- Malthus, Thomas Robert
- (1766–1834)An Anglican clergyman, prominent political economist, and author of the doctrine that constricted food supplies must determine economic life. He had an unconventional education, for a clergyman, at a dissenting academy, and then at Cambridge. From 1805, Malthus taught at the East India Company ’s college at Haileybury. Malthus first published his Essay on the Principle of Population in 1798, although he subsequently revised it extensively. The central argument of the essay was that while population, independent of other variables, would grow geometrically, food supply could only grow arithmetically. Population therefore tended, extraneous factors to one side, to outgrow food supply. Using the moral ideas of his time, however, Malthus saw various restraints on population growth, including misery, vice, and moral restraint. This grim arithmetic led to economics being baptized “the dismal science.”The idea that a growing population competed for limited resources inspired Charles Darwin with his idea of the survival of the fittest. Often remembered almost exclusively as “Population Malthus,” Malthus was nonetheless credited by Keynes with having stressed the importance of effective demand, as against the emphasis on supply, and assumption that supply would create demand, characteristic of other classical political economists. In domestic policy, and particularly from the point of view of poor relief - a controversial topic at the time - Malthus’s doctrines on population tended to reinforce the notion that the poverty and suffering of a large proportion of the population was a part of the natural order of things, while being at the same time avoidable through moral prudence. From an imperial point of view, Malthus served to establish in the popular mind the idea that the food supplies available on a small and crowded island were inherently limited. This implied that the Corn Laws, as restrictions on imports, exacerbated an already parlous situation. It implied secondly that substantial emigration was both necessary and beneficial to the country and to the emigrant. The desirability of settlement colonies became in the nineteenth century an idea accepted across the political spectrum.See also <
>; < >.FURTHER READING:Peterson, William. Malthus. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979;Smith, Kenneth. The Malthusian Controversy. London: Routledge & Paul, 1951;Winch, Donald. Malthus. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.MARK F. PROUDMAN
Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.