Malthus Thomas Robert

Malthus Thomas Robert

Malthus, Thomas Robert (1766-1834), English economist. His father was a well-educated country gentleman acquainted with many of the foremost philosophers of his day. Thomas was the youngest of the family and was intended for the Church. In 1785 he went to St John's College, Cambridge, where he was mainly interested in philosophy and mathematics. He was elected to a fellowship, entered the Church and for a few years was a clergyman in a country parish. Here he worked on his famous Essay on the Principle of Population as it affects the Future Improvement of Society, published In 1789. The first edition, with its broad statements and religious undercurrents, attracted a great deal of attention but much adverse criticism, so that Malthus decided to spend the next few years travelling on the Continent gathering data in support of his thesis. His researches were included in the revised second edition published in 1803. In i8o6 he became Professor of Political Economy at Haileybury College, a new training school for young men intended for the East India Company. He remained there until 1834. His other main works include An Inquiry into the Nature and Progress of Rent (1815), The Poor Law (1817), Principles of Political Economy (1820) and Definitions of Political Economy (1827).

The Essay on Population earned Malthus wide recognition; he became a dose friend of David Ricardo, entering into a long correspondence with him, was a founder member of the Political Economy Club, gave evidence on several parliamentary committees and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. The Essay might never have been written if his father had not been an admirer of the philosopher Condorcet, whose ideas had been translated and propagated by William Godwin. In 1793 Godwin published his Enquiry concerning the Principles of Political Justice, and its Influence on General Virtue and Happiness, which maintained that man could achieve perfection through reason and understanding. Its optimistic predictions convinced the senior Malthus, but Thomas was disturbed by the section of the site s on population in The Wealth of Nations and by the law of diminishing returns stated by Turgot. His misgivings prompted him to write the Essay, which argued that while the means of subsistence tended to grow in an arithmetic progression population grew in a geometric progression. In later editions of the Essay he modified this rigid theory into the more general one that increases in population would be limited by moral restraint, vice and misery.

The main effect of the Essay was to sweep away the optimistic hopes generated by Godwin and Adam Smith, for it seemed that as population increased less fertile land would have to be brought into cultivation and the increase in food production would not keep pace with demand. Famine could be avoided only if the population engaged in the moral restraints, such as marrying later and having fewer children, Only the optimist thought this possible. Later events in science showed these fears to be largely unfounded, but Malthus's ideas had much influence on the Poor Law system in Great Britain. In the early years of the nineteenth century poor relief was administered by local justices in relation to the price of bread and the size of the pauper's family. In view of Malthusian doctrine, this policy seemed to increase the possibility of over-population, and in 1834 the Poor Law administration was drastically amended. In economic thought Maithus's interpretation of the law of diminishing returns influenced David Ricardo and caused economics to be known as 'the dismal science'.

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