Thomas Malthus or Robert Thomas Malthus (1766-1834), was an English demographer and political economist. He is popular for his views on population growth in his “an essay on the principle of population”. His theory of population growth has been very controversial since its publication.
Essentially what Malthus prophesied was that while as population was going to grow geometrically, food supply was to increase mathematically. What this means is that population growth was to outstrip food supply.
With more population than food, natural forces were bound to keep population in check by a war of extermination, diseases, epidemics, pesticides, plagues and famines. He opined that as population outstrips supply of food, the above factors would come into play and eliminate surplus population.
His predictions largely became false as increased agricultural productivity led to unprecedented growth in food production and abundant supplies. Diseases and plagues have taken a heavy toll of human lives throughout history, but they cannot be attributed to the same causes as Malthus foresaw.
The post 1950 period witnessed the green revolution and a phenomenal increase in agricultural production. It was only a question of disbursal from pockets or countries of plenty to those of paucity.
Malthusian theory has largely been irrelevant and his predictions did not come true the way he had opined. There have been periods of disease and natural disasters, but food supply has been plenty in most parts of the world.
There are still critics who think that Malthus predictions are bound to come true at some stage, One opinion is that food supply will take a toll of humanity following 2020, accelerating after 2050.
One important view of Thomas Malthus was that his theory was directly associated with poor people. If we have a look on poor countries of the world, Malthusian theory seems to be quite relevant.
Everyday we see images of starved and impoverished people in African and Asian countries, the most populated continents. Constant wars, diseases, floods and famines in the Middle East, Africa, Afghanistan and other Asian countries have been eliminating hundreds of thousands of people everyday. Could the Malthusian principle of population be working behind the scenes?
We can see that there is less accommodation, less food and shortage of medical facilities because of excessive population. There is insufficient infrastructure sustaining large populations of these countries.
Everyday wars in the Middle East and Asia, attributed to terrorism and other political factors may be the result of shortages of food and other essentials of life. These might continue till there is a perceptible decrease in populations of those countries and this may take a long time.
There has been constant pressure on land resources in African and Asian countries and this is expected to only accelerate. The net result may be more conflicts, diseases, famines and plagues. Malthus theory seems to be already working in those countries.
Another dimension of Malthusian theory can be seen in increased global warming. This phenomena is a result of increased population, deforestation, increased carbon dioxide, industrialization, international transport, modernization etc.
Experts are already predicting dire consequences of global warming, if unchecked. We are seeing changes in climates, floods, shortages of water etc. This may also lead to a decrease in agricultural and food production on a large scale in the decades to come.
Malthus theory might materialize in a different way in the decades to come. Policy makers in rich and poor countries need to take all the factors into consideration and deal with looming Malthusian predictions. On their part, people especially in poor countries will also have to work for their future as their governments may not be able to sustain them adequately.