By Thomas Malthus, 1798
Critique by Punkerslut
This essay, written in a scientific and reasoning manner, would appear to be an honest and sincere expression of thoughts. I agree that it most certainly is. In concluding the principle causes, checks or restraints, and growth of population, Malthus also makes certain particular social and political deductions. Arguing, that since the nature of population is in this way or that way, certain particular social and political ideas -- if put into place -- are doomed to result in misery and vice. He also remarks a great deal on political economy, some parts of which I felt a desire to criticize. Hence, this critique will be a criticism of Malthus' political, economic, and social deductions, based on the principle of population.
On Giving to the Poor
Before criticizing this one aspect of Malthus' work, I feel I ought to make some general comments on economics, science, and the fields of study and research. If I happened to criticize someone's work, perhaps from the 6th century, and I discovered that they held typically beliefs of their time period, for instance, the belief that the world is flat or that the world is the center of the Universe. In a critique, I would not further expound upon this, because it would be unnecessary. It is not to say that they are wrong, but rather, it is to overargue a point which has already been considered and argued. At most, I might make a small section, where I devote time to the old theories of the author, and how they conflict with more evidenced and modern theories. In this case, the case of Malthus talking about how giving to the poor hurts them, I am seeing the 6th century author, arguing for the flat earth theory or the theory that the world is the center of the Universe. The only reason why I am going to refute his idea, is because it is economics, a rather modern field, but still some people may believe what he says.
Consider the agricultural sector of an economy. If, for a considerable amount of time, the demand and supply of it remains same, then no more and no less will be produced, hence the supply and demand will remain the same, unchanged. Since the supply and demand goes unchanged, the price will typically remain the same. The only thing that can alter the price in the supply and demand of an industry is an increased or decreased cost in the production of such a good. An example of something to increase the price may be certain ecological changes that make harvesting more difficult, or an increase in the price of other materials that are necessary to the products of the agriculture industry. An example of something to decrease the price would be a labor-saving device, allowing the employer to lay off employees and thus reducing the cost of production (the cost manifesting itself in wages). However, when a poor man is given money to buy food, the result will be a meaningful increase in the demand for such an object. The impact of this, on the agricultural sector of an economy, will be to respond with an increase to the supply. So, if a poor man with no means of revenue is given money to buy food for one day, it will be a temporary increase in the demand, and thus an increase in the supply.
The next question, however, would be, with such a temporary increase in the demand, how powerful an effect would this have on the supply? If the demand was increased by one unit, would the supply simply be effected by a one unit increase, later to be augmented again by a decrease in the supply by one unit, simply because the temporary increase in the demand would have been lowered. The question that is before us, is: how equal is the proportion between the increase in the demand and the increase in the supply? (Because, it must be understood that in increase in the one, relates to an increase in the other, and the same can be said of a decrease.) There may be some hope to believe that an increase in the demand of a rather stagnant industry, however slight, may convince investors and proprietors that there may be a real swing in that industry's demand, hence they may wish to be the first to supply it, so they may overproduce extra. Of course, there is also the possibility that the small increase in the demand could be observed by the capital owners as a fluke. An increase in the demand, however, I cannot see it relating to the capital owners resorting to a decrease in the supply, lest a monopoly were in effect (in which case, the supply would already be under restriction). Whatever the case, an increase in the demand would resort to an increase in the supply, hence, though one year there may be a little less for every purchaser with the increase of temporary buyers, the next year would have a little more for every purchaser with the decrease of temporary buyers. Hence, members of such a class are not hurt by additional buyers. In fact, they may be helped, as a small increase in the demand may cause the industrialist class to overpredict the increase of demand, and overproduce, and then see that the demand goes back to normal, and they will start producing "normal" amounts again.
On the Principle of Population Disallowing Social Utopias
In this essay, Malthus criticized social utopian philosophers by arguing that the principle of population will destroy any such utopia. The primary principle of the essay, which seems remarkably to hold good to reason and logic, is that the power of population is so powerful and so strong, that it will increase to as much as subsistence will allow it, and then it will increase further -- which results in farmers trying to increase their produce (unsuccesfully to the demand). Thus, the population growth is curtailed, since the subsistence cannot support the current population. The argument on behalf of the population increasing is simple: humans, like every other creature or organism on this planet, have an extremely strong tendency to mate, which results in reproduction. Hence, we have a massive population, and thus we have people who are starving and cannot be sustained by the current subsistence. If a technological invention or extremely good weather were to occur, or increasing the fertility of the land or cultivation of the land -- and to be done so in a manner as to significantly increase the subsistence, the population will simply respond by increasing by leaps and bounds, as well. As Malthus showed us, in developed countries that are not improving their cultivation (such as France), the birth rate is 111 to the death rate of 100. Whereas, in the newly formed colonies where there is much room for cultivation and improved of the production of subsistence, the birth rate is 300 to the death rate of 100. Hence, if subsistence were to increase greatly, population would simply respond by increasing greatly, thus we have a great starving, poor mass of people, forever, because people will always be breeding as much as they can. As Malthus points out...
As Malthus writes later in his work, "It is, undoubtedly, a most disheartening reflection that the great obstacle in the way to any extraordinary improvement in society is of a nature that we can never hope to overcome." [Chapter 17] Though this essay was written in 1798, I do not believe that methods of contraception were entirely absent (though they were probably much more deficient compared to our more modern methods), or methods that please the passion of the sexes without producing children. I think Malthus understood this argument, but did not properly answer it. He wrote...
I tried to get my hands on Marquis de Condorcet's work, but I could only obtain a French translation. As far as the methods that Marquis de Condorcet may have proposed to prevent breeding through "unnatural" means, I can suspect various methods. First, I would imagine unnatural sex acts, which produce an orgasm but fail to produce children -- such as auto-eroticism (masturbation), oral sex, anal sex, etc.. Besides this, I could imagine things more extreme, such as infanticide. However, I would doubt that Condorcet's work promoted infanticide, mostly because Malthus referred to it as "unnatural," "promiscuous," "concubinage." (The only way I am judging Condorcet's work is by how Malthus wrote of it, since I could not find an English translation.) However, the only concern I have as far as Condorcet's work goes, is that Malthus had knowledge of arguments that may have effectively overturned his argument (his argument that, since breeding is the greatest desire of all mankind, we will forever be prevented from reaching a social utopia, to the principles of population and susbsistence).
The means of birth prevention that can be employed, at least today, are numerous. First, there are methods of achieving sexual pleasure without conception occuring. For instance, there is masturbation, oral sex, and anal sex. For expressing physical affection, a person does not even need to resort to any of these, but can cuddle or simply hold their lover. If a person has an absolute desire (be it physical or psychological) for penis/vagina penetration, then a number of preventive methods can be used. Most directly, a condom with lubrication and spermicide can be used, be it a male or a female condom. Besides that, if there is knowledge that the partners are free of disease, then a birth control pill can be used. If those methods still fail, then the woman can use a birth control pill for several days after sex. If the woman still becomes pregnant, an abortion becomes the final option. (I'm not going to argue on the matter of abortion in this essay, since I've written at length in it in "The Ethics of Abortion," and I've written a certain amount on contraceptives in "Contraception.") If there is no desire for either partner to have any children ever, then a visectomy may be administered to the male or a similar procedure to the female.
There are numerous methods that may be used for birth preventives. But to them, Malthus writes, "To remove the difficulty in this way will, surely, in the opinion of most men, be to destroy that virtue and purity of manners, which the advocates of equality, and of the perfectibility of man, profess to be the end and object of their views." In this regard, I cannot see birth prevention as opposed to purity, nor can I see unnatural sex acts as opposed to virtue. A man or woman's character may properly be measured in their charity to their fellow creatures, in the kindness they display towards the downtrodden, in the sheer intimacy and honesty of how they act towards those closest to them. No person is made noble by their like or dislike of contraception, just as a person's humanity cannot be determined by their like or dislike of any particular activity or action. But, when a person carelessly brings a child into this world, without knowing how to provide for them, without knowing how to educate them, without mentally preparing themselves for the steps that lay ahead -- when a person regardless breaches the duty of every father and mother, by bringing a child naked into this world without any intention of caring for it, then they are vagrants, heartless and merciless. But, they may retain their noble character, without causing great suffering, by simply using contraception. So, it must be admitted... That by using contraception where necessary, an unimaginable amount of suffering is prevented, and the world becomes a little more alien to the idea of misery.
Thus, virtue and purity are not sacrificed to end breeding, because one's virtue and one's purity depend on the person's regard for misery -- and if they use contraception to prevent birth, they prevent misery. What, then, can we predict of a society with the aid of birth prevention? The only prediction is this... Parents will not be producing children that they cannot sustain, which they would naturally be desired to do so on account of their very animal sexuality (or "human sexuality," which is scientifically synonymous in this case). Thus, the principle of population will not cross over the line of the principle of subsistence.
In writing this essay on population, Malthus becomes a mouthpiece for his generation and their conservative views. By this, understand that he was not a philosopher, or a scientist. Rather, he simply spoke the views for his society, unthinkingly, uncritically, without doubt. Not only did he portray a rather conservative view of Free Love (which, surprisingly, is also believed by many of our conservative leaders of today), but he portrayed a strong belief in the Christian religion, in which the latter chapters of this book were devoted to the subject. As I stated above, in regards to contraception and birth preventives, a person is not made noble, kind, or more endearing, by their love of preference. I can, with all sincerity, state that the love of variety or the love of singularity, free love or monogamy, are simply preferences, no different than a man's love of strawberries, or a man's hate of apples. The reason I can state this is because a person's preference to Free Love or monogamy does not directly cause suffering to others. To force a polyamorous man to be monogamous will cause suffering, just like forcing a monogamous man to be polyamorous will cause suffering. Thus, the true crime being committed, is by forcing a man to love in ways that may forever be foreign to his heart. It will cause him suffering, and perhaps to those whom he becomes close to -- because he may betray them, when his inner nature gets the greater part of him, as it will in any conscious individual.
To the argument that Free Love cannot prevail in a society that is simple and virtuous, I can only confirm from experience, being among a society of unkempt lovers, that kindness, intimacy, and affection are a currency. A great deal of them are Pacifists with a hatred of violence, and a great deal more of them are Vegetarians, detesting the suffering of lower creatures. I cannot speak on behalf of the greater part of them, but only from those whom I have become acquianted with. They are not cruel, vicious, or heartless in any manner. In befriending members of this class, my own class, I have gained memories that will stand the test of time, as they were times of true warmth, friendship, and sincerity.
In this work, Malthus delves somewhat into the works of others from earlier times, attempting to refute some of their arguments insomuch as they concern building utopias. Particularly, he hammers away at Political Justice by William Godwin. Here, Malthus argues against the idea that humans gain vice and misery through human institutions. In regards to crime, punishment, and the development of poor character, Malthus has written...
Before going any further on the matter of crime, there are some truths about the nature of mankind that must be understood. Humans, like any creature, want things. Since we live under the blessing of civilization -- if it may be called that, in Malthus' time or our own -- humans will want their basic necessities: food, lodging, and clothing. Asside from that, they will also desire particular luxuries, taking the form of television, radios, books, stereos, perhaps even a recreational drug habit. Humans will want these things. In the state of civilization, where these things are provided for, a person may receive these things if they work their eight hour shift at whatever job it is they have. However, in our society, working an eight hour job will grant to the worker the wealth he has produced. Rather, a marginal 5% at most may be given to him, perhaps less. What's more, he spends that money on the products that he just spent making. Perpetual poverty is what the system of Capitalism can be described as. All crimes, on the matter of theft and robbery, and murder stemming from them, are all wholly responsible to the Capitalist class, however much they would like to avoid responsibility. By not giving a man the wealth he has produced, he will respond in a manner that any human being would respond. He robs, he steals, he does all that he can to gain illegally what was taken from his legally. To quote Robert Owen...
In the same work, Owen also wrote, "That all men are thus erroneously trained at present, and hence the inconsistencies and misery of the world." [A New View of Society, by Robert Owen, Essay 3.] But Owen did much more than just make an opinion on this case. He proved it. In an experimental Utopia, in the colony of Lanark, he provided his workers with a higher wage and cheap goods. Crime was reduced remarkably, by this simple act. So, when we consider the crime of men today, it must be from the simple fact that they want things that the Capitalist system wrongfully denies them. They want their necessities (which it would starve them of it did not destroy the working class) and they want their luxuries. Had the workers been in collective ownership of the means of production, working one eight hour day would support them for six days of luxury and carelessness. Thus, we can conclude, that Capitalism, coupled with human nature, is destructive towards any civil society. Crime is caused by a man's need, and by his inability to meet this need under the present situation of society.
The Poor Laws
In this work, Malthus makes a blazing attack on the Poor Laws of England. By these laws, understand that he is implying a form of ancient welfare, where money was collected that it could be distributed more evenly among the poor. To quote Malthus...
I agree, in some part, with Malthus on this subject. I do believe that welfare is an obstruction towards real liberty and real independence. The workers do not want a handout. They want to be given the wealth they produce. The minimum wage shouldn't be $5 an hour. It needs to be $40 an hour. And it needs to be increased without increasing the cost of provisions. This can be done only through one method: the workers must own the means of production. There is no other solution to it. As far as how the poor laws effect the population, it is absolutely needed in our current state. There are thousands of families who, take away from them their welfare, and they will become homeless. This is not an argument, it is a fact. The reason it exists is because of Capitalism and nothing else. I have seen, countless times, the industrialist class hiring homeless people for as low as $5 a day, so it is no concern to the capital-owning class whether his workers are homeless. The question may be, though, does the welfare given to the few, needy workers impede the progress of the rest of the workers? It does not. The reason why is because, a worker supported by welfare, is not necessarily useless. He still works and contributes to the economy.
Capitalism and Communism
Before I go on, in writing on Malthus' remarks of Capitalism versus Communism, it must be understood that he looked to the terror of Free Enterprise, and detested what he saw. However, he saw it as an inevitably of human nature, an inevitability of the laws of population. He wrote, "...nothing would give me greater pleasure than to see them completely removed." [Chapter 1.] But, in regard to a utopian society, he writes...
Men are living in the midst of plenty today. The crime being perpetrated against the laboring class, though, is not being allowed to live in plenty, as they are not given a fair share of the wealth which they are wholly responsible for producing. Though I agree that personal property rights are to be enforced, I do not believe in the personal right to ownership of capital, just as I do not believe that any person has the right to enslave any other. The result is misery, both for Capitalism and slavery, two systems which are remarkably similar. Among all Communists, there is the almost universal idea that the Capitalist is the enemy. But, Malthus seems to disagree...
The reason why Communists agree that the Capitalist class is the enemy is easy. The interests of the capital-owners and the capitalless classes are directly opposed. The boss wants to pay as less as possible and the worker wants to be paid as much as possible. But, even when the worker manages to get an increase in pay, the victory is short-lived, because this results in an increase in the cost of the product (instead of the boss deciding to take a cut in profits). Thus, the provisions increase in cost, and though there may have been a nominal increase in wages, it is followed by a nominal increase in provisions. Hence, there is no real increase in wages. By manipulating the cost and the wages, the Capitalist class manages to keep the working class in perpetual poverty. This is confirmed again and again by confronting the statistics which show the laborers to be making less than 10% of the wealth they produce. The Capitalist class which employs the workers are the kings of a monarchy, and I cannot respect them as even human beings for the crimes they have perpetrated on behalf of their greed and wealth.