August 25, 2010

Malthus, population and politics

A member of the "surplus population" breaks stones in a Victorian workhouse.

I've been musing on Darwinian themes here lately. If you like that kind of thing click on earlier posts.

Charles Darwin derived his idea of evolution by means of natural selection from Thomas Malthus' An Essay on the Principle of Population. The irony is that Malthus wrote it about humans and was mostly wrong and that Darwin applied to to the natural world and it was mostly right.

Moving from science to politics, Victorian era conservatives loved Malthus. They took his argument to mean that if workers got better wages, they'd only have more kids, for which there wouldn't be enough to go around, which would make them worse off than they were before. Give them jails and workhouses instead!

That has pretty much set the pattern for most arguments on the right against most progressive policy measures: anything that is aimed at helping poor folks would only hurt them, so the best way to really help them is to stick it to them.

Malthus turned out to be wrong about humans, at least for the period of the industrial era into our own. Advances in science and technology in the period since 1800 have made possible an expansion of population and an improvement in living standards for many people. And people tend to have fewer children as living standards rise and children are more likely to live to maturity, which is known as demographic transition.

In the modern world, hunger and starvation are more matters of politics than of population as such, more about distribution than demographics--although that might not always be the case in the future as we stress the environment and push the limits of the earth's carrying capacity.

EVIL, DANTE AND ALL THAT. Here's a shout out to a friend and fellow WV blogger over at Esse Diem for a post about the science of evil, a perennial favorite topic of El Cabrero.

ONE OUT OF FIVE AMERICANS believe some strange stuff.

SO MUCH FOR SUPPLY SIDE ECONOMICS. We have a problem with demand.

UPPER BIG BRANCH. The first settlements have been reached in wrongful death lawsuits as a result of Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine disaster, as Ken Ward reports in today's Gazette.


1 comment:

Hollowdweller said...

Problem with DEMAND.

I'd love to see people start voting with their pocketbooks.

I get so tired of wingnuts yelling that any regulation, any tax or asking anything of business will "cause them to pass it on to the consumer"

They remember the SUPPLY SIDE of their economics class but they forget the DEMAND side in that they never admit that if companies raise prices too much they won't have a market.

Somehow that fact is always left out of any discussion of taxes or regulation these days but it looks like it's still a fact based on what we've been seeing lately.