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                         Thomas Malthus (1766-1834)


       "In October 1838, that is, fifteen months after I had begun my
       systematic inquiry, I happened to read for amusement Malthus on
     Population, and being well prepared to appreciate the struggle for
           existence which everywhere goes on from long- continued
     observation of the habits of animals and plants, it at once struck
     me that under these circumstances favourable variations would tend
         to be preserved, and unfavourable ones to be destroyed. The
       results of this would be the formation of a new species. Here,
                then I had at last got a theory by which to work".

               Charles Darwin, from his autobiography. (1876)

This often quoted passage reflects the significance Darwin affords Malthus
in formulating his theory of Natural Selection. What "struck" Darwin in
Essay on the Principle of Population (1798) was Malthus's observation that
in nature plants and animals produce far more offspring than can survive,
and that Man too is capable of overproducing if left unchecked. Malthus
concluded that unless family size was regulated, man's misery of famine
would become globally epidemic and eventually consume Man. Malthus' view
that poverty and famine were natural outcomes of population growth and food
supply was not popular among social reformers who believed that with proper
social structures, all ills of man could be eradicated.

Although Malthus thought famine and poverty natural outcomes, the ultimate
reason for those outcomes was divine institution. He believed that such
natural outcomes were God's way of preventing man from being lazy. Both
Darwin and Wallace independantly arrived at similar theories of Natural
Selection after reading Malthus. Unlike Malthus, they framed his principle
in purely natural terms both in outcome and in ultimate reason. By so doing,
they extended Malthus' logic further than Malthus himself could ever take
it. They realized that producing more offspring than can survive establishes
a competitive environment among siblings, and that the variation among
siblings would produce some individuals with a slightly greater chance of

Malthus was a political economist who was concerned about, what he saw as,
the decline of living conditions in nineteenth century England. He blamed
this decline on three elements: The overproduction of young; the inability
of resources to keep up with the rising human population; and the
irresponsibility of the lower classes. To combat this, Malthus suggested the
family size of the lower class ought to be regulated such that poor families
do not produce more children than they can support. Does this sound
familiar? China has implemented such a measure on family size!