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.

Think of the Children

In Beyond Totalitarianism, chapter 3 focuses on the reproductive policies of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. Both countries, along with Italy and all of Western Europe, placed importance on increasing the birth rate and population numbers in their respective countries. WWI had devastated a generation and decreased birth rates dramatically. The countries related population numbers to military strength, the more people you had, the more men you could use to fight the enemy.

The Nazis, Fascists and Soviets implemented policies and incentives to encourage increased birth rates. Medals were given to Nazi mothers who had more than 7/8 children, and stipends were given to Soviet women who produced more than four children. In the Soviet Union these were mostly rural peasant mothers, where large families were needed to work the farm. Also, many of these large families existed before the government introduced the compensation.

Yet, with the push for an immediate population increase, did no one think of the future? The Earth has a maximum capacity for life. It can only support so many. As twisted as it is, wars throughout history, along with epidemics have kept the population in check. Imagine how overpopulated the world would be if the Black Plague had not struck Europe. Currently the world is facing a problem of overpopulation, if the European nations had not pushed so much for increased births would it have delayed this problem? Or since the birth rates in Germany and the Soviet Union were not dramatically increased with the incentives and laws, did this have little effect on the world problem we currently face?


As forewarned, this was a pretty dry reading on the whole, but riddled with demographic trends. For some reason I really enjoy studying demography, so although the reading was dry I managed to maintain some focus, but I digress. Reading this article, at least for me, was the first time I was really able to see the differing ethnicities that comprise(d) Russia. the demographic knowledge at the author’s disposal, Kappeller manages to differentiate between these ethnic groups with this demographic knowledge because it is what the author had to work with to explore these differences. For example, Kappeller writes about how many different ethnic groups, after years of mobilization, began to urbanize. Kappeller writes, “In the case of ethnic groups which for a long time had performed the function of mobilized diaspora groups within the Russian Empire, the degree of urbanization was considerably higher than the 13.4 per cent average… this was true of the Germans (23.4 per cent), the Armenians (23.3 per cent), the Greeks (18 per cent) and, to a lesser extent, of the Tatars…” (287). Russians surprisingly only ranked eleventh on this list of diasporas, although it is important to note that many of the ethnicities mentioned in Kappeller’s work that were part of the Russian Empire during the period examined weren’t always part of the Russian Empire and aren’t today, or aren’t in nearly as great a force (i.e. Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Tadzhiks, Lithuanians, Latvians [Kappeller mentions Riga in the reading, which is the present day capital of Latvia]. If Kappeller were to survey present-day Russia in the same fashion, what demographic results would he come up with? Kappeller even admits to the difficulties of this endeavor, mentioning present day Belarus (Belorussia-Lithuania) and Ukraine as contributing to his difficulties.             I feel like it’s very important to point out that Kappeller points his focus towards urban areas because, although not Kievan Rus’, I imagine it would still be much more difficult to come across demographic documentation regarding rural areas than in urban areas, because urban areas are where most of the knowledge and politics of the land spawned from. If Kappeller pointed his focus more towards predominately rural areas, again, I wonder, what results he would find? I’m guessing he’d have a lot of trouble.

Another point that Kappeller inexplicitly makes that I think we often overlook in class is how huge Russia really is, and how the time period we’re examining didn’t have the technological luxuries. What I’m referring to is Kappeller’s examination of Siberian communities that were seemingly weren’t phased by the urban developments that defined western and South-Western Russia. These communities went unphased because they were so monumentally far away from western Russia that it would be impossible for the Siberian communities to have the same development as those in Western Russia.

The Russian People

I understand that Russia in 1897 was below half Russian, WIth so many other lands a part of the country that makes a lot of sense. However I find it very interesting just how much Russian people where viewed as a block, it is the largest country in the world by land and spans two continents. People from the far eastern parts of Russia would not look like those on the western side. While they are all part of the same country you would think they would have more differences. I think it is a testament to the power of the Orthodox Church and the power of the Tsars. The Church exerted a large amount of powers over people even the non Russians. Over the centuries this power homogenized the people. The differences where those of old believers and all but they all still practiced the same religion. Even though geography separated all the people Religion brought together the disparate people.