Malthusianism

The Tablet
(Not published)

18 August 2013

(This letter was NOT published, but I have included it because its non-publication helps to answer the question in the last paragraph: an article dismissing Malthusianism was published, but no letter defending Malthus was published.)

“Malthusianism is a fallacy” writes Clifford Longley (17 Aug). Hardly! On almost every major point Malthus has been proved exactly right.

Malthus believed that populations double every 25 years unless controlled by checks. In the Essay Chapter 5, he writes, “All these checks can be fairly resolved into misery and vice.” He was too delicate to mention contraception, but who can doubt that he counted this as a vice.

In most of the world the check of artificial contraception is no longer thought of as a vice and it is being effectively used to save us from Malthusian misery, but in Africa and the Middle East there is little of this type of ‘vice’, so populations continue to double.

In Uganda the population is expected to increase from 5 million to over 80 million in the century 1950-2050, that is doubling every 25 years as Malthus predicted.

In Africa as a whole the population of 228 million in 1950 doubled twice between 1950 and 2005, almost exactly as Malthus predicted.

Excluding Turkey, the countries of the Middle East from Palestine to Pakistan have also doubled their populations twice between 1950 and 2000, exactly as Malthus predicted.

In these regions, even after the populations have doubled only twice, reports of Malthusian misery in the form of war, poverty, and hunger, are in the news almost every day. The expected third doubling will convert most sceptics.

On one point Malthus can be faulted. He did not foresee the huge improvement in agriculture. But this provides only temporary protection from misery. Norman Borlaug, the ‘father’ of the green revolution put it like this in his speech on receiving the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize:

‘The green revolution has won a temporary success in man’s war against hunger and deprivation; it has given man a breathing space. If fully implemented, the revolution can provide sufficient food for sustenance during the next three decades. But the frightening power of human reproduction must also be curbed; otherwise the success of the green revolution will be ephemeral only. Most people still fail to comprehend the magnitude and menace of the “Population Monster.”‘ It’s just the same today. I wonder why this is?

Gerald Danaher

If you have any questions or comments about this site I'd be happy to hear them. Please email me via my contact form