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This theory of the effective inevitability of poverty and distress contradicted the optimistic belief prevailing in the early 19th century, that a society's fertility would lead to economic progress and helped to give Economics, then more frequently known as "Political Economy" the alternative name of "The Dismal Science." Earlier that year the British statesman William Pitt had proposed that poor relief should give special consideration to the encouragement of large families as "those who, after having enriched their country with a number of children, have a claim upon its assistance for their support." In the event Malthus's theory was often used as an argument against efforts to better the condition of the poor.Malthus later went so far as to suggest that, for the lessening of the probability of a miserable existence for the poor, it was advisable to seek to cut the birth rate in society.
Subsistence only increases in an arithmetical ratio.
A slight acquaintance with numbers will show the immensity of the first power compared to the second".
Then it suddenly flashed upon me that this self-acting process would necessarily improve the race, because in every generation the inferior would inevitably be killed off and the superior would remain - that is, the fittest would survive.
Then at once I seemed to see the whole effect of this, that when changes of land and sea, or of climate, or of food-supply, or of enemies occurred - and we know that such changes have always been taking place - and considering the amount of individual variation that my experience as a collector had shown me to exist, then it followed that all the changes necessary for the adaptation of the species to the changing conditions would be brought about; and as great changes in the environment are always slow, there would be ample time for the change to be effected by the survival of the best fitted in every generation.
Of far more dramatic significance is the fact that both Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace admitted that the food scarcities regarded as being normal by Malthus had been of KEY influence on their seperate development of theories of the evolutionary Origin of Species.
To use Charles Darwin's own words from his Autobiography speaking about a time late in 1838 when Malthus ideas were of the utmost importance in guiding the future direction of his own thinking:- I happened to read for amusement Malthus on 'Population', and being well prepared to appreciate the struggle for existence which everywhere goes on from long-continued observation of the habits of animals and plants, it at once struck me that under these circumstances favourable variations would tend to be preserved, and unfavourable ones to be destroyed.
His main contribution is to Economics where a theory, published anonymously as "An Essay on the Principle of Population" in 1798 has as a central argument that populations tend to increase faster than the supply of food available for their needs.
To quote directly from the essay:- "Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio.
It then occurred to me that these causes or their equivalents are continually acting in the case of animals also; and as animals usually breed much more rapidly than does mankind, the destruction every year from these causes must be enormous in order to keep down the numbers of each species, since they evidently do not increase regularly from year to year, as otherwise the world would long ago have been densely crowded with those that breed most quickly.
Vaguely thinking over the enormous and constant destruction which this implied, it occurred to me to ask the question, Why do some die and some live?