Criticism of Malthusian Theory of Population
Criticism of Malthusian Theory of population
The Malthusian theory of population has been the subject of a keen controversy. The following are some of the grounds on which it has been criticized: —
(i) In the first place, it is pointed out that Malthus's pessimistic conclusions have not been borne out by the history of Western European countries. The gloomy forecast made by Malthus about the economic conditions of .future generations of mankind has not been realized in the Western world. Population has failed to grow as rapidly as predicted by Malthus and production has increased tremendously because of the rapid advances in technology. As a result, living standards of the people have risen instead of falling as was predicted by Malthus.
(ii) Secondly, Malthusian theory of population is based upon the law of diminishing returns as applied to agriculture. It on the basis of this law that Malthus asserted that food production could not keep pace with population growth. By making rapid advances in technology and accumulating capital in larger quantity, advanced countries have been able to postpone the stage of diminishing returns. By making use of fertilizers, better seeds, tractors and other agricultural machinery, they have been able to increase their production greatly. In fact, in most of the advanced countries the rate of increase of food production has been much greater than the rate of population growth.
Thus, inventions and improvements in the methods of production have belied the gloomy forecast of Malthus by holding the law of diminishing returns in check almost indefinitely. The remarkable progress of the recent green revolution in many under-developed countries has further tended to falsify Malthus's contention.
(iii) Malthusian theory of population compared the population growth with the increase in food production alone. Malthus held that because land was available, in fixed quantity, food production could not rise faster than population. But he should have considered all types of production and he should have compared the growth of population not merely with the increase in food supply but with the increase in the total wealth of a country. England did feel the shortage of land and food. If England had been forced to support her population entirely from her own soil, there can be little doubt that England would have experienced a series of famines by which her growth of population would have been checked.
But England did not experience such disaster. It is because England industrialized itself by developing her natural resources other than land like coal and iron and accumulating man-made capital equipment like factories, tools, machinery, mines, ships and railways. This enabled her to produce plenty of industrial and manufacturing goods which she then exported in exchange for foodstuffs from foreign countries. Therefore, Malthus made a mistake in taking agricultural land and food production alone into account when discussing the population problem. He should have rather considered all types of production.
(iv) Malthusian theory of population held that the increase in the means of subsistence or food supplies will cause population to grow so that ultimately means of subsistence or food supply will be in level with population and every one would get only bare minimum subsistence. In other words, according to Malthus, living standards of the people cannot rise in the long run above the level of minimum subsistence. But as already pointed out, living standards of the people in the Western world have risen greatly and stand much above the minimum subsistence level. There is no evidence of birth-rate rising with the increases in the standards of living. Instead there is evidence that birth-rates fall as the economy grows. In the Western countries, attitude towards children changed as they developed. Previously much attention was not paid to the children. But now parents feel a duty to do as much they can for each child and, therefore, they prefer not to have more children than they can attend to. People now care more for higher standards of living rather than bearing more children. The wide use of contraceptives in the Western world has brought down the birth rates. This change in the attitude towards children and the wide use of contraceptives in the Western world has falsified the Malthusian doctrine.
(v) Malthusian theory of population gave no proof of his assertion that population increased exactly in geometric progression and food production increased exactly in arithmetic progression. It has been rightly pointed out that population and food supply does not change in accordance with these mathematical series. Growth of population and food supply cannot be expected to show the precision or accuracy of such series. However, Malthus in the later edition of his book did not insist on these mathematical terms and only held that there was inherent tendency in population to outrun the means of subsistence. We have seen above that even this is far from being true.
The civilized world has kept the population in check. It is, however, to be regretted that population has been increasing at the wrong end. The poor people, who can ill-afford to bring up and educate children, are multiplying, whereas the rich are applying breaks on the increase of the size of their families.
Is Malthusian Theory Valid Today?
We must, however, add that though the gloomy conclusions of Malthus have not turned out to be true due to several factors which have made their appearance only in recent times, yet the essentials of the theory have not been demolished. He said that unless preventive checks were exercised, positive checks would operate. This is true even today.
Applicability to India
The Malthusian theory of population fully applies to India. India at present is in that unenviable position which Malthus feared. We have the highest birth-rate and the highest death-rate in the world. Grinding poverty, ever-recurring epidemics, famine, communal quarrels are the order of the day. We are still not self-sufficient in food supply. Our standard of living is incredibly low. Who can say that Malthus was not a true prophet, if not for his country, at any rate for countries like India and China?
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