It is understandable that we hear the name Thomas Malthus more often in these times. In his work “An Essay on the Principle of Population”, the political economist first described his ideas for a growing population without end which would at some point face food supply shortages due to the limit of usable land. As a consequence, disease as well as war are a necessity to result in a lower number of people. The Economist called Malthus a “false prophet”.
In his later work published in 1803, Malthus spoke of the above being solved via lower birth rates as couples married later and have fewer children. Hence, population growth would decline to a sustainable level. It must be mentioned that Malthus wrote at a historical turning point. His main ideas were a description of pre-industrial societies; the industrial revolution changed everything and brought a sustained improvement in living standards.
Today, is different than before due to the pandemic, but in general birth and death rates dropped significantly since the times of Thomas Malthus. His work re-emerged in the early 70s as food prices increased significantly in value. Also, global population growth had picked-up at that point in time. Once again, these worries of overpopulation were not sustainable as further advances in agricultural productivity increased global food supply. Hence, if worries were overblown a few decades ago, it is most likely that they are overblown today as well; gloom is overdone once more. It is likely that another green revolution will bring us even further.
Malthusianism has much to say about food scarcity and in general, about limits on resources and energy. Earlier scares from the 1970s proved to be wrong as new sources of energy were discovered. Another form of Malthusian limit recently emerged with the need to limit greenhouse-gas emissions in order to address global warming. This can be solved by shifting to a low-carbon economy. Please contact us for ideas on sustainable investing. As The Economist put it “… there is no limit on ingenuity. That is why Malthus remains as wrong today as he was two centuries ago”.
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