Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: The 19th Century)
Article abstract: The original professor of political economy, Malthus will be forever linked to discussions of the population problem. Terms such as “Malthusian economics” and “neo-Malthusianism” have achieved a permanent place in the English language and suggest the high level of controversy which his work engendered.
Thomas Robert Malthus was born on February 13, 1766, at his father’s estate, the Rookery, near Dorking, England. Some biographies incorrectly list February 14, the day of his baptism, as his birthdate. His father, Daniel Malthus, was an Oxford-educated lawyer and a gentleman of some means, as well as an intellectual of the Enlightenment and a devotee of the French thinker Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
Malthus grew up in a genteel, intellectually invigorating environment provided by his father, who was caught up in the exciting ideas of the Age of Reason and the French Revolution. Indeed, Malthus’ great work was initially a reaction to many of those ideas, especially the notion that through the use of reason, humankind could achieve perfection. Privately educated under a series of tutors, Malthus entered Jesus College of Cambridge in 1784 when he was eighteen. There he won prizes in Latin and English grammar, but his chief study was, as his father had suggested, mathematics. In that area, he was graduated as Ninth Wrangler (high honors) and was awarded a fellowship.
(The entire section is 1758 words.)
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Contrary to the philosophers Jean- Jacques Rousseau and William Godwin, who professed the inherent goodness and perfectibility of humanity, Malthus argued that poverty could not be abolished, because of the inevitability of population growth consistently exceeding the food supply. While population grew geometrically, according to Malthus, resources grew arithmetically. Thus, population increases always would be checked by famine, disease, and war. Practical application of Malthusian theory occurred in the renovation of English Poor Laws. Believing that poverty was encouraged by the old system, which allowed people to live in their homes with community aid, thereby encouraging them to have many children, Malthus advocated work houses in which the poor would be forced to live and work in conditions sufficiently bad to keep out all but the most desperate. Because of steadily rising food production rates brought about by increasingly sophisticated agricultural techniques, Malthusian predictions of food shortages—on an international scale—have failed to manifest. Yet mounting ecological devastation—frequently caused by exploitative agricultural practices—the poor distribution of food, and unprecedented, unchecked population growth in the twentieth century, as well as predicted population growth in the twenty-first century, will undoubtedly result in a Malthusian ceiling.
(The entire section is 202 words.)