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An Essay on the Principle of Population Paperback – Jul 2008

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 148 pages
  • Publisher: Book Jungle (July 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1438500173
  • ISBN-13: 978-1438500171
  • Product Dimensions: 19.1 x 0.8 x 23.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 268 g
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About the Author

Thomas Malthus (1766–1834), was a British scholar, influential in political economy and demography. Malthus popularized the economic theory of rent. Malthus has become widely known for his analysis according to which societal improvements result in population growth. The six editions of his Principles of Population, published from 1798 to 1826, predict that sooner or later population gets checked by famine, disease, and widespread mortality. He wrote in the context of the popular view, in 18th century Europe, that saw society as improving, and in principle as perfectible. William Godwin and the Marquis de Condorcet, for example, believed in the possibility of almost limitless improvement of society. So, in a more complex way, did Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose notions centered on the goodness of man and the liberty of citizens bound only by the social contract, a form of popular sovereignty. Malthus thought that the dangers of population growth would preclude endless progress towards a utopian society: "The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man". As an Anglican clergyman, Malthus saw this situation as divinely imposed to teach virtuous behavior. Believing that one could not change human nature, and that egalitarian societies were prone to over-population], Malthus wrote in dramatic terms: "epidemics, pestilence and plague advance in terrific array, and sweep off their thousands and ten thousands. Should success be still incomplete, gigantic famine stalks in the rear, and with one mighty blow, levels the population with the food of the world". Malthus placed the longer-term stability of the economy above short-term expediency. He criticized the Poor Laws, and (alone among important contemporary economists) supported the Corn Laws, which introduced a system of taxes on British imports of wheat. He thought these measures would encourage domestic production, and so promote long-terms of benefit. Malthus became hugely influential, and controversial, in economic, political, social and scientific thought. Many of those whom subsequent centuries sometimes term "evolutionary biologists" also read him, notably Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, for each of whom Malthusianism became an intellectual stepping-stone to the idea of natural selection. Malthus remains a writer of great significance, and debate continues as to whether his direst expectations will come about. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 9 reviews
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
A Classic of Reason and A Classic for a Reason July 22 2011
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
From the Introduction: "Malthus began with two physiological assumptions: humans must have food, and the sex drive will always be a fundamental part of our make-up. (Both assumptions had been called into question, half-seriously, by Godwin.) His next assertions were less self-evident but crucial to the argument: an unchecked population grows at a 'geometric' rate, as in the series 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, and the means of subsistence can only be increased at an 'arithmetic' rate, as in 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Because man's powers of reproduction so greatly exceed his powers of food production, population will always press against the available resources. Thus a substantial portion of society is condemned to live at the ragged edge of subsistence. Any significant rise in general living standards will trigger a period of earlier marriages and lower mortality, bringing faster growth of population than of food supplies. Per capita consumption, having risen temporarily above 'subsistence' level, will be forced back down to that level, or even below it. Almost as famous as this grim analysis, which prompted Thomas Carlyle to dub economics the 'dismal science', is the conceptual apparatus that supports it. Malthus argued that population was held within resource limits by two types of 'checks': positive ones, which raised the death rate, and preventative ones, which lowered the birth rate. The positive checks included hunger, disease, and war; the preventative checks, abortion, birth control, prostitution, postponement of marriage, and celibacy. All of these population retardants, without exception, led mankind into 'misery' or 'vice'. Thus commentators have mapped out four Malthusian quadrants of woe: positive of misery (disease; malnutrition) or of vice (the waging of war), and preventative checks of misery (the postponement of marriage; celibacy) or of vice (prostitution; birth control).

Let me first say, most emphatically, that Malthus was not wrong; anyone who believes that Malthus was wrong is either misguided, or simply restating something they heard another misguided person say. The fact of the matter is that Malthus has never been a popular figure (it's rumored that Charles Dickens based his character Ebenezer Scrooge on Malthus) and in today's extremely bi-partisan environment - it's a pretty safe bet to say that he would be sitting in the Republican aisle of Congress. Nevertheless, and all politics aside, much of what has been attributed to Malthus has been reverse-engineered to make him sound like a cold-hearted elitist prude, which he wasn't. I only recommend reading this book and making up your own mind.

Lastly, this is really one of my favorite polemics, so naturally I am biased; however, I can't help but see Malthus in many of my other favorite books: Jared Diamonds - Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed: Revised Edition, Garrett Hardin's - Living within Limits: Ecology, Economics, and Population Taboos, Nafeez Ahmed - A User's Guide to the Crisis of Civilisation: And How to Save it, or Chris Martenson's - The Crash Course: The Unsustainable Future Of Our Economy, Energy, And Environment. I think the ideas of 'The Tragedy of the Commons', 'The Tyranny of Small Decisions', and even the great big theory of 'Darwinian Evolution', all have their genesis in Thomas Malthus and An Essay on the Principle of Population. This is a great book - possibly required reading even - and at about 175 pages, including the Introduction, I think everyone might want to read it.
Malthus: On Population: Kindle edition Nov. 29 2014
By Phil Scott - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is an essential [often misquoted] classic work related to population limits. Although much of the volume deals with tangential subjects, the fact that Malthus still bears the brunt of vicious Fundamentalist attacks demonstrates his continuing importance.
The World Would Be A Better Place If We Had Paid Attention To Thomas Malthus July 9 2015
By Victor L. Phelps - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This material should be mandatory school cariculum world wide. The problems Malthus outlined have been plaguing humanity since before fe wrote this essay. We did not listen and we are paying the price.
5 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Should be Standard Reading for all entering Freshmen Jan. 7 2011
By ExistentialistRoberts - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book should be stapled to every freshman entering a College of Arts and Sciences, as some write it off as out dated, I would say it holds true more than ever! Even though the industrial revolution changed some of the ways we think, it never changed how we breed or how the classes still operate!
6 of 12 people found the following review helpful
A Must Read for Anyone Interested In Economic Theory Jan. 17 2010
By T. Morris - Published on
Format: Paperback
This essay lays out Malthus's dire predictions for the future of mankind at a time when few else speculated on the future of industrialization with such gloom. It is an excellent read for anyone interested in economic THEORY...

The gentleman below gave this only one star. A glance at his review reveals it is because he prefers Marx and only Marx. My recommendation to him is to give the work a fair review and not bash it due to his own preference for one train of thought. In short, his opinion sucks...