Simonde de Sismondi Population Theory

Jean Charles Leonard Simonde de Sismondi, Population

As already indicated, Sismondi deemed the end of political economy to be the discovery of that proportion between population and wealth which would assure the highest well-being. He gives much attention, therefore, to population. His thesis on this subject is that, while sympathy or the affec­tions urge to marriage, egoism or calculation deter, and through the interplay of these forces population would naturally be regulated according to revenue. Laborers, he thinks, do not naturally marry unless they have employment and an assured income! But industrial instability makes foresight vain, and the introduction of machinery causes unemployment. The evil situation arises in which the births of a nation exceed its reve­nues, and with overproduction, unequal property, and exploita­tion by the rich, revenue is encroached upon and wages are re­duced. One of the points that Sismondi particularly mentions in his preface is the gloomy idea that the natural limits to popu­lation are always respected by those who have, while they are exceeded by those who have not.

Sismondi believes Malthus to be quite mistaken in his ideas on the natural limits of population. The real limit, he holds, lies in revenue. Population is not limited by the subsistence which land can produce, but is checked by inability to get work and wages before such a limit can be reached. In opposing the ideas of a geometric and an arithmetic progression, Malthus was contrasting a mere potentiality with an actuality. Nay, rather with less than the actuality, for the increase of plant and animal life is more rapid than that of man. And history is appealed to for the purpose of showing that nomadic peoples have restrained population while their land would have supported a much more numerous people.