The fast increase in population absorbs all economic gains, unless controlled by what he termed ‘preventive’ and ‘positive’ checks. The population doubles after every twenty-five years, and in two centuries the population would be to the means of subsistence as 256 to 9, in the three centuries as 4,096 to 13 and in two thousand years the difference would be almost incalculable.
Malthus principle states that: 1. Population is necessarily limited by the means of subsistence. 2. Population invariably increases where the means of subsistence increased, unless prevented by some very powerful and obvious checks. 3. These checks, and the checks which repress the superior power of population and keep its effects on a level with the means of subsistence, are all resolvable into moral restraint, vice and misery. Malthus believed that two of the characteristics essential to the sustenance of life were: (i) the need for food, and (ii) the passion between the sexes. It was the second which led people to marry at a relatively early age and would result in such a large number of births that the population would double itself in 25 years if unchecked by misery and vice.
The widening gap between population and subsistence will increase a man’s tendency to press upon the means of subsistence. With the result, the society gets divided into two sets of people the rich (haves) and the poor (have not’s) giving rise to capitalistic set-up. The rich who are the owners of the means of production earn profit and accumulate capital. With the increased capital, they enhance their consumption but do not increase their population for fear of decline in their standard of living. Malthus defends the capitalistic set-up of society on the ground that if the capital was to be distributed among poor, it will not be available for investment on the mode of production. Thus, the rich will continue to grow richer and the poor constituting the labour class poorer.
In his opinion, the increasing gap between the population and resources shall ultimately lead to the point where misery and poverty shall become inevitable. According to Malthus, postponement of marriage was and would continue to be the chief preventive. He did believe that the preventive checks, such as delayed marriage, moral restraint, etc.
, would so reduce man’s rate of production that the positive checks would not operate continuously. He believed that change in society and social institutions would mitigate the positive checks for a short while, until man’s number would again grow more under his new institutions, and that man would then suffer from such positive checks like vicious customs about women, pestilence, war, hunger, disease, etc. The ‘positive’ and ‘preventive’ checks which occur in human populations to prevent excessive growth relate to practices affecting mortality and fertility respectively.
So, while Malthus’ ‘positive’ checks included wars, disease, poverty, and especially lack of food, his ‘preventive’ checks included principally ‘moral restraint’, or the postponement of marriage, and ‘vice’ in which he included adultery, birth control and abortion. Malthus saw the tension between population and resources as a major cause of the misery of much of the humanity. He was not, however, in favour of contraceptive methods, since their use did not generate the same drive to work hard as would a postponement of marriage. He stressed the negative correlation between one’s social rank or position in life and number of children and, in order to induce in the lower classes the self-control and social responsibility which he saw in the middle classes, Malthus asserted that the poor should be better paid and educated. The Malthusian theory has been criticized on several counts. His thesis that population was growing quickly and that man was a biological as well as social being, depending on sexual drive and food yet, he confused moralist and scientific approaches. Marx was one of the most powerful critics of Malthus asserting that poverty is the result of unjust social institution of capitalism rather than population growth.
No country of Europe or North America except possibly Ireland conformed to the Malthusian prediction.