Thomas Malthus

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Who is ‘Thomas Malthus’

Thomas Malthus was an 18th-century British philosopher and economist famous for his ideas about population growth. Malthus’ population theories were outlined in his book, “An Essay on the Principle of Population,” first published in 1798. In it, he theorized that populations will continue to grow until growth is stopped or reversed by disease, famine, war or calamity. He developed what is now referred to as the Malthusian growth model, an exponential formula used to forecast population growth.

BREAKING DOWN ‘Thomas Malthus’

Thomas Malthus was a controversial figure. The late 18th and early 19th centuries were marked by philosophers who believed that humanity would continue to grow and improve itself and could create a utopian society. Malthus countered this argument by saying that, throughout history, a portion of the general population has always been poor and miserable, that this was unlikely to change and that these factors actually helped control population growth.

Malthus also wrote “An Inquiry into the Nature and Progress of Rent” (1815) and “Principles of Political Economy” (1820). The main tenets of his arguments went against the grain of thinking at the time. He argued that increases in population would eventually decrease the ability of people in the world to feed themselves. He based this conclusion on the idea that populations expand in such a way as to overtake the development of sufficient land for crops. Malthus is associated with Darwin, whose natural selection theory was influenced by Malthus’ analysis of population growth. Malthus’ views enjoyed a resurgence in the 20th century with the advent of Keynesian economics.

Background of Thomas Malthus

Thomas Robert Malthus was born near Guildford, Surrey in February 1766. His father was successful and educated Thomas at home. Malthus later attended Cambridge University, earning a master’s degree in 1791. In 1793, he was made a fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge. In 1805, Malthus became professor of history and political economy (the first holder of such an academic office) at the East India Company’s college in Haileybury, Hertfordshire, where he remained until his death.

In 1819, Malthus became fellow of the Royal Society and two years later he was named a member of the Political Economy Club, whose members included David Ricardo and James Mill. In 1824, he was elected as one of the 10 royal associates of the Royal Society of Literature. Malthus also co-founded the Statistical Society of London in 1834. Thomas Robert Malthus died on December 23, 1834.

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