Modern Malthus; Are his ideas applicable to today?

In his essay titled Essay on Population by Thomas Malthus he talks a lot about the relationship between population and supply. He talks about the human relationship with the resources on the earth and states that there is not enough food to sustain mankind. He goes on to propose solutions in order to counter this problem that was anticipated in the 19th century when Enlightenment was at its peak. During this time, people started moving away from the church and began to put their faith in science and reason to guide their thought and outlook on the world. Malthus states that disease and misery were the only solutions to help the people overcome the inevitable suffering that would occur due to a lack of resources because of an increasing population.


While reading this piece, I couldn’t help but think of today with the rising problems credited to climate change and the growing anxiety regarding the future of our planet. It’s interesting that over a century ago Malthus predicted the increasing population as a problem facing humanity. The idea that the earth could run out of resources as essential as food didn’t seem to be a problem people were concerned about back then as much as we are now. Today there seems to be a growing pressure on our generation to come up with ways to live sustainability since so much of the earth has already been destroyed. I wonder had the technology been available during Malthus’s time would he have proposed a more logical solution than wiping out a large portion of the population with disease. I also wonder if people would have been more accepting of his idea that “the power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce substance for man” if they were in as desperate a time as we are today. Overall, I though this reading was very interesting because of its relevance to today. One thing I love about history is how it repeats itself so often and society doesn’t seem to learn from its mistakes. I am wondering what you think Malthus would say about society today and people’s ignorance towards the climate change, increasing lack of resources, environmental hazards that are all results of the growing population and ironically negatively impacting society.

4 thoughts on “Modern Malthus; Are his ideas applicable to today?

  1. “.One thing I love about history is how it repeats itself” To quote George Lucas, “It doesn’t repeat, it rhymes.” To be fair, Malthus is not the first to comment on food shortages and an increasing population. The Athenians, Romans, and many other states have had to deal with this issue. In my roommates seminar on population and its influence on public policy, they deal with the exact issue Malthus describes in An Essay on Population. Based on the current trends and production levels, the world has to hit a “population cap” at some point in the next fifty years (deaths are equal to or outweigh the number born). This magic number of 10 Billion will mean that yes, we need to acknowledge the increasing climate change and declining resources.

  2. I was thinking about this when we were going over this essay in class the other day. Even though Malthus may have been misguided for his time (for example he doesn’t factor in high infant mortality rates and innovation when it comes to agriculture) his main ideas still ring true, especially today. With modern medicine substantially lengthening the average life span and reducing infant mortality rates, the population has increased exponentially and doesn’t look as though it will stop. On top of that we have very limited necessary resources, such as water. So Malthus was wrong for his time but expresses very legitimate concerns for the twenty-first century. I find it fascinating that such an old piece of writing can be far more relevant today than the time it was written for.

  3. This is a really interesting post. Back in those days, people didn’t really think about how they could solve problems, so Malthus couldn’t see these problems going away because it seemed as if there was no one to solve them. This day in age, though, Malthus would see the potential in human ability. As an intelligent individual, he would recognize that the world can be saved, but ONLY if all minds worked together. Malthus gets it, and if he were to give a speech to the population, he’d simply say: “The world is in our hands. You have the power to change it and save it. It’s up to you.” Even though the world today is struggling mightily, there really is a tremendous amount of potential for change. I’d love to see Malthus’s rationality versus Donald Trump’s idiocy in a debate. Malthus would destroy him. People such as Trump who are in disbelief of climate change need to listen to people like Malthus. There are Malthus’s out there. And with the brains, intellect, care, and desire humans have today, why can’t we save this Earth? Intelligence has improved mightily over the past 200 years or so and we have to use that to our advantage.

    • And same goes for lack of resources and other issues. We have the ability to solve these problems. We need to thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiink.

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