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.