An Essay On The Principle Of Population Quotes About Happiness

1Mill was usually generous in crediting the influences which had shaped his thought, and his acknowledgement of the influences of Bentham and Malthus demonstrates his generosity.1His introduction to Bentham’s published thoughts came via study of Dumont’s recension, Traités de Legislation.2 In his autobiography, Mill writes:

The “principle of utility” understood as Bentham understood it, and applied in the manner in which he applied it through these three volumes, fell exactly into place as the keystone which held together the detached and fragmentary component parts of my knowledge and beliefs. It gave unity to my conception of things.3

2Mill also recalled the enthusiasm of the young Philosophic Radicals for Malthus:

Malthus’s population principle was quite as much a banner, and point of union among us, as any opinion specially belonging to Bentham. This great doctrine, originally brought forward as an argument against the infinite improvability of human affairs, we took up with ardent zeal in the contrary sense, as indicating the sole means of realizing that improvability by securing full employment at high wages to the whole labouring population through a voluntary restriction of the increase of their numbers.4

3This paper will attempt to investigate the avowed influence of these two thinkers upon Mill’s attitudes to poverty, population and poor relief.

1. Common assumptions and a shared problem

4In seeking to compare the views of Mill, Malthus and Bentham, it is helpful to set out two essential commonalities between the views of all three writers on two subjects, which themselves defined the nature of the problem, and posed the conundrum to which each, in their different ways, proposed a solution.

1.1. Population, Subsistence, and Wages

5The first assumption common to all three thinkers was that population was constrained by the availability or otherwise of the means of subsistence, and that, in general terms, the level of comfort or misery enjoyed by the labouring class, the vast majority of the population, was a consequence of the relation between the amount of capital available for the employment of labour, and the number of labourers available for hire. This is to say that Bentham, Malthus, and Mill all subscribed, with varying degrees of subtlety and differences in emphasis, for instance on the importance of agriculture versus manufacture in increasing national wealth, to the notion of the wages fund. With Bentham first: “The population is not limited by the desire of sexual intercourse, it is limited by the means of subsistence”.5

6For Malthus, the happiness of countries depended “on the proportion which the population and the food bear to each other”.6Where agricultural labour provided the means of subsistence, the “wages fund” consisted of the agricultural surplus not directly consumed by the owners of land, while:

On the state of this fund, the happiness, or the degree of misery, prevailing among the lower classes of people, in every known state, at present chiefly depends; and on this happiness, or degree of misery, depends principally the increase, stationariness, or decrease, of population.7

7The entire point of Malthus’s attack on Godwinian communism concerned the manner in which it would give a stimulus to population growth which would inevitably outstrip, in fairly short order, any possible increase in food production, and thus present the community with the options of reintroducing property in land, limiting procreation by coercive means, or suffering the positive check to population provided by famine, or at least the threat of it.

8Schwartz argues that Mill eventually rejected the notion of a ‘wages fund’, but points out that “his preoccupation with the danger of excessive numbers” remained at the forefront of his concern.8 In his early writings, Mill simply states that the price of labour depends upon the number of available labourers: “Is it possible to admit more explicitly than you do, that the lowness of wages is owing to the competition among the people, from which it is a necessary inference, that if the people were less numerous, the competition would be much smaller, and wages would not be so much reduced.”9 In his Principles of Political Economy, Mill repeatedly asserts the connection between high numbers of labourers in relation to available capital and low wages, and the assertion is made again in Chapters on Socialism.10 Mill certainly rejects the simplicity of the contrast between geometric and arithmetic progression drawn by Malthus in relation to increase in population and increase in the means of subsistence, but does emphasize repeatedly that since the most productive land is the easiest to cultivate, continued agricultural investment, in the absence of technological innovation, suffers from diminishing returns in a way that procreative sex does not.11

9 All three thinkers declare themselves proponents of high wages, and on the same utilitarian basis, that is, that the labourers form the majority of the population, whilst money is a means to happiness.12

1.2. The failure of the English Poor Laws

10The second commonality between the views of Bentham, Malthus and Mill concerned the failure of the English Poor Laws as they existed before 1834 to provide relief with effective discrimination, with potentially devastating consequences.

11For all three thinkers, the root of the problem lay in the manner in which indiscriminate relief severed the link between the desire for subsistence and the investment of labour. Bentham insisted that whilst indigence, that is, failure through whatever cause to secure the means of subsistence, could and should be relieved, poverty “the state of everyone who, in order to obtain subsistence, is forced to have recourse to labour”, was the unalterable general state of mankind, and that “as labour is the source of wealth, so is poverty of labour”.13 For Mill too, “While men are what they are, they can be induced to habitual labour by only two motives—reward and punishment.”14 Malthus attacks the manner in which the poor laws relieve labourers of the responsibility to provide for their offspring: “They may be said therefore, to create the poor which they maintain”.15

12To some extent, the three also agreed on the consequences of this breaking of the link between labour and subsistence. The first consequence was the demoralization of the independent poor, that is, the undermining of their motivation to labour if the alternative was subsistence in idleness at the expense of the ratepayers. Bentham laments the existence of places where the condition of the dependent poor is “more eligible” than that of the independent, and warns that “the destruction of society” would “be the inevitable consequence” of the generalization of this situation.16 Malthus points out that in the scarcity of 1800 the real sufferers were those independent poor whose purchasing power was eroded by the rising price of corn combined with the rate in aid of wages,17 while the quantity of provisions consumed in workhouses “diminishes the shares that would otherwise belong to more industrious and more worthy members, and thus […] forces more to become dependent.”18 Writing in 1833, Mill also regretted the demoralization of agricultural labour:

the agricultural population of the greater part of England has been pauperized: sunk from the condition and feelings of independent labourers subsisting upon the earnings of their own labour, to the state of mind of reckless sinecurists, whose grand object is to be supported in comfort for doing nothing19

13The poor laws’ second failure arose from the first, in that the status of dependent poverty provided no deterrent, which is to say that the conditions of relief were too lax. Insistence on the imposition of more exacting conditions was a recurrent theme in Bentham’s poor law writings.20 Interestingly, it is not Bentham but Malthus who first formulated the principle of less-eligibility which played such a central role in the 1834 Poor Law Amendment act, although the formulation occurs in discussion of private charity: “They should on no account be enabled to command so much of the necessaries of life as can be obtained by the worst paid common labour.”21 Malthus also insisted that: “Hard as it may appear in individual instances, dependent poverty ought to be held disgraceful.”22 Mill too connected lack of deterrence with pauperization, and expressed his fears are most clearly in discussion of proposals to extend outdoor relief to the able-bodied in Ireland, in response to the potato famine.23

14One conclusion which Malthus drew, and with which Mill concurred, was that the problems created by the poor laws could have been much worse but for the manner of their implementation. The efforts of overseers to avoid granting settlements, and the refusal of the local gentry to permit the erection of cottages, thereby restricting the number of marriages, had helped to limit the damage.24 Bentham’s view is more difficult to identify. Certainly, he believed that up to half the expenditure on relief was wasted on those with no proper entitlement to it, while no system which remained beset by so many local variations in administrative practice could be of any value.25

15For Malthus and for Mill, the real danger in non-deterrent relief lay in its encouragement of the production of children. A guarantee of subsistence to all not only promised an impossibility, but positively encouraged the poor to procreate irresponsibly. Mill followed Malthus in the assertion that rising wages were not stored away in increased comforts for the following generation, but expended, under a lax system of relief, in expanding population by having more children, which too often became the responsibility of others to maintain. Malthus’s whole case against Godwin was that distributional equality would increase population faster than subsistence. In later editions of his Essay, Malthus attacked Robert Owen on the same basis, and claimed empirical support: “The fact of the tendency of population to increase beyond the means of subsistence may be seen in almost every register of a country parish in the kingdom”.26 He made the point that procreation usually dissipated any gain in wealth or productivity: “The tendency in population fully to keep pace with the means of subsistence must in general prevent the increase of these means from having a great and permanent effect in improving the condition of the poor.”27

16For Mill too:

It is but rarely that improvements in the condition of the labouring classes do anything more than give a temporary margin, speedily filled up by an increase of their numbers. The use they commonly choose to make of any advantageous change in their circumstances, is to take it out in the form which, by augmenting the population, deprives the succeeding generation of the benefit.28

17For both Malthus and Mill, this wasted gain in comfort arises in part from the ignorance of the poor, and partly from the fraud perpetrated upon them by those in power, who promise them the impossible. With Malthus:

They are taught that there is no occasion whatever for them to put any sort of restraint upon their inclinations, or exercise any degree of prudence in the affair of marriage; because the parish is bound to provide for all that are born.29

18Mill repeats the allegation explicitly in defence of “hard-hearted” Malthusianism, and in opposition to the sentimentality prevailing in discussion of the condition of labour.30

19Again, Bentham appears be the odd man out, in that his poor plan absolutely depended upon the augmentation of the number of children bound apprentice to the National Charity Company. As will be seen, Bentham’s poor plan involved more the expansion of subsistence than the restriction of population, and it was a plan he never repudiated. However, Bentham was fully conscious in 1797 that among labourers “the disposition to engage in matrimony is always more than sufficiently abundant, and the indigence, which is so much the object of lamentation and legislation, is the fruit of it.”31

20The final assertion common to all three thinkers concerns the importance of education in improving the prospects of the poor. For Malthus, no poor man can be expected to make rational prudent decisions without improvement in his ability to predict the consequences of his actions, for himself and his fellows, which was itself dependent upon the extension of education. Of course, Malthus viewed dissemination of the knowledge of the principle of population, and of political economy generally, as a central element in such education. Such dissemination would not only enhance the possibility that moral restraint would be adopted, but would also make political reform less alarming, and thus “promote the cause of rational freedom”.32 Mill echoed these sentiments repeatedly,33 and hoped that the spread of prudential reasoning would open the way for gains in comfort to be retained over generations.34

21Malthus and Mill further agreed that responsibility for providing such education lay ultimately with government. With Malthus first:

The benefits derived from education are among those which may be enjoyed without restriction of numbers; and as it is in the power of governments to confer these benefits it is undoubtedly their duty to do it.35

22For Mill’s part, his assertion in On Liberty that “the State should require and compel the education, up to a certain standard, of every human being who is born its citizen” had been made earlier in Principles of Political Economy, with direct reference to the “children of the labouring class”.36Of course, the differing attitudes of Mill and Malthus towards hierarchy versus distributional equality meant that they envisaged the results of such education differently.37

23For Mill, ignorance of the principle of population among the poor served the interests of the ruling class by provoking cut-throat competition among labourers, bidding down wages and extending working hours. Consequently, the poor were too exhausted to learn, and so trapped in a cycle of ignorance and exhaustion: “Education is not compatible with extreme poverty. It is impossible effectually to teach an indigent population”, while the poor were disqualified from “any but a low grade of intelligent labour.”38 Typically, Mill’s insistence was that what the poor required was honest, unpatronizing information, which facilitated their independence: “Whatever advice, exhortation, or guidance is held out to the labouring classes, must henceforth be tendered to them as equals, and accepted by them with their eyes open.”39

24For Bentham, lack of education amongst the poor issued in ignorance and irrationality: “The comparative weakness of their faculties, moral as well as intellectual, the result of the want of education, assimilates their condition in this particular, to that of minors.”40 In contrast, Bentham’s industry house apprentices would be taught literacy and numeracy, while Bentham intended to make their education available also to children and adults among the independent poor.41 Of course, the Bentham of the poor law writings, with his exaltation of the use of education as a tool of ensuring political quietude,42 makes Malthus look positively liberal, yet even Bahmueller, hardly an uncritical commentator, allows that, “At long last pauper children would receive at least a modicum of systematic education”.43

1.3. A shared problem

25The shared assumptions outlined above led all three thinkers to frame the problem posed by the potential starvation of some people, assuming the absence of publicly funded poor relief, in very similar ways. For Malthus, the question was: “How to provide for those who are in want in such a manner as to prevent a continual accumulation of their numbers?”44 Perhaps Bentham’s finest expression of the problem is found thirty years after his poor law writings:

In his endeavour to provide a remedy against deficiency in regard to subsistence, the legislator finds himself all along under the pressure of this dilemma—forbear to provide supply, death ensues, and it has you for its author; provide supply, you establish a bounty upon idleness, and you thus give increase to the deficiency which it is your endeavour to exclude45

26For Mill, “The claim to help […] created by destitution, is one of the strongest which can exist”,46 and therefore the crucial question concerned not the validity of poor relief, but “how to give the greatest amount of needful help, with the smallest encouragement to undue reliance on it”.47

2. Bentham’s Solution

2.1. Necessity of Relief

27Throughout his career, Bentham remained committed to the necessity of entitlement to relief at public expense for two reasons: humanity and public security.48On the one hand, given his exhaustive investigation into possible causes of indigence, he rejected any attempt to distinguish between the deserving and the undeserving indigent. Even where indigence was clearly the result of an agent’s irresponsibility, the pain of death outweighed the pain of taxation to fund its prevention.49 On the other, although the poor laws had many bad consequences, their abolition would undermine the security of all, by giving an incentive to those at risk of starvation to resort to violence in overthrowing a society which had abandoned them to their fate.50 Private charity simply could not be relied upon accurately to adjust the supply of relief to the demand for it,51 whilst the notion of admitting the principle of relief while capping the fund available for it was simply stupid, “pregnant … with profusion on one side, homicide on the other.”52

2.2. Quantity and Quality of Relief

28The poor laws were too generous in their provision, which should be limited to “the absolute necessaries of life”.53Whilst every civilized society had a duty to preserve life, it had no duty to indulge the dietary preferences of the dependent poor: their diet under Bentham’s plan might extend to more than potatoes, but their drink would be water.54

2.3 Conditions of Relief

29Further, whilst relief should be guaranteed, the conditions attached to it should require residence in a house of industry and labour to the extent of ability.55Outdoor relief was incompatible with the efficient extraction of labour, and was frankly too comfortable an option.

2.4. The administration of Relief

30For Bentham, the multiplicity of authorities responsible for relief both prevented consistent adoption of any plan for the imposition of the conditions of relief, and abandoned the indigent to a “post code lottery”, distributing indulgence and starvation according to the parish in which the pauper happened to reside. The condition for the consistent administration of relief was unity of responsibility for provision of relief in one authority, reinforced by systematic inspection, collection and dissemination of information.56 For Bentham that single authority should be a joint-stock company, the National Charity Company, motivated by the junction of its duty with its interest in lowering costs and boosting outputs.57 Since the possibility of its success in so doing depended crucially upon increasing the stock of apprentices available to it, full discussion appears in the next section.

2.5. Population, Wages and the Poor Law

31Bentham asserted that the exploitation of the labour of minors, indentured to the company until the age of 21, could reduce, and eventually eliminate, the necessity of taxation for the relief of indigence. Explicitly, the basis of Bentham’s plan lay in the transformation of the economic value of a child, from negative to positive.58 Crudely, children ate less and, especially as they approached the age of liberation, produced more than adults. Their productivity would easily subsidize the net loss involved in relief to the sick and the aged.

32Bentham considered various schemes for boosting the number of children available to the Company, including encouraging early marriage between them, on the basis of course that the resultant offspring were immediately indentured to it.59 In discussing the advantages of the scheme of indenture, he waxed lyrical:

The comfort of a people does not depend upon the expensiveness of the diet they consume, but it does depend on the extent in which the comforts of matrimony are enjoy’d. The tendency, the certain effect of the institution is to encrease this extent to the highest pitch. All, all will marry: the restraints from marriage will, in their instance, vanish altogether. … A fund too to receive their hoards, and a drain to carry off their children: the same institution to which they themselves are indebted for life, education and affluence.60

33Bentham also went out of his way to facilitate marital sex in the pauper panopticons, though here the indenture of any consequent children is left merely implicit.61The contrast with the anxious care taken under the New Poor Law of 1834 to prevent procreative sex among the dependent poor, a policy endorsed by Mill, is striking.62

34An obvious difficulty arises in so far as schemes to encourage population would appear to lead to the inevitable decline in wage rates. Bentham’s responses to this difficulty were several. In the first place, too many of the dependent poor under existing arrangements did no work, and thereby contributed nothing to national resources. In Bentham’s plan all who could work would work, and there were very few whose inability was total. Moreover their work would consist primarily in the direct production of their own subsistence: there was ample unexploited agricultural land available in England, while large scale agriculture, together with production of clothes, tools, and other needs would fulfil the principle of “self-supply”.63 Population pressure simply was not, for Bentham in 1797, a pressing issue, while the Company would directly, and massively, boost the available matter of subsistence. In 1797, Bentham not only describes the current policy of statesmen as directed to increasing population,64 but describes the effect of the operation of the Company thus:

In a word, were a plan to be laid—by absolute power—by the exertion of the utmost power of the existing government—or by the institution of a new government for the purpose—if a plan were laid, for the screwing up of the population and the wealth of a community both to this highest pitch […] no other or more efficient plan than this could, as far as it goes, be devised65

35In the long run, and in 1797 Bentham had no doubt that it would be a long run, the domestic supply of exploitable land would be exhausted. At that point, when the limits of agricultural productivity had been reached, and population threatened to exceed subsistence, the Company would “have turned its thoughts to colonization: and the rising strength of these its hives will by art, as in other hives by nature, have been educated for swarming.”66

36The adoption of the principle of self-supply brings in train its own difficulty, which is, in short, where do the Company’s profits arise? Part of Bentham’s answer lay in the continuation and transfer of the existing poor rates to the company, so that when he referred to the Company’s profits he was usually referring to dividends arising from reduction in those rates, which were to be shared between Company and ratepayers. He was aware of, and took pains to avoid, the crowding-out effect, as independent manufacturers were driven to the wall through economies of scale: hence self-supply.67 Yet insulation of the Company from the market via self-supply clearly implied the elimination of exchange, and thus the possibility of profit. The circle of how to eliminate the poor rate altogether, and how to make the Company truly profitable, was one which Bentham, despite his best efforts, never squared.68

37In the short term, the removal of several hundred thousand dependent poor to industry-houses would reduce the supply of labour, and thus increase wages.69 The accommodation of the surplus children of the independent poor for up to 21 years would prolong this effect, while if increased agricultural wages produced simply more children, the company would happily receive them. In the longer term, the liberated apprentices would carry into the community engrained habits of industry, sobriety, and frugality: “The gain to the public will be the getting per tanti a superior sort of population in exchange for an inferior: a population inured to producing much and consuming little.”70 Bentham may have favoured high wages for the independent poor, but consumption of luxuries would be completely alien to the Company’s apprentices: “It is by diminishing wants not by multiplying them that the capacity of population is encreased.”71

38Just as Bentham was completing his poor law writings, Malthus published the first edition of Essay on the Principle of Population. While it is not certain when Bentham became aware of Malthus’s work,72 there is evidence that Bentham was conscious as early as 1798 of an unresolved tension between his own vision of a National Charity Company deliberately facilitating the growth in population, and the likely impact of the realization of that vision on the wages of the independent poor, although there is no direct evidence that he owed his awareness of the tension to Malthus. Bentham published “Outline” as a single volume in 1812, and was considering its re-issue in 1830.73 As Himmelfarb notes, the 1812 edition silently omitted the entire section on Apprentice Comforts, containing Bentham’s eulogy of early marriage among them.74 In fact, the omission dates from the 1798 reprint of “Outline”, from which both the English edition of 1812 and the French edition of 1802 were derived, so it does appear that Bentham perceived sufficient difficulties in this part of his plan to excise it, without acknowledgement, almost as soon as it was first published.75

2.6. Birth Control

39Himes claimed that Bentham had explicitly endorsed contraception in his poor law writings, though the evidence clearly endorses Poynter’s rebuttal of the claim.76What is certain is that the Bentham of later years endorsed the principle of population, while the evidence indicates that privately he endorsed contraception much earlier. The issue is rendered less clear by the use of a single pejorative adjective, “unnatural”,77 in description of non-procreative sexual acts. The consensus throughout Bentham’s life was that both contraception and homosexual sex were “unnatural”, and should be restrained by sanctions.78 Bentham clearly believed that homosexuality, a harmless sexual practice between consenting adults, should be free of sanctions, although far too sensible to publish such an opinion.79 It seems equally clear that Bentham viewed the practice of contraception as not only equally harmless, but indeed, if population pressures were acute, as likely to prevent avoidable harms. As he puts it in his poor law writings:

Sooner or later the earth itself, if the play of the planets suffer it to last thus long, will have reached the same period of maturity and repletion. Thence will the policy of the statesman be directed to the arrestment of population, as now to its encrease: and what is now stigmatized under the name of vice will then receive the treatment, if not the name, of virtue.80

40It might only be added that, from Bentham’s viewpoint, population pressure might also contribute to an easing of public hostility to homosexuality.81

3. Malthus’s Solution

3.1. No right to relief

41Malthus first proposed the abolition of the poor laws only in the second edition of Essay in 1803,82 while the proposal to remove entitlement to relief was retained in every subsequent edition: “‘we are bound in justice and honour formally to disclaim the right of the poor to support”83 Malthus’s plan was not to remove relief from those already in receipt of it, or even from new adult claimants, but simply to serve one year’s due notice that no child born thereafter would be entitled to relief.84The parents of innocent children who happened as a result to starve to death had only themselves to blame: ‘In the moral government of the world it seems evidently necessary that the sins of the fathers should be visited upon the children.’85

42Winch argues that Malthus himself, as opposed to “the caricature called Malthusianism”, rowed back from his abolitionist position in recognition of census data which threw into doubt the causative link between poor relief and population increase.86 It is true that Malthus added an appendix to 1806 edition of Essay, conceding that it might just be possible to reform the poor laws in a manner which did not threaten to overwhelm subsistence,87 but the plan for abolition was retained in the body of the work. It is further true, that in his final publication on population, Malthus conceded that:

If it be generally considered as so discreditable to receive parochial relief, that great exertions are made to avoid it, and few or none marry with a certain prospect of being obliged to have recourse to it, there is no doubt that those who were really in distress might be adequately assisted, with little danger of a constantly increasing population of paupers; and in that case a great good would be attained without any proportionate evil to counterbalance it.88

43However, immediately before this passage, Malthus repeated his insistence on the incompatibility of “a right to full support to all that might be born” and “a right to property”.89Malthus did not define “full support”, which is unhelpful. If it meant confining relief to the necessaries of life, his position does come very close to Bentham’s, and to the less-eligibility provisions of the New Poor Law. He did state that the reconciliation of any public poor relief with the security of property “depends mainly upon the feelings and habits of the labouring classes of society”.90 It is clear from the passage cited above, and from the alternative scenario describing the disastrous effects of the concession of a “a right to full support”, which Malthus takes to be embodied in the existing poor laws, that the feelings and habits in question concern respectively the discredit or otherwise of receiving relief, and the consequent reluctance or readiness to engage in imprudent marriage. Malthus concluded with a warning that the attempt to reconcile relief, in any degree, with property, is fraught with danger:

But whatever steps may be taken on this subject, it will be allowed, that with any prospect of legislating on the poor with success, it is necessary to be fully aware of the natural tendency of the labouring classes of society to increase beyond the demand for their labour, or the means of their adequate support, and the effect of this tendency to throw the greatest difficulties in the way of permanently improving their condition.91

44Winch acknowledges that in the final edition of Essay seen through the press by Malthus, two years after the first publication of the text of Summary View, the commitment to withdrawal of any right to relief, whether full or less than full, was retained. Malthus had clearly come to entertain doubts on the issue of whether the right to relief, in and of itself, must encourage irresponsible procreation, but, equally clearly, those doubts were insufficient for him to excise the proposal for its abolition from Essay.92

3.2. Relief and Employment in Short Term Crisis

45Malthus did accept that common humanity could justify public assistance in the short term. One form such assistance could take was distributing either substitutes for fine white bread or information about them.93 In a crisis, public employment of the poor could also be legitimate, so long as it was understood to be a short term, crisis measure, “as may not encourage, at the same time, their increase”.94 Any sustained effort to employ the indigent risked increasing their numbers, both by procreation and by driving the independent poor out of employment.95 In 1817 Malthus endorsed short-term employment on public works of all descriptions, such as:

the making and repairing of roads, bridges, railways, canals, &c; and now perhaps, since the great loss of agricultural capital, almost every sort of labour upon the land, which could be carried on by public subscription.96

46“Labour upon the land” would directly boost subsistence, but the maximization of agricultural production, in the manner envisaged by Bentham, was currently beyond the power of government, while any attempt to bring it within its power would threaten the liberty of the subject.97

3.3. Marriage, Population and Birth Control

47Malthus clearly believed that producing children established complete parental responsibility for their survival.98However, despite the possibility of the arrival of children in the world whose prospects of survival were minimal, he resolutely refused to consider legal restraint on marriage, even after the abolition of the entitlement to relief:

if any man choose to marry, without a prospect of being able to maintain a family, he ought to have the most perfect liberty so to do. Though to marry, in this case, is in my opinion clearly an immoral act, yet it is not one which society can justly take upon itself to prevent or punish99

48Famously, the preventive check to population favoured by Malthus was moral restraint, or “a restraint from marriage from prudential motives, with a conduct strictly moral during the period of this restraint”,100 since it constituted neither vice nor misery, but, if widely adopted, would not only prevent population from outstripping subsistence, but would have the effect of raising wages.101The abolition of poor relief would foster moral restraint, by rewarding those who married late with relative prosperity, while condemning those who married and procreated early to the chance of relief from private charity.102 Malthus was also cautiously optimistic that the extension of education would improve the chances of the adoption of moral restraint by the poor.103

49Of course, another possible preventive check to population was offered by contraception. All commentators agree that Malthus adamantly opposed contraception within marriage, but Hollander argues that its use before marriage, while doubtless a vice, was one which Malthus advocated in order to prevent the greater evil of starvation.104 As Winch points out, Malthus explicitly condemns birth control as unnatural, immoral, unchristian, and degrading to women, and thus, always and everywhere, a vice.105 Malthus’s discussions are ambiguous in that he asserts that incidence of moral restraint (i.e. delay in marriage with strict celibacy in the period of sexual maturity before marriage) is not directly measurable, while the incidence of the broader category of prudential restraint (i.e. simply delay in marriage “when the degree of irregularity to which it may lead cannot be ascertained”,106 that is, regardless of the character of sexual behaviour in that period) is measurable, simply by reference to the frequency of marriage. Prudential restraint thus encompassed both moral restraint and vice, in the form of promiscuous sexual practices before marriage, whether or not accompanied by “improper arts to prevent the consequences of irregular connections”.107 Any assessment of the prevalence of moral restraint thus depended upon inference from the indicators of the prevalence of prudential restraint, which might just as easily be associated with vice.

50Whilst condoning neither pre-marital sex, clearly a breach of Christian duty, nor contraception, an unnatural vice, Malthus recognized that to expect universal male celibacy before marriage was unrealistic, while

in the practical application of my principles I have taken man as he is, with all his imperfections on his head. And thus viewing him, and knowing that some checks to the population must exist, I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that the prudential check to marriage is better than premature mortality.108

51Malthus the Christian minister does here seem to take advantage of the morally ambivalent nature of prudential restraint.109Presumably conscious of the possibility that he might be interpreted as condoning vicious habits, as a lesser evil than starvation, Malthus immediately argued that the reduction in the proportional incidence of marriage did not appear to have been associated with an increase in immoral sexual practices before marriage. If the vicious components of prudential restraint showed no increase, it might plausibly be inferred that its virtuous component, moral restraint, had increased. “This surely is quite enough for the legislator. He cannot estimate with tolerable accuracy the degree in which chastity in the single state prevails. His general conclusions must be founded on general results, and these are clearly in his favour.”110

4. Mill’s Solution: Out of Bentham by Malthus?

4.1. Necessity of Relief

52Despite his enthusiasm for Malthus arguments, Mill never appears to have explicitly endorsed the abolition of public relief, though other members of Bentham’s circle did.111Mill was certainly was an enthusiastic supporter of the work of the Royal Commission on the Poor Laws,112 and a friend of its Secretary Edwin Chadwick, who had himself worked and lived with Bentham in the final years of his life, and was later to edit a portion of his poor law writings.113 Further, the Commission’s Report contained large elements which could have been lifted directly from those writings.114

53Mill himself sounds positively Benthamic in relation to the necessity of relief, arguing that “the fate of no member of the community needs to be abandoned to chance; that society can and therefore ought to insure every individual belonging to it against the extreme of want.”115 He goes on to repeat Bentham’s rejection of the lottery of private charity, and his refusal to discriminate between the deserving and undeserving poor.116

4.2. Quantity and Conditions of Relief

54Mill viewed the principle of less eligibility as the magic ingredient in divorcing the right to relief from the dire consequences which Malthus feared its continuation would produce.117He believed that the new poor law was compatible with Malthusianism, though as Poynter comments: “Less eligibility was an answer to Malthus’s objections to the Poor Law rather than a development of them”.118 In opposition to Malthus, Mill’s view was that dependent poverty should not be rendered “shameful”, but simply “undesirable”.119

If, consistently with guaranteeing all persons against absolute want, the condition of those who are supported by legal charity can be kept considerably less desirable than the condition of those who find support for themselves, none but beneficial consequences can arise from a law which renders it impossible for any person, except by his own choice, to die from insufficiency of food.120

55There are echoes here of Bentham’s demand that relief should be limited to the necessaries of life. The undesirability of dependent poverty further depended on the imposition of the obligation to labour, which itself required the abolition of outdoor relief for the able-bodied, and confinement of the mass of the poor to workhouses, itself a significant disincentive to dependence: “pauper labour anywhere but in the workhouse is merely a particular kind of idleness.”121

4.3. Administration of Relief

56Mill provided a further echo of Bentham in approving of the element of centralized administration introduced by the Act of 1834. The central Poor Law Commissioners should make detailed annual reports to Parliament, and should have the power of “applying general rules […] and of enforcing one uniform system of accounts”.122 In On Liberty, Mill returned to the powers of the Commission with Benthamic concern for collection and dissemination of information in the drive for efficiency, asserting that it “should have a right to know all that is done, and its special duty should be that of making the knowledge acquired in one place available for others”, though its powers should be limited to “compelling local officers to obey the laws laid down for their guidance”.123

57There was one aspect of Bentham’s poor plan which Mill, along with the Royal Commission, rejected utterly, namely the provision of relief by a private company, motivated by the desire for profit. While Mill was prepared to accept that the use of pauper labour in agriculture was preferable to the rate in aid of wages, since it directly contributed to the matter of subsistence,124 he was adamant that the point of pauper labour was deterrence not profit, since it was impossible to derive profit from such labour, for two reasons. First, since the most productive land had already been appropriated, diminishing returns in agriculture made the prospect of “home colonization” hopeless.125 Second: “to extract real work from day-labourers without the power of dismissal, is only practicable by the power of the lash”.126 Mill believed that the poor rates could be cut, and population pressure eased, by making the receipt of relief sufficiently unattractive. To expect the dependent poor to fund their own support, given the different levels of ability, age, and health among them, was extremely optimistic. To expect pauper labour to generate profits, and without impacting negatively on private concerns, and thus defeating the object, was simple fantasy.

4.4. Marriage, Population and Birth Control

58As already noted, Mill defended Malthus’s principle of population against its sentimentalist critics.127However, he had little faith in the efficacy of Malthusian moral restraint, especially given the low state of education among the poor.128 In contrast to Bentham’s desire to facilitate marriage and marital sex in his poor houses, Mill’s concern about breeding a new class of paupers led him to support the strict separation of the sexes in workhouses under the new poor law:

The higher and middle classes might and ought to be willing to submit to a very considerable sacrifice of their own means, for improving the condition of the existing generation of labourers, if by this they could hope to provide similar advantages for the generation to come. But why should they be called upon to make these sacrifices, merely that the country may contain a greater number of people, in as great poverty and as great liability to destitution as now?129

59For a secular utilitarian, the obvious alternative to moral restraint was contraception, and Mill was certainly associated with Francis Place in his campaign in the 1820’s to advocate the practice, and to publicize a means for its achievement. Mill himself had pseudonymously written three articles arguing in favour of birth control, and was briefly arrested for involvement in distributing handbills providing practical instruction.130 Thereafter, discretion showed itself the better part of valour, and Mill publicly recommended “prudence”, both before and after marriage.131 “Prudence”, as seen with reference to Malthus’s discussion, embodied a very useful ambiguity, referring simply to restraint in procreation, itself achievable through either celibacy or contraception. Place alone had the courage (or foolhardiness) to go unambiguously public, though Mill’s accordance with his general view is all but certain, whilst the odium heaped upon Place for advocating such immoral measures, in addition to his own youthful brush with the law, goes a long way to explaining Mill’s reticence.132

60Simply put, improvement of the economic and intellectual condition of labourers depended on restriction of their numbers, and almost all moral progress depended upon the improvement of the condition of labourers.133 In parts of mainland Europe, prudence could be expected because the system of peasant proprietorship brought home to the landowning labourer the need to restrict the number of his children, but no such alternative existed in England.134

61Another option was for the state to assume responsibility for supplying employment to all in return for legal restraint on procreation. The young Mill had, like Malthus, opposed such restraint: ‘I am far from wishing to regulate population by law, or by compulsion in any shape.’135 For the mature Mill however, legal restraint was a legitimate option:

The fact itself, of causing the existence of a human being, is one of the most responsible actions in the range of human life. To undertake this responsibility—to bestow a life which may be either a curse or a blessing—unless the being on whom it is bestowed will have at least the ordinary chances of a desirable existence, is a crime against that being. And in a country either over-peopled, or threatened with being so, to produce children, beyond a very small number, with the effect of reducing the reward of labour by their competition, is a serious offence against all who live by the remuneration of their labour. The laws which, in many countries on the Continent, forbid marriage unless the parties can show that they have the means of supporting a family, do not exceed the legitimate powers of the State: and whether such laws be expedient or not (a question mainly dependent on local circumstances and feelings), they are not objectionable as violations of liberty. Such laws are interferences of the State to prevent a mischievous act—an act injurious to others, which ought to be a subject of reprobation, and social stigma, even when it is not deemed expedient to superadd legal punishment.136

62In other words the production of children was an other-regarding act, and to protect those others, both the children and, in certain circumstances, the generality of labourers, from its consequences, the moral sanction was likely to be called for, and there was a plausible case for backing it up with the legal sanction, dependent upon local circumstances. Hollander sees such legal restraint, coupled with guaranteed employment at a living-wage, as Mill’s preferred option, with the deterrent nature of the new poor law a second best alternative, given that opinion in England was quite unready for legal restraint on marriage: “Mill himself favoured in principle direct state ‘interference’ in population decisions, although this need not mean that he would have agreed to a government riding rough-shod over public opinion in this regard”.137

Thomas Robert Malthus (13 February1766 – 29 December1834) was an English demographer and political economist best known for his pessimistic but highly influential views on population growth.


An Essay on The Principle of Population (First Edition 1798, unrevised)[edit]

  • It is an acknowledged truth in philosophy that a just theory will always be confirmed by experiment.
    • Chapter I, paragraph 9, lines 1-2
  • Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio, Subsistence, increases only in an arithmetical ratio.
    • Chapter I, paragraph 18, lines 1-2
  • The love of independence is a sentiment that surely none would wish to see erased from the breast of man, though the parish law of England, it must be confessed, is a system of all others the most calculated gradually to weaken this sentiment, and in the end may eradicate it completely.
    • Chapter IV, paragraph 13, lines 11-15
  • To remedy the frequent distresses of the common people, the poor laws of England have been instituted; but it is to be feared that though they may have alleviated a little the intensity of individual misfortune, they have spread the general evil over a much larger surface.
    • Chapter V, paragraph 2, lines 1-5
  • The transfer of three shillings and sixpence a day to every labourer would not increase the quantity of meat in the country. There is not at present enough for all to have a decent share. What would then be the consequence?
    • Chapter V, paragraph 3, lines 5-8
  • I feel no doubt whatever that the parish laws of England have contributed to raise the price of provisions and to lower the real price of labour.
    • Chapter V, paragraph 13, lines 1-3
  • The labouring poor, to use a vulgar expression, seem always to live from hand to mouth. Their present wants employ their whole whole attention, and they seldom think of the future. Even when they have an opportunity of saving they seldom exercise it, but all that is beyond their present neccessities goes, generally speaking, to the ale house.
    • Chapter V, paragraph 13, lines 8-13
  • Every endeavor should be used to weaken and destroy all those institutions relating to corporations, apprenticeships, &c, which cause the labours of agriculture to be worse paid than the labours of trade and manufactures.
    • Chapter V, paragraph 23, lines 3-7
  • To prevent the recurrence of misery is, alas! beyond the power of man.
    • Chapter V, paragraph 25, lines 4-5
  • It accords with the most liberal spirit of philosophy to suppose that not a stone can fall, or a plant rise, without the immediate agency of divine power.
    • Chapter VII, paragraph 10, lines 8-10
  • The power of population is so superior to the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other vist the human race.
    • Chapter VII, paragraph 20, lines 2-4
  • With regard to the duration of human life, there does not appear to have existed from the earliest ages of the world to the present moment the smallest permanent symptom or indication of increasing prolongation.
    • Chapter IX, paragraph 7, lines 1-4
  • Though I may not be able to in the present instance to mark the limit at which further improvement will stop, I can very easily mention a point at which it will not arrive.
    • Chapter IX, paragraph 8, lines 14-16
  • It cannot be true, therefore, that among animals some of the offspring will possess the desirable qualities of the parents in greater degree, or that animals are indefinitely perfectible.
    • Chapter IX, paragraph 9, lines 1-3
  • I know of no well-directed attempts of this kind, except in the ancient family of the Bickerstaffs, who are said to have been very successful in whitening the skins and increasing the height of their race by prudent marriages, particularly by that very judicious cross with Maud, the milk- maid, by which some capital defects in the constitutions of the family were corrected.
    • Chapter IX, paragraph 14, lines 22-27 ( see also eugenics)
  • Man cannot live in the midst of plenty.
    • Chapter X, paragraph 7, line 1
  • It has appeared that from the inevitable laws of our nature, some human beings must suffer from want. These are the unhappy persons who, in the great lottery of life, have drawn a blank.
    • Chapter X, paragraph 29, lines 12-15
  • No move towards the extinction of the passion between the sexes has taken place in the five or six thousand years that the world has existed.
    • Chapter XI, paragraph 1, lines 6-8
  • I happen to have a very bad fit of the tooth-ache at the time I am writing this.
    • Chapter XII, paragraph 6, lines 8-9
  • The moon is not kept in her orbit round the earth, nor the earth in her orbit round the sun, by a force that varies merely in the inverse ratio of the squares of the distances.
    • Chapter XIII, paragraph 2, lines 19-22
  • The lower classes of people in Europe may at some future period be much better instructed then they are at present; they may be taught to employ the little spare time they have in many better ways than at the ale-house; they may live under better and more equal laws than they have hitherto done, perhaps, in any country; and I even conceive it possible, though not probable, that they may have more leisure; but it is not in the nature of things, that they can be awarded such a quantity of money or substance, as will allow them all to marry early, in the full confidence that they shall be able to provide with ease for a numerous family.
  • Had population and food increased in the same ratio, it is probable that man might never have emerged from the savage state.
    • Chapter XVIII, paragraph 11, lines 16-17
  • The greatest talents have been frequently misapplied and have produced evil proportionate to the extent of their powers. Both reason and revelation seem to assure us that such minds will be condemned to eternal death, but while on earth, these vicious instruments performed their part in the great mass of impressions, by the disgust and abhorrence which they excited.
    • Chapter XIX, paragraph 2, lines 1-6
  • Evil exists in the world not to create despair but activity.
    • Chapter XIX, paragraph 15, line 1

Essay on the Principle of Population (1798; rev. through 1826)[edit]

  • The most successful supporters of tyranny are without doubt those general declaimers who attribute the distresses of the poor, and almost all evils to which society is subject, to human institutions and the iniquity of governments.
  • If I saw a glass of wine repeatedly presented to a man, and he took no notice of it, I should be apt to think that he was blind or uncivil. A juster philosophy might teach me rather to think that my eyes deceived me, and that the offer was not really what I conceived it to be.
  • The germs of existence contained in this spot of earth, with ample food, and ample room to expand in, would fill millions of worlds in the course of a few thousand years.
  • The perpetual tendency of the race of man to increase beyond the means of subsistence is one of the general laws of animated nature, which we can have no reason to expect to change.
  • The immediate cause of the increase of population is the excess of the births above deaths; and the rate of increase, or the period of doubling, depends upon the proportion which the excess of the births above the deaths bears to the population.
  • The main peculiarity which distinguishes man from other animals, is the means of his support, is the power which he possesses of very greatly increasing these means.
  • The finest minds seem to be formed rather by efforts at original thinking, by endeavours to form new combinations, and to discover new truths, than by passively receiving the impressions of other men's ideas.
  • we should facilitate, instead of foolishly and vainly endeavouring to impede, the operations of nature in producing this mortality; and if we dread the too frequent visitation of the horrid form of famine, we should sedulously encourage the other forms of destruction, which we compel nature to use. Instead of recommending cleanliness to the poor, we should encourage contrary habits. In our towns we should make the streets narrower, crowd more people into the houses, and court the return of the plague. In the country, we should build our villages near stagnant pools, and particularly encourage settlements in all marshy and unwholesome situations.*12 But above all, we should reprobate specific remedies for ravaging diseases; and those benevolent, but much mistaken men, who have thought they were doing a service to mankind by projecting schemes for the total extirpation of particular disorders. [Book IV, Chapter V]

Principles of Political Economy (Second Edition 1836)[edit]

With Considerable Additions From The Author's Own Manuscript And An Original Memoir
  • Not many years had elapsed after the first edition of this work, when it became known to all with whom Mr. Malthus had the opportunity of communicating on the subject, or who were acquainted with his last publications, that his opinions on the subject of value had undergone some change.
    • Advertisement to the Second Edition, p. vii
  • It has been said, and perhaps with truth, that the conclusions of Political Economy partake more of the certainty of the stricter sciences than those of most of the other branches of human knowledge.
    • Book I, Introduction, p. 1
  • To minds of a certain cast there is nothing so captivating as simplification and generalization.
    • Book I, Introduction, p. 5
  • The first business of philosophy is to account for things as they are; and till our theories will do this, they ought not to be the ground of any practical conclusion.
    • Book I, Introduction, p. 8
  • The science of political economy is essentially practical, and applicable to the common business of human life. There are few branches of human knowledge where false views may do more harm, or just views more good.
    • Book I, Introduction, p. 9
  • The question is, what is saving?
    • Book I, Chapter I, Of The Definitions of Wealth and of Productive Labour, Section II, p. 40
  • Surely then some distinction between the different kinds of labour, with reference to their different effects on national wealth, must be admitted to be not only useful, but necessary; and if so, the question is what this distinction should be, and where the line between the different kinds of labour should be drawn.
    • Book I, Chapter I, Of The Definitions of Wealth and of Productive Labour, Section II, p. 43
  • To estimate the value of Newton's discoveries, or the delight communicated by Shakespeare and Milton, by the price at which their works have sold, would be but a poor measure of the degree in which they have elevated and enchanted their country; nor would it be less grovelling and incongruous to estimate the benefit which the country has derived from the Revolution of 1688, by the pay of the soldiers, and all other payments concerned in effecting it.
    • Book I, Chapter I, Of The Definitions of Wealth and of Productive Labour, Section II, p. 49
  • The proposition of Mr. Ricardo, which states that a rise in the price of labour lowers the price of a large class of commodities, has undoubtedly a very paradoxical air; but it is, nevertheless, true, and the appearance of paradox would vanish, if it were stated more naturally and correctly.
    • Book I, Chapter II, On the Nature, Causes, and Measures of Value, Section IV, p. 88
  • If a country can only be rich by running a successful race for low wages, I should be disposed to say at once, perish such riches!
    • Book I, Chapter III, Of the Rent of Land, Section IX, p. 214
  • But, fortunately for mankind, the neat rents of the land, under a system of private property, can never be diminished by the progress of cultivation.
    • Book I, Chapter III, Of the Rent of Land, Section IX, p. 216
  • It is quite obvious therefore, that the knowledge and prudence of the poor themselves, are absolutely the only means by which any general and permanent improvement in their condition can be effected. They are really the arbiters of their own destiny; and what others can do for themselves. These truths are so important to the happiness of the great mass of society, that every opportunity should be taken of repeating them.
    • Book I, Chapter V, Of the Profits of Capital, Section III, p. 279
  • THERE is scarcely any inquiry more curious, or, from its importance, more worthy of attention, than that which traces the causes which practically check the progress of wealth in different countries, and stop it, or make it proceed very slowly, while the power of production remains comparatively undiminished, or at least would furnish the means of a great and abundant increase of produce and population.
    • Book II, Chapter I, On the Progress of Wealth, Section I, p. 309
  • In general it may be said that demand is quite as necessary to the increase of capital as the increase of capital is to demand.
    • Book II, Chapter I, On the Progress of Wealth, Section IV, p. 349 ( See also; Says Law)
  • A feather will weigh down a scale when there is nothing in the opposite one.
    • Book II, Chapter I, On the Progress of Wealth, Section V, p. 355
  • Thirty or forty proprietors, with incomes answering to between one thousand and five thousand a year, would create a much more effectual demand for the necessaries, conveniences, and luxuries of life, than a single proprietor possessing a hundred thousand a year.
    • Book II, Chapter I, On the Progress of Wealth, Section VII, p. 374
  • Every exchange which takes place in a country, effects a distribution of its produce better adapted to the wants of society....
    If two districts, one of which possessed a rich copper mine, and the other a rich tin mine, had always been separated by an impassable river or mountain, there can be no doubt that an opening of a communication, a greater demand would take place, and a greater price be given for both the tin and the copper;and this greater price of both metals, though it might be only temporary, would alone go a great way towards furnishing the additional capital wanted to supply the additional demand; and the capitals of both districts, and the products of both mines, would be increased both in quantity and value to a degree which could not have taken place without the this new distribution of the produce, or some equivalent to it.
    • Book II, Chapter I, On the Progress of Wealth, Section VIII, p. 382-383
  • It is a mere futile process to exchange one set of commodities for another, if the parties; after this new distribution of goods has taken place, are not better off than they were before.
    • Book II, Chapter I, On the Progress of Wealth, Section VIII, p. 384
  • But such consumption is not consistent with the actual habits of the generality of capitalists. The great object of their lives is to save a fortune, both because it is their duty to make a provision for their families, and because they cannot spend an income with so much comfort to themselves, while they are obliged perhaps to attend a counting house for seven or eight hours a day...
    ...There must therefore be a considerable class of persons who have both the will and power to consume more material wealth then they produce, or the mercantile classes could not continue profitably to produce so much more than they consume.
  • It is not the most pleasant employment to spend eight hours a day in a counting house.
    • Book II, Chapter I, On the Progress of Wealth, Section IX, p. 403
  • ...where are we to look for the consumption required but among the unproductive labourers of Adam Smith?...
    • Book II, Chapter I, On the Progress of Wealth, Section IX, p. 406
  • It is also very important to observe, that menial servants are absolutely necessary to make the resources of the higher and middle classes of society efficient in the demand for material products.
    • Book II, Chapter I, On the Progress of Wealth, Section IX, p. 408
  • The effect therefore on national wealth of those classes of unproductive consumers which are supported by taxation, must be very various in different countries, and must depend entirely upon the powers of production, and upon the manner in which the taxes are raised in each country.
    • Book II, Chapter I, On The Progress of Wealth, Section IX, p. 410
  • On the whole it may be observed, that the specific use of a body of unproductive consumers, is to give encouragement to wealth by maintaining such a balance between produce and consumption as will give the greatest exchangeable value to the results of the national industry.
    • Book II, Chapter I, On The Progress of Wealth, Section IX, p. 412-413
  • If one fourth of the capital of a country were suddenly destroyed, or entirely transferred to a different part of the world, without any other cause occurring of a diminished demand for commodities, this scantiness of capital would certainly occasion great inconvenience to consumers, and great distress among the working classes; but it would be attended with great advantages to the remaining capitalists.
    • Book II, Chapter I, On The Progress of Wealth, Section X, p. 414 (See also: Karl Marx, Capital Volume I, Chapter 25, Section 4(e), p. 742
  • When Hume and Adam Smith prophesied that a little increase of national debt beyond the then amount of it, would probably occasion bankruptcy; the main cause of their error was the natural one, of not being able to see the vast increase of productive power to which the nation would subsequently obtain.
    • Book II, Chapter I, On The Progress of Wealth, Section X, p. 422
  • The employment of the poor in roads and public works, and a tendency among landlords and persons of property to build, to improve and beautify their grounds, and to employ workmen and menial servants, are the means most within our power and most directly calculated to remedy the evils arising from that disturbance in the balance of produce and consumption.
    • Book II, Chapter I, On The Progress of Wealth, Section X, p. 430
  • In prosperous times the mercantile classes often realize fortunes, which go far towards securing them against the future; but unfortunately the working classes, though they share in the general prosperity, do not share in it so largely as in the general adversity.
    • Book II, Chapter I, On The Progress of Wealth, Section X, p. 437

Quotes about Malthus[edit]

  • And these riches, that are derived from this art of wealth-getting, are truly unlimited; for just as the art of medicine is without limit in respect to health, and each of the arts is without limit in respect of its end...
  • "Are there no prisons?" said the Spirit turning on him for the last time with his own words.
    "Are there no workhouses?"
    The bell struck twelve.
  • Malthus ... quotes the words of a poet, that the poor man comes to the feast of Nature and finds no cover laid for him, and adds that 'she bids him begone', for he did not before his birth ask of society whether or not he is welcome. This is now the pet theory of all genuine English bourgeois, and very naturally, since it is the most specious excuse for them.
  • If, then, the problem is not to make the 'surplus population' useful, ... but merely to let it starve to death in the least objectionable way, ... this, of course, is simple enough, provided the surplus population perceives its own superfluousness and takes kindly to starvation. There is, however, in spite of the strenuous exertions of the humane bourgeoisie, no immediate prospect of its succeeding in bringing about such a disposition among the workers. The workers have taken it into their heads that they, with their busy hands, are the necessary, and the rich capitalists, who do nothing, the surplus population.
  • Population trends have always provoked doom-fraught oracles, because their popular interpreters suppose that every new series will be infinitely sustained; yet, beyond the short term, expectations based on them are never fulfilled.
  • Anyone would expect that Malthus, who taught the future servants of the East India Company, would draw, for his pessimistic evidence, on the huge, poor and prolific population of India. There is, however, only passing reference to Hindustan in his great Essay on The Principle of Population.
  • Nature herself in times of great poverty or bad climatic conditions, as well as poor harvest, intervenes to restrict the increase of population of certain countries or races; this, to be sure, by a method as wise as it is ruthless.
  • In 1860, sixty-three per cent of the couples married in Great Britain had families of four or more children; in 1925 only twenty per cent had more than four.
  • The doctrine of population has been conspicuously absent, not because I doubt in the least its truth and vast importance, but because it forms no part of the direct problem of economics.
  • Population regulates itself by the funds which are to employ it, and therefore always increases or diminishes with the increase or the diminution of capital. Every reduction of capital is therefore necessarily followed by a less effective demand for corn, by a fall in price, and by a diminished cultivation.
  • It is true that the attempt made by Malthus to destroy the foundations of the Ricardian system failed and that the chief tenets of classical political economy continued to enjoy considerable authority.
    • Eric Roll, A History of Economic Thought, Chapter 4, p. 143
  • In his comfortable parsonage, he contemplated the misery of the great majority of mankind with equanimity, and pointed out the fallacies of the reformers who hoped to alleviate it.
  • The most effectual encouragement to population is, the activity of industry, and the consequent multiplication of the national products.
    • Jean-Baptiste Say, A Treatise On Political Economy (Fourth Edition), Book II, Chapter XI, Section I, p. 375
  • The liberal reward of labour, as it is to the effect of increasing wealth, so it is the cause of increasing population. To complain of it, is to lament over the necessary effect and cause of the greatest public prosperity.

External links[edit]

Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio, Subsistence, increases only in an arithmetical ratio.
Man cannot live in the midst of plenty.
Chapter X, paragraph 7, line 1
The workers have taken it into their heads that they, with their busy hands, are the necessary, and the rich capitalists, who do nothing, the surplus population. ~ Friedrich Engels


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