Robert Malthus Population and Theory

T. Robert Malthus - Population and Glut Theory

Malthus Theory Of Population, Malthus Economics

Malthus Biography;Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834) was a British professor of both history and political economy at the East India College in England. He had two renowned publications: An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798) and Principles of Political Economy (1820). Interestingly, most of his writings were born out of a fairly pessimistic outlook on man's future well-being. This was largely caused by the evil effects of the industrial revolution.

During the very beginning of the industrial revolution, Thomas Malthus lived in an era of intense social conflict. Conflict existed because, first of all, the working class did not immediately and voluntarily accept sacrifices and sufferings; secondly, there was an immense ongoing conflict between landowner class and capitalist class to control the English parliament and to seize surplus values (or share of profits). The industrial revolution, with the extensive use of machinery, stimulated labor productivity, and capitalists hoped to realize productivity increases forever. Knowing that productivity increases were dependent on capital accumulation and investment, capitalists increasingly neglected the quality of life of the workers and directed a smaller and smaller proportion of surplus value toward workers' well-being and channeled a greater portion of the surplus value toward production of capital goods. As a result, the worker class was forced to live at a subsistence level, and it was the working class who ended up paying for the social costs of industrialization during that era.

Unfortunately, the working class consumed less and increasingly witnessed the destruction of their traditional way of life. Monotonous and mechanical working conditions alienated workers from the satisfaction and intrinsic meaningfulness of the act of "producing" a product from beginning to end using their own ingenuity and skill. This alienation was compounded through an increasingly impersonal market. Machines soon became the focal point of production process as well as workers' life. Workers began to believe that machines were responsible for their plight, and thereby began to revolt and attempt to destroy machines (called the "Luddite" revolts). Making social conditions even worse, capitalists began to employ more women and children for the purpose of reducing costs and preventing costly strikes.

Unfortunately, women and children were severely mistreated in work places and commonly had to work 16 hours a day in deplorable conditions. Also, as previously discussed in Chapter One, massive migration of newly "freed" labor from the countryside to the cities resulted in overwhelming difficulties associated with urbanization including mass unemployment, slums, and poor water and sanitation. As a consequence of these worsening conditions, the traditional way of life for a worker was destroyed, strict discipline in factories arose, and poor living conditions in suburban areas cities prevailed. All of this stimulated substantial social, economic, and political unrest in the dawn of the industrial revolution in England.

Not surprisingly, social and political unrest led to workers uniting and banding together to fight against such unfair living conditions and low wages. Although workers had some victories over capitalists, capitalists immediately enacted serious legislations, such as the Combination Act of 1799, to outlaw any collective act of workers against capitalists and the capitalist system. The wars in England from 1790 to 1815 did little help to the workers cause as the relative amounts of food imports decreased. This resulted in an increase in prices, but wages, unfortunately, did not keep up.

During the same period of time, the landowner class declared a political war against capitalists to obtain a greater share of surplus value. The landowner class demanded to raise tariffs on agricultural products for the purpose of increasing their own incomes. Legislation involving a tariff or tax on agriculture imports became known as the "Corn Laws." The British capitalists adamantly opposed such regulations because, first of all, tariffs on imported grains would increase the costs of agricultural products and thereby raise workers' wages. Although workers lived at a subsistence level and spent most of their wages on foods, further increases in food costs would necessitate an increase in workers' wages so that their income would keep up with subsistence requirements. This was not good for the capitalists since it would reduce their profits. In other words, capitalists did not want to transfer a greater proportion of their profits to landowners in the form of rent. Capitalists also opposed the Corn Laws because, up until that time, British manufacturing did not meet any competitors in Europe because of their efficient and productive factory system. Therefore, maintaining a state of free international trade without tariffs would give the British capitalists higher profits.

This war between landowners and capitalists regarded the issue about whether the country of Britain remained an agricultural economy, or it specialized in manufacturing and transformed itself into a primarily industrial economy. In 1815, the landowners won the first round of this landowner-capitalist conflict as the Corn Law legislation was put into effect. It wasn't until 1846 when the capitalist class finally gained control of the British parliament that the Cora Laws were defeated and the tariff on agricultural products was abolished.