Outline Malthus’s Theory of Population and Access His Contribution to the Reform of the Poor Laws in 1834.

Topics: Poverty, Poor Law, Workhouse Pages: 5 (1580 words) Published: December 8, 2009
Thomas Robert Malthus is widely regarded as the worlds first professional political economist. He was born on 13th February 1766 to a wealthy English family and after being educated by his father at home, he went on to study Mathematics at Jesus College, Cambridge and become the most well known social scientist of the Nineteenth century. Through his life, Malthus wrote many books and essays and his writings can be split into two periods. In the first period his writings dealt with the unrest of labour and attempts to restructure society to promote the welfare of the worker. In the second period from 1814 onwards, his writings dealt more with the corn laws and the problems between the landlords and capitalists. This essay will explain why his first essay on the theory of population in 1798 and his second essay in 1803 were written, what they entailed and why they were instrumental to the reform of the Poor Laws in 1834.

Landreth & Colander (1994) proposed three factors which appeared to account for the formation of Malthus’s theory. Firstly, in the years preceding Malthus’s first essay, it had become necessary for England to import food due to its rising population. Until around 1790 the country had been self-sufficient in its food supply but as this changed there became a notable increase in food prices. The second factor was the increasing poverty of the lower income class. England was becoming more and more urbanized as factory production replaced home-made production and with this the lower income class’s suffering worsened. The third factor was an argument that developed between Malthus and his father, Daniel. His father was a supporter of the views of writers William Godwin and Marquis de Condorcet. Their basic view was that the character of an individual is not inherited but it is formed by their immediate environment and that it was government who were responsible for this. Robert Malthus wanted to show that these ideas were incorrect and it was the first essay, published anonymously in 1798 which attempted to do this.

Malthus’s theory of population was founded upon two assumptions. Firstly that food is necessary for the continued existence of mankind and secondly that population, due to mans insatiable desire for passion, will always increase. He felt that population (when unchecked) tends to grow at a faster rate than the food supply does. This was expressed in the formula that population increases in a geometrical progression, specifically that it would double at each generation, yet the increase in food which would be needed to satisfy the population would only grow in an arithmetic progression. This, Malthus argued was the cause of poverty and misery. Malthus concluded that checks will develop to enable the growth-rate in population to stay inline with that of the growth-rate in the food supply. The first essay contains two types of checks, positive and preventative. Positive checks increased the death rate and are usually as a result of instances like war, famine and disease, whereas Preventative checks will lower the birth rate, for example sterility, birth control or abstinence from marriage. The population is checked by a combination of these so that it is kept within the possibilities of the food supply. If preventative checks were not enough then positive checks would become the inevitable next stage and vice versa. Malthus felt that these checks would result in misery and vice and that if the wealth and income of society were to increase, the vast majority would react by having more and more children therefore meaning they would be back to where they started from with only those with moral restraint escaping this. He felt that men should only marry when they could afford to support a family

From his theory of population, Malthus drew many conclusions and possible implications. Significantly, he felt that the poor had no reason to complain about their poverty as it was themselves...

References:  Landreth, H; Colander,D. History of Economic Thought, 3rd ed., Houghton Mifflin Company, USA, 1994
 Turner,M [Ed]. Malthus and his Time, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1986
 Roll, E (1992). A History of Economic Thought, 5th Edition, London, Faber and Faber
 Landreth, H; Collander, D. (1994). History of Economic Thought, 3rd Edition, Usa Houghton Mifflin Company
 Barber, WJ. (1991). A History of Economic Thought, UK, Penguin
 Marshall, JD. (1985). The Old Poor Law 1795-1834, 2nd Edition, UK, Macmillan
 Glass, DV. (1953). Introduction to Malthus, London, Watts
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