Four propositions of Malthus’s theory of population
The first proposition of Malthus’s Theory of population is that the population of a country is restricted by the means of survival. The better the food production, the greater the number of population which can be sustained. The check of deaths caused by want of food, and poverty would limit the maximum possible population.
The second proposition of Malthus’s Theory of population states that the growth of population will outrun the increase in food production. Malthus thought that man's sexual urge to bear offspring knows no bounds. Man multiplies itself at a gigantic rate. But the power of land to generate food is restricted. Malthus thought that the law of diminishing returns operated in the field of agriculture and that the operation of this law restricted the required increases in the supply of food.
According to the law of diminishing returns, as more labor is applied to a fixed quantity of land, output will rise less than proportionately. Malthus, therefore, concluded that unrelenting increase of the population would outcome in a decline in output per worker and a stable decline in the quantity of food available per person.
Malthus asserted that the population of a country tends to double every twenty-five years (as it was actually happening in American Colonies and the U.K. at the time), but the food supply could be increased much less rapidly. In fact, Malthus observed that the population would tend to increase at a geometric rate (2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, etc.), but the food supply would tend to increase at an arithmetic rate (2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12), Thus, at the end of two hundred years, "population would be to the means of subsistence as 259 to 9; in three centuries as 4096 to 13 and in 2000 years, the difference would be incalculable." Therefore Malthus asserted that population would ultimately outstrip the food supply. In other words, in the race between population and food supply, the latter would be left far behind. For this reason, Malthus said that people are doomed for ever to live at a bare subsistence level. When food supply runs short, people must starve and be plunged into misery.
According to the third proposition, as the food supply in a country amplifies, the people will give birth to more children and would have bigger families. This would increase the demand for food and their food per person will again diminish. Therefore, according to Malthus, standard of livelihood of the people cannot climb eternally.
The forth proposition of Malthus’s Theory of population pointed out that there are two possible checks which limit the growth of population: (1) Preventive checks, and (2) Positive checks.
Preventive checks implement their influence on the growth of population by bringing down the birth rate. Preventive checks are those checks which are applied by man. Late marriage and self-restraint during married life are the examples of preventive checks applied by man to limit the family.
Positive checks exercise their authority on the growth of population by augmenting the death rate. They are implemented by nature. Epidemics, wars, pestilence and famines are some of the examples of positive checks. They all shorten human life and increase the death rate.
Malthus recommended the use of preventive checks if mankind was to escape from the impending misery. If preventive checks were not effectively used, positive checks like diseases, wars and famines would come into operation. As a result, the population would be reduced to the level which can be sustained by the available quantity of food supply.
In the first edition of his book, Malthus laid a great stress on the role of positive checks in keeping the population under control. But in the later editions of his book, Malthus softened the harshness of his theory and gave preventive checks a little more importance. Thus, he held out some hope for the human race through preventive checks operating on the birth rate. But he still remained firm in his pessimistic view. He still put little faith in the likelihood of self-restraint and late marriages since he was of the opinion that sex urge among people was very strong. Moreover, in these later editions, Malthus also dropped the expressions of geometric and arithmetic progressions but still maintained that the increase in population would exceed the growth in food supply and, if unchecked by using preventive checks, would force nature to apply positive checks to level down the surplus population.
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