Malthus, Thomas Robert (1766-1834)

Updated: Aug 20, 2021

He was educated at St John’s College, Cambridge, and became a fellow there after studying mathematics and philosophy. He entered the Church of England and became a country parson. He was subsequently Professor of History and Political Economy at the East India Company’s Haileybury College. His Essay on the Principle of Population as it Affects the Future lmprovement of Society was published in 1798, with a revised edition in 1803. His other works include: An Inquiry into the Nature and Progress of Rent (1815), The Poor Law (1817), Principles of Political Economy (1820) and Definitions of Political Economy (1827). Malthus is remem­bered for his essays on population. Population had a natura! growth rate described by a geometric progression, whereas the natural resources necessary to support the population grew at a rate similar to an arithmetric progression. Without restraints, therefore, there would be a continued pressure on living standards, both in terms of room and of output. He advocated moral restraint on the size of families. Malthus also carried on a long argument with Ricardo against Say’s law. Briefly, Say’s law stated that there could be no general overproduction or underproduction of commodities on the grounds that whatever was bought by somebody must have been sold by somebody else. (J. M. Keynes found some affinity between Malthus’s conclusions and his own in his General Theory.) Malthus, however, was arguing strictly within the basic assumption of the equality of planned savings and investment in classical economics, and was a long way away from Keynes’s revolutionary assumption that they are made equal only by movements in total income. Saving to Malthus was investment. His argument for underconsumption was simply that an increase in savings necessarily diminished consumption on the one hand, and on the other increased the output of consumer’s goods through increased investment. At the same time, because the labour supply was inelastic, wages rose and therefore so did costs.

Reference: The Penguin Dictionary of Economics, 3rd edt.

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