

In addition my professor raised another interesting issue in another class regarding sub-Saharan Africa and AIDs. He equated that AIDs could be in essence called a Malthuosinian check.

So I really want to know a little more about the man and his views (including RunningMn9's). Wikipedia is a little light on his views and such.
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Smoove_B
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« Reply #1 on: October 12, 2004, 04:18:07 AM »

Well..if you want to read exactly what he wrote, check here:

http://socserv2.socsci.mcmaster.ca/~econ/ugcm/3ll3/malthus/popu.txt

What a lot of people don't realize is how much of an influence Malthus had on Darwin.

I guess the argument for "Malthus was wrong" will depend on who is trying to argue it. I've heard all kinds of interesting interpretations, that's for sure.

But yeah, in a nutshell Malthus believed human population would soon starve.
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CSL
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« Reply #2 on: October 12, 2004, 04:30:56 AM »

Don't want to read it on my monitor, i'll see if the University library has a copy. Which it seems they do via their online catalogue.
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« Reply #3 on: October 12, 2004, 06:23:15 AM »

Arguing that Malthus was wrong is like sayin Freud was wrong.  They were both pioneers in new fields, so of course they werent going to be 100% correct on everything.

Most projections of contemporary problems fail to take into account new technologies.  A notable exception would be Moore's Law, which has future unknown technologies as its entire basis of being correct.

Malthus never could have predicted a cheap way of making nitrogen would emerge, and completely change the way agriculture was done.  He just looked at his contemporary system and projected that it wasnt sustainable.  In that case he was correct, it wasnt.  But after some of the roadblocks were clear, it ended up being a different system than the one he projected.
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Tareeq
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« Reply #4 on: October 12, 2004, 12:53:03 PM »

Mr. Sparkle, I summon thee!
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Ironrod
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« Reply #5 on: October 12, 2004, 04:25:56 PM »

Malthus was one of the earliest of a line of doomsayers who share a common failure to appreciate that the world is not a closed system -- or at least, its limits are still beyond what we can see. If you project current trends forward, without allowing for technological advances, resource discoveries/substitutions, new energy sources and so forth, you'll always find that we are doomed. Malthus didn't foresee chemical fertilizers and mechanized farming. Paul Ehrlich was a more recent (1960s-70s) Malthusian whose "Population Bomb" predictions mostly fizzled. He didn't foresee the green revolution.

The GG forums held many adherents of one Daniel Quinn, who is another one in the Malthusian tradition, but who apparently avoids the pitfalls of earlier Malthusians by staying vague about the timing of our doom (I haven't read Quinn myself, so this is just an impression). We had many longwinded arguments there about Quinnism and the human future, some of them quite interesting. The cadre of Quinn followers are absolutely convinced that the limits are ultimately unassailable. Since we are eventually doomed, there's little point to forestalling the inevitable, even if it's centuries or millenia away; we need to radically transform civilization if we are to ever avoid disaster entirely and get away from our historical habit of constantly pushing the envelope a little further out, staving off disaster for just one more generation at a time. The discussion always turns vague when the nature of this transformation comes up, but they're convinced that we are doomed anyway.

You may have gathered that I disagree. It is very unfashionable to believe that humans can overcome our problems and keep our civilization going indefinitely. The intelligentsia embrace various collapse paradigms, so there are lots and lots of scholarly links available to support whatever particular disaster you want to invoke, and very few that argue for a hopeful future.
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noxiousdog
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« Reply #6 on: October 12, 2004, 04:35:46 PM »

Quinn doesn't predict doom so much as establish that *this* system is unsustainable and therefore unstable.

I don't think you'll find very many ecologists that will disagree.



Here is another example of how tenuous the situation is.

The % you see next to each fish is the percentage of the population left compared to pre-human fishing.  It is theoretical, of course, but they feel they have errered on the conservative side.  I have first hand experience that Red Snapper populations ain't what they used to be, in number and size.
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RunningMn9
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« Reply #7 on: October 12, 2004, 04:37:06 PM »

I promised that I wasn't going to do this anymore, but CSL sent me a private mail requesting my take.  And so I will provide as a way of winding myself down.

My take on Malthus is that he understood that there was a problem with population growth.  He understood this from a systemic point of view.  To boil his paper down, his conjecture was that growth in human population is geometric (it's not), and that growth in food production is linear (over time, it's not).

To those specific issues - Malthus was wrong.  Most people don't realize that us Quinnians understand why and how Malthus was wrong.  They call us neo-Malthusians because our arguments mention the words "population" and "problem".  Human population growth is not geometric, nor is food supply growth strictly linear.

Of course, we also understand where Malthus was right.  There are systemic problems in the relationship between the humans in our culture and our food supply.


Quote
From what i've learned in the textbook and from sources like wikipedia it seems like Malthus believed that population would continue unchecked for a variety of reasons and that eventually the population would be "checked" by a variety of factors such as the previously mentioned war and famine.


You say that like you are skeptical.  smile  If that is how one wants to distill Malthus' work - then of course Malthus was correct.  He was wrong about the timing of the crunch, of course, but not in the obviousness that the crunch must come.

That's just common sense.


Quote
But didn't he discount widespread use of contraceptives such as condoms which can allow for a check in population by itself?


We proved in the last thread (now gone as I didn't have a chance to archive it) that this statement is something of a fallacy.  We presumed that contraception and education would give women the tools to satisfy their desire to have the number of children that they wanted.  So our plan was to go around the globe and convince everyone else that education and contraception are the two things you need to solve the population growth problem (never mind the "6.3 billion people are already too many" problem).

What we discovered in that last thread though, were studies that surveyed women in countries where women had access to contraception and education - and they weren't having the number of children that they desire.

In the US and in Europe, they were having less children than they desired.  Which I think is significant since I believe it shows that population growth is being slowed by something besides availability of education and contraception.  Add to that the study I've used in the past which showed that providing women with education and contraception simply allowed them to have the 6 kids that they wanted.

Bah.  I don't have the energy for this.
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Ironrod
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« Reply #8 on: October 12, 2004, 06:36:37 PM »

:lol: What took you guys so long to get here? I swear there must be a bat-signal somewhere that summons you. CSL, meet the Quinnites...Quinnites, CSL.  

I'm with you though, RM9. Too much common vocabulary to reestablish, and in a forum hostile to politics. It isn't worth the effort. I just meant to lay out the existence of the argument, not restart it here.
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RunningMn9
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« Reply #9 on: October 12, 2004, 06:47:32 PM »

Quote from: "Ironrod"
:lol: What took you guys so long to get here?


In this case, there actually was a bat-signal.  smile

CSL sent me a private message pointing me to the thread.  Like you, I just wanted to lay the foundation.  If CSL wants to begin the journey, he now has the names to begin with.  I can no longer be the guide.
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Balshazaar
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« Reply #10 on: October 12, 2004, 07:28:46 PM »

Don't forget the fact that non-developed countries don't have the same age demographic in their population as developed countries.  When you have older people working more years, you don't necessarily needs as many young people to fill the work force.  

A lot of agrarian societies have very high fertility rates because the sustenance farming that a vast majority of their populace participates in requires the efforts of all of the children in the family.  In essence, they have so many children because they, as parents, need them to survive.  As societies urbanize, fertility rates drop, in part because the helping hands aren't needed on the farm any longer, and it is more expensive to raise children in a city than on a farm.  

However, were you to look at the crude death rates of, for example, Sweden versus Mexico, it would appear that the unadjusted death rate is higher in Sweden than in Mexico.  Adjusted, it just shows that there are a lot more old people in Sweden than Mexico, and there's a higher risk of dying at an old age.  That's part of the population momentum that is slowing growth (replacement fertility rate is 2.1) in developed countries while developing countries continue to boom.

The movement from agrarian to urbanized and developed society sees a drop in fertility rate partially in response to this aging.  It's not necessarily accurate to say that a booming fertility rate in sub-saharan Africa is worth noting outside of the context of the booming morbidity rate of HIV/AIDS.

Interestingly, there is only one notable mark on any demographic population curve of the effect of contraception: that is a noticable decline in the fertility rate of post-WWII Japan (1951?  I can't remember the exact year), which is widely attributed to the legalization of abortion there.

Also, it's worth noting that most current population projections see a global decline in fertility rate; population momentum follows, and the world population doesn't stabilize for a number of years (as those being born today still will go through their fertile years), yet peaks out around 13 billion. (These are UN and WHO figures).  This is characteristic of the demographic transition theory developed in the late-800s/early-1900s.  It's one of the most common theories of such, and worth reading about.

I would suggest you look here for further information about current theories, and how/why they may have developed from Malthus.

More sites of interst:
http://esa.un.org/unpp/
http://www.odci.gov/cia/publications/factbook/index.html
http://www.worldbank.org/data/
http://www.measuredhs.com/
http://www.futuresgroup.com/WhatWeDo.cfm?page=Software&ID=Spectrum
http://www.unhabitat.org/Istanbul+5/statereport.htm
http://www.developmentgoals.org/
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noxiousdog
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« Reply #11 on: October 12, 2004, 08:03:32 PM »

It's worth noting that population projections are too conservative most of the time.  That's one of the reasons you'll see them given in a range now, of low, mid, and high (with the UN anyway.)

Also, as the population base ages, governments will be more inclined to put pressure on their citizens to reproduce.  Europe is getting ready to go through the same baby-boom/pension crunch that the US is, but without the extra immigration.  The only solution is to get more workers.
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