August 26, 2010

Darwin, Malthus and Scrooge

Scrooge and Marley's ghost in Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

Charles Darwin's ideas of evolution by means of natural selection were shaped in part by Thomas Malthus' theories of population. Malthus believed that human population tended to increase faster than available resources.

These ideas became very popular amongst conservative Victorians, who used the idea to argue against social reforms for the poor, which presumably would only lead them to have more children and become poorer.

This showed up in popular culture in the words of the as yet unrepentant Scrooge in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Early in the story, Scrooge is visited by two humanitarian gentleman soliciting Christmas donations for the poor. Here's how Ebenezer responds to their request:

``Are there no prisons?'' asked Scrooge.

``Plenty of prisons,'' said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

``And the Union workhouses?'' demanded Scrooge. ``Are they still in operation?''

``They are. Still,'' returned the gentleman, `` I wish I could say they were not.''

``The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?'' said Scrooge.

``Both very busy, sir.''

``Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,'' said Scrooge. ``I'm very glad to hear it.''


``I wish to be left alone,'' said Scrooge. ``Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don't make merry myself at Christmas and I can't afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned: they cost enough: and those who are badly off must go there.''

``Many can't go there; and many would rather die.''

``If they would rather die,'' said Scrooge, ``they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population...''

TALKING SENSE. Here's an op-ed by Robert Greenstein and John Podesta on letting Bush era tax cuts for the wealthy expire.

THE NEW UNEMPLOYMENT. Here's an op-ed by yours truly about how being unemployed has changed in this recession.

310 MILLION WHAT? Attacks on Social Security, rhetorical and political, are getting hotter.

DOING GOOD might make you unpopular.


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