Monday, January 18, 2021

Second Outline of Malthus

What follows is my outline to Malthus' Essay on Population (seventh edition). Numbers in parentheses refer to the page numbers in the 1872 print. Some brief comments of mine might have found their way in as well. As always no guarantees on accuracy.

I-Book 1


  1. Statement of the subject. Ratios of the increase of population and food

Identification of the principal cause that has impeded the progress of mankind towards happiness:

Tendency of life to increase beyond the nourishment prepared for it.


Observation by Franklin regarding proliferation

It fills vacants


Mutual interference

[“ Every species of animals naturally multiplies in proportion to that means of their subsistence, and no species can ever multiply beyond it.” Adam Smith; Wealth; bk I ch VIII]


Nature is powerful in proliferation

Yet sparing in nourishment to provide for


Man has the additional factor of reason

Still, if unchecked would be limited in the acquisition of food

This results in misery, by many

Examination of unfettered growth

The available land is eventually used up: "Man is necessarily confined in room"


The world

New colonies have the advantage of untapped resources

After all the available land is occupied, then comes its amelioration

This is a fund, constantly diminishing

The geometric versus arithmetic growths

Those who fall into the difference and up unprovided for (Scarcity)


  1. Of the general checks to population, and their mode of operation

Immediate checks, by their nature, activate before actual famine

These are:


Reasoning enables man to foresee (calculate) distant consequences

"Calculate… If he may be able to support the offspring which he will probably bring into the world"

Vice which results in general corruption of morals and unhappiness (7)

The preventive check is least evil of the population principle if it doesn't leads to vice (8)


Stems from vice or misery

Unwholesome occupations, severe labor and exposure to the seasons, extreme poverty, bad nursing of children, large towns, excesses off all kinds, common diseases & epidemics, wars, plague [and famine]

These checks are resolved  into moral restraint, vice & misery

The oscillations can be hard to detect for the casual observer.

To that end:

Examination of the (parish) records is suggested


Steady nominal price of labor has obscured the panorama


  1. Of the checks to the population in the lowest stage of human society
  2. American natives


If given the chance, there will be population growth

Rough territory, thinly populated

[Populated towns] in proportion to fruitfulness

The Islands of the South Seas

The fruitfulness of the Tahiti islands doesn't translate into a population increase (36)

[I hope I may never be misunderstood with regard to some of these preventive causes of over-population, and be supposed to imply the slightest approbation of them, merely because I relate their effects. A cause, which may prevent any particular evil, may be beyond all comparison worse than the evil itself.] (40)

Savage conclusions (44)

"The civilized man hopes to enjoy, the savage expects only to suffer"

  1. North of Europe

Barbarians. Invasions of Rome (Gibbon)

Their numbers, Malthus supposes, a) bloom from their virtuous, chaste life as attested by Tacitus in Germania as a the principle of increase + spirit of enterprise; and b) with famines as the spur to overflow into the south (53-54)

The ultimate stop: the hardy descendants of previous waves

Unable to continue raiding these peoples confined themselves to their lands changing their ways to trade and agriculture

  1. Among modern pastoral nations

"We can only be astonished at the principle of increase, which could furnish fresh harvests of human beings for the scythe of each successive conqueror"

"Rapine is their principal resource" (CF Taras Bulba)

Encouragement of population among the Arabs (64)

Conclusion (70)

  1. Africa

Tyranny in Egypt

  1. Siberia

Excessive fertility hurts the demand for labor (82)

Want of capital, security, habits of industry

  1.  g
  2. Turkish dominions
  3. Indostan & Tibet
  4. China & Japan
  5. Among the Greeks

Colonies, Plato, Aristotle (especially 116), Sparta

  1. Romans

Slave labor not directed to agriculture. Neglect of Italy

  1. Conclusion (124)


II-Of the checks to population in different states of modern Europe


  1. Norway
  2. Sweden
  3. Russia

Foundling hospitals (148)

"Fail in their immediate object"

The high mortality in them could serve as a check in itself (151)

[“In foundling hospitals, and among the children brought up by parish charities, the mortality is still greater than among those of the common people.” Adam Smith; Wealth; bk I ch VIII]

Encourages licentiousness & discourages marriages

+ foundling graduates lower the price of labor, the best engine to legitimate marriage

  1. Middle parts of Europe
  2. Switzerland

"The most healthy people were the least prolific" (166)

  1. France

Numbers were replaced after the Revolution

  1. E
  2. England

Prevalence of the preventive check among all classes

"And others are deterred from marrying by the idea of the expenses that they must retrench, and the pleasures of which they must deprive themselves, on the supposition of having a family" (193)

[Adam Smith just notes that the lower classes are more fruitful than the more fashionable ones, albeit with more overall mortality]


"The small proportion of annual marriages before mentioned indicates that habits of prudence, extremely favourable to happiness, prevail through a large part of the community in spite of the poor-laws…" (196)

  1. Continued


  1. Scotland and Ireland

"From a general view of the statistical accounts the result seems clearly to be that the condition of the lower classes of people in Scotland has been considerably improved of late years. The price of provisions has risen, but almost invariably the price of labour has risen in a greater proportion ; and it is remarked in most parishes that more butcher's meat is consumed among the common people than formerly, that they are both better lodged and better clothed, and that their habits with respect to cleanliness are decidedly improved. 


"A part of this improvement is probably to be attributed to the increase of the preventive check. In some parishes a habit of later marriages is noticed ; and in many places where it is not mentioned, it may be fairly inferred from the proportion of births and marriages and other circumstances." (221)


Depopulation (cf Montesquie Spirit XXIII 19)

Beneficial effects of emigration (224)


"It has been calculated that the half of the surplus of births in Scotland is drawn off in emigrations ; and it cannot be doubted that this drain tends greatly to relieve the country, and to improve the condition of those which remain. Scotland is certainly still overpeopled, but not so much as it was a century or half a century ago, when it contained fewer inhabitants. 


The details of the population of Ireland are but little known. I shall only observe therefore that the extended use of potatoes has allowed of a very rapid increase of it during the last century. But 

the cheapness of this nourishing root, and the small piece of ground which, under this kind of cultivation, will in average years produce the food for a family, joined to the ignorance and depressed state of 

the people, which have prompted them to follow their inclinations with no other prospect than an immediate bare subsistence, have encouraged marriage to such a degree, that the population is pushed 

much beyond the industry and present resources of the country ; and the consequence naturally is that the lower classes of people are in the most impoverished and miserable state" (229)


General deductions


"The effects of that dreadful plague in London in 1665 were not perceptible 15 or 20 years afterwards" (255)


"How far these    terrible correctives to the redundance of mankind  have been occasioned by the too rapid increase of population, is a point which it would be very difficult to determine with any degree of precision. The causes of most of our diseases appear to us to be so mysterious, and probably are really so various, that it would be rashness to lay too much stress on any single one ; but it will not perhaps be too much to say that among these causes we ought certainly to rank crowded houses and insufficient or unwholesome food, which are the natural consequences of an increase of population faster than the accommodations of a country with respect to habitations and food will allow. " (256)


Uncommon healthiness follows severe epidemics and improvement of the lower classes (257)


Passion between the sexes is prevented by the law of necessity of not outstripping the food sources (259)


"…there might not be a single period when the mass of the people could be said to be free from distress, either directly or indirectly, for want of food. In every state in Europe since we have first had accounts of it, millions and millions of human existences have been repressed from this simple cause, though perhaps in some of these states an absolute famine may never have been known. " (261)



III-Different systems


  1. Wallace, Condorcet

The latter proposes something similar to a cross between a retirement system and a tontin (264)

Arrives to the conclusion that there will be oscillations between good and bad times

He sees a problem, but it is far off

Advocates vice as a solution? (266)


Malthus indicates Condorcet appears to have a confusion between small, undefined and unlimited improvement

The natural cases of sheep, flowers, etc. that cannot overstep certain, unknown, morphological boundaries (cf. Darwin esp.  selection under domestication)

  1. Godwin
  2. Owen
  3. Two decisive arguments against systems of equality:     

    Their unsuitableness to overcome man's natural indolence; 

    Poverty & misery arising from the principle of population (chapter 2 vs Godwin for this argument).

  4. Poor laws (qv Montesquieu Spirit XXIII 11)

"It is a subject often started in conversation, and mentioned always as a matter of great surprise, that notwithstanding the immense sum which is annually collected for the poor in this country, there is still so much distress among them. Some think that the money must be embezzled for private use ; others that the churchwardens and overseers consume the greatest part of it in feasting. All agree that somehow or other it must be very ill managed. In short, the fact that even before the late scarcities three millions were collected annually for the poor, and yet that their distresses were not removed, is the subject of continual astonishment. But a man who looks a little below the surface of things would be much more astonished if the fact were otherwise than it is observed to be, or even if a collection universally of eighteen shillings in the pound instead of four were materially to alter it" (294)!


Effect of an hypothetical transference to the poor

Meat (294)

Its production would not be affected

There would be competition for it

Rise in its price

Reduction in the production of corn


"Is of little consequence whether the lowest members of the society possess two shillings or five. They must at all events be reduced to live upon the hardest fare and in the smallest quantity"

A spur in production would result in increased population


A personal retrenchment of consumption works as it doesn't diminish the share of others

Scarcity affects the most that class which is immediately above the poor


Effects of a universal rise in the price of labor instead of temporary assistance during scarcity (300)


Loss of natural balance

More unemployment

Spoils the beneficial effects of the 'carefulness' & personal industry

Less willingness for the employers to have the same number of employees

A rise in importations


Crop scarcity

Famine and consequent larger rises in the price of labor as there would be less laborers


  1. Poor laws continued

The poor laws of England depress the general condition of the poor

  1. Increase of the population without an increase of food to support it

The poor would marry trusting the backing of the parish

"Such is the disposition to marry, particularly in very young people, that if the difficulties of providing for a family were entirely removed, very few would remain single at twenty-two" (306)

  1. The provisions could be used on the industrious rather than on those of the workhouses. As is, the price of provisions rises (303; qv III-3, III-6, I-2) while that of labor diminishes impoverishing the class “whose only possession is their labour
  2. Tend to eradicate the spirit of independence & frugality as, once more, the parish is there to hold those without foresight or care


  1. Poor laws continued 


The laws are based on a "gross error":

"The market price of labor ought always to be sufficient decently to support a family (and to employ those willing)"

This, in fact, says that:

  • The country has infinite funds for the maintenance of labor
  • Not subject to variation regardless of the pace of resources
  • Thus, a definite quantity of territory can maintain an infinite population


  1. Poor laws continued

From recent history

The country cannot fulfill the promises (employment through parishes) of the poor laws both to those unable and able to work for it is based upon an impossibility


The parish cannot control the levers of the nation to furnish labor irrespective of the economic condition


The employment of those left off is desirable for its moral effects (313)

With great caution

In public works

Yet, the evil is spread outward by diverting funds and dampening the demand which others would have satisfied


Opinions commonly held

Taxation is the cause of distress

The false proposal prohibition of marriage by the poor

Rather, a gradual abolition of the poor laws is called for


"It may be distinctly stated to be an absolute impossibility that all the different classes of society should be both well paid and fully employed if the supply of labour on the whole exceed the demand; and as the poor-laws tend in the most marked manner to make the supply of labour exceed the demand for it, their effect must be either to lower universally all wages, or if some are kept up artificially, to throw great numbers of workmen out of employment, and thus constantly to increase the poverty and distress of the labouring classes of society." (317)

By some writers

To have no restraint in marriage as the parish is there to help

Do not practice economic prudence

Economic prudence by the higher classes is meant to keep up the poor-rates

To increase and multiply (318)

There is no difference between England and America in production. English laborers when less than American ones because of taxes


"A common man who has read his Bible must be convinced that a command given to a rational being by a merciful God cannot be intended so to be interpreted as to produce only disease and death instead of multiplication ; and a plain, sound understanding would make him see that if in a country in which little or no increase of food is to be obtained, every man were to marry at eighteen or twenty, when he generally feels most inclined to it, the consequence must be increased poverty, increased disease, and increased mortality, and not increased numbers, as long at least as it continues to be 

 true (which he will hardly be disposed to doubt) that additional numbers cannot live without additional food."

  1. Of the agricultural system
  2. Of the commercial system
  3. Of the corn laws 


  1. Of the corn laws-restrictions to importations

Increasing wealth

Among the poor

Diminished power to support children (as opposed to the richer) (371)

Engagement in unhealthy occupations (mills). Increase of immorality

Middle class (laborers)

Emancipation from landlords

Access to manufactures

Command of the decencies and comforts of life

Acquired tastes. Improvement of mind and character

    These, on the pressure of lower corn wages, result in less early marriages


IV- Of our future prospects of mitigation


  1. Of moral restraint, and our obligation to practice this virtue

"As it appears that in the actual state of every society which has come within our review the natural progress of population has been constantly and powerfully checked, and as it seems evident that no 

improved form of government, no plans of emigration, no benevolent institutions, and no degree or direction of national industry can prevent the continued action of a great check to population in some form or other, it follows that we must submit to it as an inevitable law of nature ; and the only inquiry that remains is how it may take place with the least possible prejudice to the virtue and happiness of human society." (389)


As examined so far, nothing can be done about the ultimate check. Hence, better see how to let it happen with the most of virtue and happiness


All immediate checks are resolvable to moral restraint, vice or misery (qv Montesquieu Spirit XXIII 16)


Barbarous momentum has prevented reason have its say


"Natural and moral evil seem to be the instruments employed by the Deity in admonishing us to avoid any mode of conduct which is not suited to our being, and will consequently injure our happiness. If we are intemperate in eating and drinking, our health is disordered ; if we indulge the transports of anger, we seldom fail to commit acts of which we afterwards repent ; if we multiply too fast, we die miserably of poverty and contagious diseases. The laws of nature in all these cases are similar and uniform. They indicate to us that we have followed these impulses too far, so as to trench upon some other law, which equally demands attention. The uneasiness we feel from repletion, the injuries that we inflict on ourselves or others in anger, and the inconveniences we suffer on the approach of poverty, are all admonitions to us to regulate these impulses better ; and if we heed not this admonition, we justly incur the penalty of our disobedience, and our sufferings operate as a warning to others." (390; Heb 12:5+; Poetics, catharsis)


Knowledge is (frequently) not enough for change

Multiple failures at unfettered indulgence are all the more common

Diseases and plagues for instance


"In the history of every epidemic it has almost invariably been observed that the lower classes of people, whose food was poor and insufficient, and who lived crowded together in small and dirty houses, were the principal victims. In what other manner can Nature point out to us that, if we increase too fast for the means of subsistence so as to render it necessary for a considerable part of the society to live in this miserable manner, we have offended against one of her laws ? This law she has declared exactly in the same manner as she declares that intemperance in eating and drinking will be followed by ill health, and that, however grateful it may be to us at the moment to indulge this propensity to excess, such indulgence 

will ultimately produce unhappiness. It is as much a law of nature that repletion is bad for the human frame, as that eating and drinking, unattended with this consequence, are good for it." (391)


There is choice

Gratification of propensities



There is regulation in other matters (law) as the negatives of overindulgence are plain to see. The diminution in the vividness of pleasure offers a grey existence


Virtuous love: clearly the most gratifying. Past recollections attest. (392)

The difficulty in its attainment makes it blossom more so. Prompt gratification results frequently in evils


"It is justly observed by Paley, that 'Human passions are either necessary to human welfare, or capable of being made, and in a great majority of instances are in fact made, conducive to its happiness. These passions are strong and general; and perhaps would not answer their purpose unless they were so. But strength and generality, when it is expedient that particular circumstances should be respected, become if left to themselves excess and misdirection. From which excess and misdirection the vices of mankind (the causes no doubt of much misery) appear to spring. This account, while it shows us the principle of vice, shows us at the same time the province of reason and self-government.'


Our virtue therefore as reasonable beings evidently consists in educing from the general materials which the Creator has placed under our guidance the greatest sum of human happiness ; and as natural impulses are abstractedly considered good, and only to be distinguished by their consequences, a strict attention to these consequences and the regulation of our conduct conformably to them must be considered as our principal duty" (394)


Fecundity distinct from passion

Passion, as with other laws of nature is

  • Strong and general
  • Admits no diminution
  • The accompanying evils are incidental and can be mitigated through virtue


The object of the creator is for the Earth to be replenished yet population grows faster than food (cf Matthew 6:25)


If a balance could be obtained, the result would be indolence. Plus, there's a difficulty to ascertain said balance


As is, it improves the mind and lets man mitigate its evils


Happiness and the prevention of misery depends on not-too-fast growth


Regulation through virtue is a duty

That is:

  1. Not marry until able (to support a family);
  2. Meanwhile, moral restraint


  1. Effects of moral restraint

One principal reason for the nonacceptance of the population principle:

The seeming contradiction of a Deity

  • Bringing forth individuals
  • And setting a law that doesn't provide for them (2 S 7:14)


So, to be proven:

(Aside from own industry)

  1. The evils from the law are incidental; furthermore
  2. They point to the best population check: moral restraint
  3. The evils may be avoided


Both the heathen and Christian uphold virtue as the way to present happiness (the Christian additionally considers his future happiness). Prudence is highly valued as the preponderance of reason over passions


As an argument, a society governed by reason would (1,2)(397)

  • Keep its duty
  • Have prudential restraints
  • Lower the labor supply raising its price
  • Generate personal savings, beneficial habits in the individual
  • Enter into marriage later

Intercourse without the latter, produces evil as vice or misery


(This assumes that the population principle is reasonable)

The reduction of poverty (misery), its object


  • Constancy
    • More later marriages and less disappointments 
    • Friendship among the sexes and greater future understanding
    • Purer passion
    • Less stress regarding the passing of the so-called youth
    • More general virtue
    • More freedom for women
    • More pleasure as love would be a greater degree
    • Less war


For the Christian

Scripture states that it is a duty to restrain passions within the bounds of reason

Reason points that disobedience ends in misery


Paul's principle (I Corinthians 7? :27?)

Marriage is right if it doesn't interfere with higher duties, it is wrong otherwise


Since marriage places a burden to self and society when unripe, then it is wrong


Whatever the difficulty of moral restraint, it is to be expected by a Christian (400).

The heathen will admit that it avoids evils (i.e. misery). Hence, also for them a duty


"As it appears therefore that it is in the power of each individual to avoid all the evil consequences to himself and society resulting from the principle of population by the practice of a virtue clearly dictated to him by the light of nature (A) and expressly enjoined in revealed religion (B), and as we have reason to think that the exercise of this virtue to a certain degree would tend rather to increase than diminish individual happiness, we can have no reason to impeach the justice of the Deity because his general laws make this virtue necessary, and punish our offences against it by the evils attendant upon vice and the pains that accompany the various forms of premature death. A really virtuous society such as I have supposed would avoid these evils (C). It is the apparent object of the Creator to deter us from vice by the pains which accompany it, and to lead us to virtue by the happiness that it produces. This object appears to our conceptions to be worthy of a benevolent Creator. The laws of nature respecting population tend to promote this object. No imputation therefore on the benevolence of the Deity can be founded on these laws which is not equally applicable to any of the evils necessarily incidental to an imperfect state of existence" (402)


There is power to avoid evil consequences (3)

This is by the practice of virtue

Dictated by reason and supported by revealed religion

The exercise of virtue is more likely to increase happiness than unhappiness

General law from the Deity which

Is necessary &

Punishes offenses

A virtuous society avoids evils


Therefore the population principle is fitting for a benevolent Creator


  1. The only effectual mode of improving the condition of the poor


"If he (the individual) cannot support his children, they must starve ; and if he marry in the face of a fair probability that he shall not be able to support his children, he is guilty of all the evils which he thus brings upon himself, his wife, and his offspring. It is clearly his interest, and will tend greatly to promote his happiness, to defer marrying, till by industry and economy he is in a capacity to support the children that he may reasonably expect from his marriage ; and as he cannot in the meantime gratify his passions without violating an express command of God, and running a great risk of injuring himself or some of his fellow-creatures, considerations of his own interest and happiness will dictate to him the strong obligation to a moral conduct while he remains unmarried" (404)


"However powerful maybe the impulses of passion, they are generally in some degree modified by reason"


Taken to heart by the society as a whole, it is bound to have an effect


The poor have not been privy to the principle

He blames everything and anything

He has only follow what was asked of him


Fix erroneous ideas

It must be instilled in them…


"that they are themselves the cause of their own poverty ; that the means of redress are in their own hands, and in the hands of no other persons whatever ; that the society in which they live and the government which presides over it, are without any direct power in this respect; and that however ardently they may desire to relieve them, and whatever attempts they may make to do so, they are really and truly unable to execute what they benevolently wish, but unjustly promise that when the wages of labour will not maintain a family, it is an incontrovertible sign that their king and country do not want more subjects, or at least that they cannot support them; that, if they marry in this case, so far from fulfilling a duty to society, they are throwing an useless burden on it, at the same time that they are plunging themselves into distress, and that they are acting directly contrary to the will of God, and bringing down upon themselves various diseases, which might all, or the greater part, have been avoided if they had attended to the repeated admonitions which he gives by the general laws of nature to every being capable of reason. " (405)


  • That they are themselves the cause of their own poverty
  • The means of redress are in their own hands (only)
  • Society and institutions have no power in this matter


Those who go on marrying regardless

Do not fulfill a duty to society

Rather burden it

Place themselves in distress

Act contrary to the will of God

Bring upon themselves preventable diseases


Forcing people under scarcity to marry is akin to forcing people into the water who cannot swim: "in both cases we rashly tempt providence" (cf IV-2 )



Raise the price of labor relative to the price of provisions

By withholding the supplies of labor

"If we can persuade the hare to go to sleep, the tortoise may have some chance of overtaking her"


  1. Objections to this mode considered
    1. An understocked labor market 

(Cf Adam Smith; Wealth; bk I ch VIII)

To keep wages higher rather than lower

  1. Diminution of the population 

Just temporarily

I can easily conceive that is country, with a proper direction of the national industry, might in the course of some centuries contain two or three times its present population, and every man in the kingdom be much better fed and clothed then is at present.” (408)

  1. An increase of vice relating to sex

Just plausible

Vice in a general sense is to be feared, but it arising from poverty. (409-411)

Ditto, the weakening of virtue  

“… the continued temptations which beset hopeless poverty, and a strong sense of injustice that generally accompanies it from an ignorance of its true cause tend so powerfully to sour the disposition, to harden the heart, and to deathen the moral sense, that generally speaking virtue takes her flight clear away from the tainted spot…”


  1. Of the consequences of pursuing the opposite mode 

(ex contrario reasoning)


Suppose mortality is to be sought, then the early unions are to be encouraged (just what others might propose), furthermore,


If the ensuing famine is to be feared,

Allow swifter means of destruction to act, especially by muzzling those who act against such agents


General early marriages at puberty would be followed by famine

"The necessary mortality must come in some form or other"


Misery can be staved off for a time "by the chastisements which await a contrary conduct"


"These chastisements are more or less severe, in the proportion to the degree in which her admonitions produce their intended conduct" (as seen in earlier chapters)


"…if we stop up any of these channels it is perfectly clear that the stream of mortality must run with greater force through some of the other channels ; that is, if we eradicate some diseases others will become proportionally more fatal. In this case the only distinguishable cause is the damming up a necessary outlet of mortality. Nature, in the attainment of her great purposes, seems always to seize upon the weakest part. If this part be made strong by human skill, she seizes upon the next weakest part, 

and so on in succession ; not like a capricious deity, with an intention to sport with our sufferings and constantly to defeat our labours; but like a kind though sometimes severe instructor, with the intention of teaching us to make all parts strong, and to chase vice and misery from the earth. In avoiding one fault we are too apt to run into some other ; but we always find Nature faithful to her great object at every false step we commit, ready to admonish us of our errors, by the infliction of some physical or moral evil. If the prevalence of the preventive check to population in a sufficient degree were to remove many of those diseases which now afflict us, yet be accompanied by a considerable increase of the vice of promiscuous intercourse, it is probable that the disorders and unhappiness, the physical and moral evils arising from this vice would increasein strength and degree; and admonishing us severely of our error would point to the only line of conduct approved by nature, reason, and religion, abstinence from marriage till we can support our children, and chastity till that period arrives. " (413)


"The small-pox is certainly one of the channels, and a very broad one, which nature has opened for the last thousand years, to keep down the population to the level of the means of subsistence ; but had this been closed, others would have become wider, or new ones would have been formed. In ancient times the mortality from war and the plague was incomparably greater than in modern. On the gradual diminution of this stream of mortality, the generation and almost universal prevalence of the small-pox is a great and 

striking instance of one of those changes in the channels of mortality, which ought to awaken our attention and animate us to patient and persevering investigation. For my own part I feel not the slightest doubt that if the introduction of the cow-pox should extirpate the small-pox, and yet the number of marriages continue the same, we shall find a very perceptible difference in the increased mortality of some other diseases" (415)


  1. Effects of the knowledge of the principal cause of poverty on civil liberty
  2. -
  3. Plan for the gradual abolition of the poor-laws proposed

Start by formally disclaiming the right of the poor to support

Warn through the parish

Let people marry at their own risk

Let nature dole out the punishment

"No reason to complain of any person but himself"

"He should be taught to know that the laws of nature, which are the laws of God, had 

doomed him and his family to suffer for disobeying their repeated admonitions ; that he had no claim of right on society for the smallest portion of food beyond that which his labour would fairly 

purchase, and that if he and his family were saved from feeling the natural consequences of his imprudence, he would owe it to the pity of some kind benefactor to whom therefore he ought to be bound by the strongest ties of gratitude. " (430)


  1. Of the modes of correcting the prevailing opinions on population

Instruction of the lower classes

On population

Independence, pride, taste for cleanliness and comfort


  1. Of the direction of our charity

[regarding the dictates of nature]"… as reasonable beings we are under the strongest obligations to attend to their consequences; and if they be evil to ourselves or others, we may justly consider it as an indication that such a mode of indulging these passions is not suited to our state or conformable to the will of God. " (442)


"The immense sums distributed to the poor in this country by the parochial laws are improperly called charity. They want its most distinguishing attribute ; and as might be expected from an attempt to force that which loses its essence the moment it ceases to be voluntary, their effects upon those from whom they are collected are as prejudicial as on those to whom they are distributed. On the side of the receivers of this miscalled charity, instead of real relief, we find accumulated distress and more extended poverty ; on the side of the givers, instead of pleasurable sensations, unceasing discontent and irritation. " (443)


"In the distribution of voluntary charity nothing of this kind (the sense of entitlement and the right to complain when voluntary charities withheld) can take place. The person who receives it is made the proper subject of the pleasurable sensation of gratitude; and those who do not receive it cannot possibly conceive themselves in the slightest degree injured. Every man has a right to do what he will with his own, and cannot in justice be called upon to render a reason why he gives in the one case and abstains from it in the other. This kind of despotic power, essential to voluntary charity, gives the greatest facility to the selection of worthy objects of relief without being accompanied by any ill consequences ; and has further a most beneficial effect from the degree of uncertainty which must necessarily be attached to it. It is in the highest degree important to the general happiness of the poor that no man should look to charity as a fund on which he may confidently depend. He should be taught that his own exertions, his own industry and foresight, are his only just ground of dependence ; that if these fail assistance in his distresses can only be the subject of rational hope ; and that even the foundation of this hope will depend in a considerable degree on his own good conduct, and the consciousness that he has not involved himself in these difficulties by his indolence or imprudence. "(445)


"The laws of nature say with St Paul, " If a man will not work, neither shall he eat." They also say that he is not rashly to trust to Providence. They appear indeed to be constant and uniform for the express purpose of telling him what he is to trust to, and that if he marry without a reasonable prospect of supporting a family he must expect to suffer want. These intimations appear from the constitution of human nature to be absolutely necessary and to have a strikingly beneficial tendency. If in the direction 

either of our public or our private charity we say that though a man will not work yet he shall eat ; and though he marry without being able to support a family, yet his family shall be supported ; it is evident that we do not merely endeavour to mitigate the partial evils arising from general laws, but regularly and systematically to counteract the obviously beneficial effects of these general laws themselves. And we cannot easily conceive that the Deity should implant any passion in the human breast for such a purpose. "(446)


The only genuine recipients: those industrious struck by ill luck


  1. Different plans of improving the condition of the poor considered
  2. -

Savings banks (464)


  1. The necessity of general principles on this subject


"The main principle on which the society for increasing the comforts and bettering the condition of the poor professes to proceed is excellent. To give effect to that master-spring of industry, the desire of bettering our conditions is the true mode of improving the state of the lower classes ; and we may safely agree with Sir Thomas Bernard, in one of his able prefaces, that whatever encourages and promotes habits of industry, prudence, foresight, virtue, and cleanliness among the poor is beneficial to them and to the country; and whatever removes or diminishes the incitements to any of these qualities is detrimental to the state and pernicious to the individual." (468)



"…the raising of one person may actually contribute to the raising of others" (470)


Restricted cow system + land

"…good conduct and not mere distress should have the most valid claim to preference" (471)


Carrying it forward


 "It may be said however that any plan of generally improving the cottages of the poor, or of enabling more of them to keep cows, would evidently give them the power of rearing a greater number of children, and by thus encouraging population violate the principles which I have endeavoured to establish. But if I have been successful in making the reader comprehend the principal bent of this work, he will be aware that the precise reason why I think that more children ought not to be born than the country can support is, that the greatest possible number of those that are born may be supported. We cannot in the nature of things assist the poor in any way without enabling them to rear up to manhood a greater number of their children. But this is of all other things the most desirable, both with regard to individuals and the public. Every loss of a child from the consequences of poverty must evidently be preceded and accompanied by great misery to individuals ; and in a public view every child that dies under ten years of age is a loss to the nation of all that had been expended in its subsistence till that period. Consequently in every point of view a decrease of mortality at all ages is what we ought to aim at. We cannot however effect this object without first crowding the population in some degree by making more children grow up to manhood ; but we shall do no harm in this respect if at the same time we can impress these children with the idea that, to possess the same advantages as their parents, they must defer marriage till they have a fair prospect of being able to maintain a family. And it must be candidly confessed that if we cannot do this all our former efforts will have been thrown away. It is not in the nature of things that any permanent and general improvement in the condition of the poor can be effected without an increase in the preventive check; and unless this takes place, either with or without our efforts, every thing that is done for the poor must be temporary and partial : a diminution of mortality at present will be balanced by an increased mortality in future, and the improvement of their condition in one place will proportionally depress it in another. This is a truth so important and so little understood that it can scarcely be too often insisted on. " (472)


Expectations for the future based on the three segments of society


"It has been generally found that the middle parts of society are most favourable to virtuous and industrious habits and to the growth of all kinds of talents ; but it is evident that all cannot be in the middle. Superior and inferior parts are in the nature of things absolutely necessary, and not only necessary but strikingly beneficial. If no man could hope to rise or fear to fall in society, if industry did not bring with it its reward and indolence its punishment, we could not expect to see that animated activity in bettering our condition which now forms the master-spring of public prosperity. But in contemplating the different states of Europe we observe a very considerable difference in the relative proportions of the superior, the middle, and the inferior parts, and from the effect of these differences it seems probable that our best-grounded expectations of an increase in the happiness of the mass of human society are founded in the prospect of an increase in the relative proportions of the middle parts. And if the lower classes of people had acquired the habit of proportioning the supplies of labour to a stationary or even decreasing demand without an increase of misery and mortality as at present, we might even venture to indulge a hope that at some future period the processes for abridging human labour, the progress of which has of late years been so rapid, might ultimately supply all the wants of the most wealthy society with less personal effort than at present ; and if they did not diminish the severity of individual exertion might at least diminish the number of those employed in severe toil. If the lowest classes of society were thus diminished and the middle classes increased, each labourer might indulge a more rational hope of rising by diligence and exertion into a better station, the rewards of industry and virtue would be increased in number, the lottery of human society would appear to consist of fewer blanks and more prizes, and the sum of social happiness would be evidently augmented. To indulge however in any distant views of this kind, unaccompanied by the evils usually attendant on a stationary or decreasing demand for labour, we must suppose the general prevalence of such prudential habits among the poor as would prevent them from marrying when the actual price of labour, joined to what they might have saved in their single state, would not give them the prospect of being able to support a wife and five or six children without assistance ; and undoubtedly such a degree of prudential restraint would produce a very striking melioration in the condition of the lower classes of people. " (473)


Effects of the rise in the price of labor (475)


  1. Rational expectations on the future improvement of society

A growth of the preventive check is already observable

In education as well

Less evils resulting from the principle

The dispersal of its knowledge is expected to increase

 Final conclusion



Objections made to the points expressed by Malthus in previous editions

Command to go forth and multiply

"Every express command given to man by his Creator is given in subordination to those great and uniform laws of nature which he had previously established, and we are forbidden both by reason 

and religion to expect that these laws will be changed in order to enable us to execute more readily any particular precept It is undoubtedly true that if man were enabled miraculously to live without food the earth would be very rapidly replenished ; but as we have not the slightest ground of hope that such a miracle will be worked for this purpose, it becomes our positive duty as reasonable creatures, and with a view of executing the commands of our Creator, to inquire into the laws which he has established for the multiplication of the species. And when we find not only from the speculative contemplation of these laws, but from the far more powerful and imperious suggestions of our senses, that man cannot live without food, it is a folly exactly of the same kind to attempt 

to obey the will of our Creator by increasing population without reference to the means of its support as to attempt to obtain an abundant crop of corn by sowing it on the wayside and in hedges where it cannot receive its proper nourishment. Which is it, I would ask, that best seconds the benevolent intentions of the Creator in covering the earth with esculent vegetables — he who with care and foresight duly ploughs and prepares a piece of ground and sows no more seed than he expects will grow up to maturity, or he who scatters a profusion of seed indifferently over the land without reference to the soil on which it falls or any previous preparation for its reception ? " (484)


Malthus, an enemy of the population

Not that the numbers; only of vice and misery

"I believe that it is the intention of the Creator that the earth should be replenished ; but certainly with a healthy, virtuous, and happy population, not an unhealthy, vicious, and miserable one. And if in endeavouring to obey the command to increase and multiply we people it only with beings of this latter description and suffer accordingly, we have no right to impeach the justice of the command, but our irrational mode of executing it. " (485)


The natural checks are sufficient (488)


Denial of the right of the poor to support

It follows from the principle


"The great Author of nature indeed with that wisdom which, is apparent in all His works has not left this conclusion to the cold and speculative consideration of general consequencesBy making the passion of self-love beyond comparison stronger than the passion of benevolence, he has at once impelled us to that line of conduct which is essential to the preservation of the human race. If all that might be born could be adequately supplied we cannot doubt that He would have made the desire of giving to others as ardent as that of supplying ourselves. But since under the present constitution of things this is not so, He has enjoined every man to pursue as his primary object his own safety and happiness, and the safety and happiness of those immediately connected with him ; 

and it is highly instructive to observe that in proportion as the sphere contracts and the power of giving effectual assistance increases, the desire increases at the same time. In the case of children who have certainly a claim of rigid to the support and protection of their parents, we generally find parental affection nearly as strong as self-love; and except in a few anomalous cases the last morsel will be divided into equal shares." (492; cf Original Sin)


"On the contrary, if I firmly believed that by the laws of nature, which are the laws of God, I had no claim of right to support, I should in the first place feel myself more strongly bound to a life of industry and frugality ; but if want notwithstanding came upon me I should consider it in the light of sickness, as an evil incidental to my present state of being, and which if I could not avoid it was 

my duty to bear with fortitude and resignation. I should know from past experience that the best title I could have to the assistance of the benevolent would be the not having brought myself into 

distress by my own idleness or extravagance. What I received would have the best effect on my feelings towards the higher classes. Even if it were much inferior to what I had been accustomed to it would still, instead of an injury, be an obligation; and conscious that I had no claim of rights nothing but the dread of absolute famine, which might overcome all other considerations, could palliate the guilt of resistance. "(494)


Perfect chastity (499)


The application of the proposed plan (504)

[has some merit]

Avoid stoking the prejudices of the poor

Act on improved government and greater respectability

"…if we could find out a mode of government by which the numbers in the extreme regions would be lessened and the numbers in the middle regions increased, it would be undoubtedly our duty to adopt it" (First Essay XVIII)


Malthus sees no risk in proper moral and religious instructions


The principle brings about darker impressions from human improvement if its views are accepted (506)

Not so, the acceptance of the principle would rather moderate expectations and forestall disappointments


Famine, disease, war are remedies to the excess of population; vice and misery are unavoidable (510)

Not so, rather these evils can be removed and mitigated through their causes


Malthus resorts to Condorcet's remedies (512; q.v. 264, 265)

Complete rejection


Weyland's objections


Providence mandates a sooner death in large towns

"If indeed such peculiar unhealthiness and mortality were the proper and natural check to the progress of population in the advanced stages of society, we should justly have reason to apprehend that, by improving the healthiness of our towns and manufactories, as we have done in England during the last twenty years, we might really defeat the designs of Providence. And though I have too much respect for Mr Weyland to suppose that he would deprecate all attempts to diminish the mortality of towns, and render manufactories less destructive to the health of the children employed in them, yet certainly his principles lead to this conclusion since his theory has been completely destroyed by those laudable efforts which have made the mortality of England — a country abounding in towns and manufactories — less than the mortality of Sweden — a country in a state almost purely agricultural. 


"It was my object in the two chapters on Moral Restraint, and its Effects on Society to shew that the evils arising from the principle of population were exactly of the same nature as the evils arising from the excessive or irregular gratification of the human passions in general, and that from the existence of these evils we had no more reason to conclude that the principle of increase was too strong for the purpose intended by the Creator, than to infer 

from the existence of the vices arising from the human passions that these passions required diminution or extinction, instead of regulation and direction. 

 " (525)


Beneficial effects of the principle

Improvement of human faculties

The advancement of human happiness