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Thomas Malthus

The Slaughter of the Innocents

 A Neo-Malthusian Fable

 It seems strange at a time when proletarians are being butchered by millions, to find Neo-malthusians still advocating the reduction of the population as the cure for all social ills; yet such is the case. In a booklet ['How to Prevent Pregnancy.' G. Hardy, Paris, 19l6.] recently published in English it is roundly asserted that the limitation of births “means simply the suppression of misery, the solution of the social question.” Simply that!

 Socialists are in no way opposed to the diffusion of complete scientific knowledge in sexual matters; they fully recognise the right of men and women to limit the number of their offspring on grounds of personal health and comfort. Neo-malthusians, in fact, have a wide field for useful activity, but their ambitions outstrip their means. They offer a check pessary for the earthquake!

Notes on Economic History (11)

The Theory of Population

As Adam Smith's doctrine spread, it was elaborated and modified. Attempts to develop his ideas led to endeavours to explain the poverty and misery of the working class and all the defects that had become apparent during the rapid development of Capitalism, from the time of publication of his Wealth of Nations.

Two contrasted attitudes appeared. One was a condemnation and a criticism of conditions—this led to ideas about Socialism. The other was a pessimistic resignation, accepting the conditions and declaring them to be the result of the working of natural laws. This was the views held by Malthus. Malthus was responsible for two important works; in 1820 his Principles of Political Economy was published preceding by some 22 years his Essay on the Principle of Population, first published in 1798, and for ever associated with his name.

Notes on Economic History (12)

Malthus on Poverty

From his law of population, Malthus infers that Governments should, on the one hand, remove all obstacles to the cultivation of the soil and, on the other, favour preventative checks, especially the postponement of marriage. The following passage from the 1803 edition is interesting: "A man born into a world already possessed, if he cannot get subsistence from his parents on whom he has a just demand, and if society do not want his labour, has no claim of right to the smallest portion of food, and in fact has no right to be where he is. At nature's mighty feast, there is no vacant cover for him. She tells him to begone and will quickly execute her own orders if he does not work upon the compassion of her guests."

Marx, Malthus and Mr. Strachey

Mr. Strachey in his book Contemporary Capitalism (pp. 88, 89), says, "Marx in spite of his dislike for Malthus and all his theories agreed that a rapidly rising population would help to depress the standard of life of the wage worker." Natural fertility would always be increasing the number of workers competing for jobs and this would be further augmented by the displacement of workers by continuous mechanisation. Mr. Strachey asserts that not only did Marx say this but he also went on to deduce from it that a labour shortage could never arise. Moreover because or the ever-increasing deadweight of unwanted workers on the labour market, wages would not only be forced down to a bare subsistence level but even increasingly below it. Thus as the result of capital accumulation the mass of the population would come to exist on a semi-starvation diet insufficient for the replacement of their working energies.

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