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Notes and Reflections on Books and Media

by Hannah Leitheiser


Essay on Population

Thomas Malthus


Continuing on Thomas Malthus' Essay on Population. Malthus rejects the utilitarian and communist ideas of a contemporary William Godwin, saying that if a society is created where everyone is provided for, and feels fairly certain their children will be provided for, it will be a baby-making bonanza. All those children will in turn oversaturate the environment with horrible outcome. You need some degree of misery to keep fertility low, since it is reasoned most are not going to have children only to watch them starve. Feeding the poor can backfire in making their situation worse.

And that makes some sense, but we now have more data, and it actually seems the opposite is true. When a place becomes richer, female fertility decreases. People point to all sorts of reasons: education about other options for women, birth control, or perhaps if a family is uncertain any children will survive, they have a lot to increase the odds someone will carry the family line. Humans seem for the most part to have avoided Malthus' dire predictions, although global environmental consequences of large human populations seems the next horizon of potential collapse.