Was Malthus right?

JANUARY 20th 2012
Why bring this up now? Because it is being discussed daily on UK TV but so far nobody is making much sense.
Most discussions on the predictions of Malthus start by someone saying they didn't come true so far so there is no reason to suppose they will now. But it seems to me that they certainly did come true - and to an extent far greater than Malthus himslef anticipated. Famine and Disease have been big players in the progress of civilization and efforts to avoid them have been the cause of serious conflicts as nations were led to war over the scramble for land, resources even room to live. Malthus wrote his theses between 1798 and 1826. The levels of death and destruction and suffering that have beset humanity in the 20th century would have been unimaginable in his day. Unfortunately a version of the 'boiled frog' syndrome seems to have deadened our appreciation to such an extent that no matter what happens in the coming decades many of those who survive will never accept that we brought it on ourselves by just being here in too great a number. For Malthus, had he lived, our state of denial would be inexplicable.

Well-fed engineers in secure jobs continue to claim we could accommodate and feed many billions more than we have now. Of course we could. But unfortunately the simple fact that existence itself, let alone a comfortable one, is conditional has not sunk in to the basic consciousness of homo sapiens. It requires education and understanding at a level which is sadly lacking. If we thought and behaved differently we could change that, but one only has to listen to a discussion between the people chosen to sit on an average televised BBC "Question Time" debate to realise that even people who agree on some aspects of the problems we face do so for quite different reasons, none of which are unconnected with their own personal prejudices, preferences, hopes and fears.

We are told that half of India's growing population is 'below the powerty line'. We do not have to know if this is due to any of Malthus's theories to realise that if we examine the current problems in maintaining the current levels of health and nutrition, the theoretical technical means of solving them are not all that interesting as they do not address the behavioural imperatives. As for the UK, we appear to be incapable of coming to agreement of even the simplest and most obvious conclusions related to our predicament. The debates on economic choices in parliament are reduced to absurd simplifications which prevent either of two poorly thought-through policies from being applied in any way, quickly or thoroughly enought to give them a chance of success. The same applies to the failure to solve Europe's collective problems.

So we find that Malthusian economics are in action all the time whatever name we give to the forces that come into play to bring them about. The truth is only obvious, however, to those it affects directly or who have sufficient empathy to understand the plight of others.