By Francis Lee for the Saker Blog
Thomas Malthus (1766-1804) was born into the gentry, but as the youngest son he was not to inherit the family estate but instead entered the ranks of the clergy. He was to become a vicar and teacher of a ruthless, no-prisoners-taken, political economy which gave rise to his widespread fame with his Essay on the Principle of Population, the first edition being published in 1798. This influential dissertation was to enjoy considerable enthusiasm and vogue amongst the aristocratic classes in England at that time. Moreover, as should be noted, his theories have had a considerable appeal to a new and enthusiastic audience at the present time. More of which later.
Malthus’s theories initially attracted the powerful class of the landed aristocracy which stood in opposition to the political economy of the classical school (Smith, Ricardo, and Mill). The classics advocated a rapid development of the productive forces and a reduction in non-productive consumption. Whereas Malthus considered non-productive consumption and hence also the existence of the landed aristocracy and their household servants to be essential.
But although there were deep-going differences between the classics and Malthus and the accompanying struggle between the landed aristocracy and industrial bourgeoisie, there was still a wide range of issues over which the two possessing class formations shared a community of interests. Thus the classics (particularly David Ricardo ) with their enthusiasm with regard to the New Poor Laws and their repeal fought with equal zeal for the repeal of the ancient Poor Laws which made the upkeep of the local paupers a local parish obligation (see Engels below).
Generally speaking, however, Malthus theory of population was accepted by the partisans of classical economic/social theory, who used it to explain a number of relevant phenomena – for example wages, even though the theory had no essential connection with their main teachings.
Malthus first polemical work Essay On the Principle of Population stood as a reaction against the bourgeois enlightenment at the close of the 18th century. He had to show that the true cause of poverty lay not in the inadequacies of the social system, but in the natural, inexorable contradiction between man’s unbounded yearning to multiply and the limits to the increase in the means of subsistence. Malthus was to put forward 3 notions of his ideas as follows.
1. ‘’Population is necessarily limited by the means of subsistence.’’
2. ‘’Population invariably increases where the means of subsistence increase, unless prevented by some powerful and obvious checks.’’
3. And the pièce de resistance. ‘’These checks, and the checks that repress the superior power of the population and keep its effects on the level with the means of subsistence are all resolvable into moral restraint, vice and misery.’’
He reasons as follows. Suppose hypothetically a particular country at a particular time has a population of one. The amount of subsistence in the country are also enough to feed the existing population of one and are therefore equal to one. As shown by the experience of the United States the population will double approximately every 25 years, that is to say that it will grow in geometrical progression. Two hundred years hence this country’s population will have grown to 256 times its initial figures. 1, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256). However this growing population would have to extract its means of subsistence from the country’s same limited territory.
This really isn’t good enough. Anyone familiar with agriculture knows that each new application of labour and/or capital to the same plot of land is, other things being equal, accompanied by a fall in productivity (Cf David Ricardo and the ‘theory’ of diminishing marginal returns.) But of course other things being equal in economics are in fact seldom equal; and moreover this ‘law’ of diminishing returns, is also obviated by the fact that productivity does not stand still. What the two esteemed gentlemen miss is the increasing level of development in science and technology which have resulted in productivity gains which are both intensive and extensive. To repeat: productivity does not stand still, particularly in the era of capitalism. In point of fact population growth is matched by productivity growth and moreover could be argued that it is a function of the latter.
Malthus completely excludes productivity increases from his calculations. His theory of population gave rise to an enormous literature both in his time and ours. In general terms Malthus observes that there exists a natural law of population operative for all times and for any social system. But in fact the rate and character of population growth will vary depending on a whole range of possibilities. There are a number of social conditions under which population exhibits a tendency of very small multiplication. Particularly in the more prosperous climes of North America and Western Europe which are having to supplement their declining populations through immigration. There has also been an ongoing and massive fall in male sperm counts in addition to a dramatic fall in Europe both, West and East, of female fertility. (1) There, are also certain countries which have for their very large size and rich abundance of natural resources – Russia, Canada, Australia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan (the largest land-locked country in the world, a size of 2.7 million square Kilometres, with a diminutive population of 19 million) – all relatively small populations and no evidence of any population explosion either today, or any time soon.
Deprived of the theory that the periodical additions to the average annual produce cannot possibly be increased, or, as Malthus preferred to put it, that subsistence can only increase in arithmetical ratio, the Essay on the Principle of Population falls to the ground as an argument, and only remains a chaos of facts collected to illustrate the effect of ‘laws’ which do not in fact exist. Beyond the arithmetical ratio theory, there is nothing whatever in the essay to show why subsistence for man should not increase as fast – or indeed faster – as an unchecked population. (2)
Malthus himself did not in the least conceal that the main task he had set himself was to explain and justify the poverty of the masses in capitalist society … It is evident that every man in the lower classes in society, who became acquainted with the truths would be disposed to forbear the distress in which he might be involved with more patience; would feel less discontent and irritation at the government and the higher classes of society on account of his poverty; would be on all occasions be less disposed toward insubordination and turbulence; and if received assistance, either from public institution or from the hand of private charity, he would receive it with more thankfulness and more justly appreciate its value.’’ (3) Please excuse me good sir whilst I touch my forelock!
It would be more difficult to find words that would more vividly reveal Malthus’ reactionary tendencies than these. One is reminded somewhere of Solzhenitsyn’s remark: ‘’To do evil a man must believe that he is doing good.’’ Malthus seemed to suffer from a deficit in human humility/humanity. Even form a non-ethical viewpoint his theory is untenable. Modern poverty and unemployment result not from any absolute shortage of the means of production and subsistence, but on the contrary from the idling of the colossal growth forces and machine technology under capitalist conditions. In the downturns of the capitalist economic cycle mass unemployment stands vis-a-vis with mass under-utilization of the means of production. Malthus’ attempt to lay responsibility for modern day poverty on biological and purely technical total factors have met – deservedly – with total failures.
But the Malthusian ideological paradigm still had an iron grip on the middle and upper classes of the period (and could be plausibly argued even more-so today). This was manifest in England with the struggle over the Poor Laws and their reconfiguration. Initially the old Poor Law was to be replaced by the Newer version. This involved ‘’ …the most open declaration of war of the bourgeoisie on the proletariat – that is to say Malthus’s Law of population and the new poor law framed in accordance with it… Since, however, the rich hold all the power the proletarians must submit … We have already alluded to the theory of Malthus. We may sum up the result in these few words. That the earth is perennially overpopulated, whence poverty, misery, distress and immorality must prevail; that it is the lot, the eternal destiny of mankind, to exist in too great numbers, and therefore diverse classes, of some who are rich, educated and moral, and others more or less poor, distressed, ignorant and immoral. Hence it follows that in practice, and Malthus himself drew this conclusion, that charities and poor rates are, properly speaking, nonsense, since they serve only to maintain, and stimulate the increase of, the surplus population, whose competition crushes down wages for the employed; that the employment of the Poor Law Guardians is equally unreasonable, since only a fixed quantity of products of labour can be consumed and for every unemployed labourer furnished employment, another hitherto employed must be driven into enforced idleness … the whole problem is not how to support the surplus population but how to restrain it as far as possible. Malthus declares in plain English that the right to live, a right previously inserted in favour of every man in the world, is nonsense.’’ This is now the pet theory of all genuine English bourgeois … (4)
The Old Poor Law which rested upon the Act of 1601 started from the notion that it was the duty of the parish to provide for the maintenance of the poor. Whoever had no work received relief, and the poor man regarded the parish as being pledged to protect him from starvation. He demanded his weekly relief as a right, not as a favour. But for the bourgeoisie of the time this fuddy-duddy coddling of the poor was deemed intolerable and prevented the capitalist system from functioning properly. It was asserted that this system was ruining the nation. Why am I thinking of Mrs Thatcher I wonder? This policy which amounted to social and political extermination of the ‘surplus population’ was at the time widespread and was in fact typified in Charles Dickens novel A Christmas Carol, where the main character, Scrooge, was heard to voice approval of reducing the surplus population. So it can be said, or at least inferred that mass culling of the population has been an historical leitmotif not restricted to time and place. The fury of the haute bourgeois class was manifest Thus.
‘’The existing poor law was held to be a check on industry, a reward for improvident marriage, a stimulus to increased population, and a means of counterbalancing the effect of an increased population upon wages; a national provision for the discouraging the industrious and honest, and protecting the lazy, vicious and improvident; calculated to destroy the bonds of family life, hinder systematically the accumulation of capital, scatter that which is already accumulated, and ruin the taxpayers. Moreover in the provision of ailment, it sets a premium on illegitimate children.’’ (5)
Hmmm, sounds vaguely familiar. In any event the Malthusians succeeded. In 1834 a New Poor Law was passed by Parliament in 1834. This at best was approx. 1-1/2 to 2 generations at most before I was born. Now the gloves were truly off. All relief in money and provisions was abolished; the only relief allowed was for the workhouses immediately built. (Left)
‘’The regulations for these workhouses, or, as people used to call them, Poor Law Bastilles, was such to frighten away everyone who has the slightest prospect of life without this form of public charity. To make sure that relief be applied for only the most extreme cases, and after every other had failed, the workhouse had been the most repulsive residence which the refined ingenuity of a Malthusian can invent. The food was worse than that of the most ill-paid working man while employed, and the harder, or they might prefer the workhouse to their wretched existence outside. Meat, especially fresh meat, is seldom furnished, chiefly potatoes, the worst possible bread and oatmeal porridge, little or no beer. The food of the criminal is, as a rule better, so that the paupers frequently commit some offence for the purpose of getting into jail. For the Workhouse is a jail too; he who does not finish his task gets nothing to eat; he who wishes to go out must ask permission, which is granted or not according to his behaviour, or to the inspector’s whim; tobacco is forbidden, as also is the receipts of gifts from relatives or friends outside the workhouse; the paupers wear workhouse uniforms, and are handed over, helpless and without redress, to the caprice of the inspectors. To prevent their labour from competing with that of outside concerns, they are set to rather useless tasks: the men break stones, as much as a strong man can accomplish with effort on a day; the women, children and aged men pick oakum – oakum was at one time recycled from old tarry ropes and cordage, which were painstakingly unravelled and reduced to fibre, termed “picking” – for I know not what insignificant use. To prevent the ‘superfluous’ from multiplying and ‘demoralized’ parents from influencing their children, families are broken up; the husband is placed in one wing of the workhouse and the wife in another, the children in a third, and they are permitted to see one another only at stated times over long intervals, and then only when they have, in the opinion of the officials, behaved well. And in order to shut off the external world from contamination of pauperism within these Bastilles, the inmates are permitted to receive visits only with the consent of the officials, and in the reception rooms; to communicate in general outside only by leave and under supervision. (6)
Engels goes on for page after page descriptions and case studies with each getting more harrowing than the one before. It is acutely painful to read, particularly the individual case studies. Here’s the conclusion.
‘’Can anyone wonder that the poor decline to accept public relief under these conditions. That they prefer to starve rather than to enter these Bastilles? I have reports in 5 cases in which persons actually starving, when the Guardians refused them outdoor relief, went back to their miserable homes and died of starvation rather than to enter these hell-holes. Thus far have the Poor Law Commissioners attained their object. At the same time, however, the workhouses have intensified, more than any other measure of the party in power, the hatred of the working class against the property-holders, who generally admired the New Poor Law.’’(7)
Assuredly the great wheel of history turns; ‘‘The first time as tragedy the second time as farce.’’(8) Malthusianism is reborn as Neo-Malthusianism: an ancient pitiless, winner-takes-all doctrine controlled by an equally new and ruthless elite, an ideology suffused with what can only be described as one of hatred – hatred and contempt of humanity in general and their servants and subaltern classes in particular. This is particularly the case in older European countries, like my own, the UK. It is noticeable that the ruling elites actually even look different and speak differently to the ordinary folk. They go to different up-market private schools and attend different universities, have a distinct value-system and culture, and fraternise in social milieux inside a closed system of privilege and opportunity. This is something I have witnessed first-hand and something of this type was also seen in the earlier 20th century cult of privilege and entitlement of the beautiful people during the roaring 20s in the US. One of the characters in the novel by F Scott Fitzgerald enunciated the view of the haute bourgeoisie in a famous passage which I have described before, but which is still worth repeating. The main character in the novel, Amory (Blaine), vents his hatred on people less fortunate in life than himself.
‘’I detest poor people,’’ Amory thought suddenly. ‘’I hate them for being poor. Poverty may have been beautiful once, but it’s rotten now. It’s the ugliest thing in the world. It’s essentially cleaner to be corrupt and rich than it is to be innocent and poor.’’ He seemed to see again a figure who once impressed him – a well-dressed young man gazing from a window on Fifth Avenue and saying something to his companion with a look of utter disgust. Probably thought Amory, what he said was: ‘My God! Aren’t people horrible!’’
Never before in his life had Amory considered poor people. He thought cynically how completely lacking he was in all human sympathy. He accepted all of his reactions as part of him unchangeable, unmoral. The problem of poverty, transformed, magnified, attached to some grander, more dignified attitude might someday be even his problem; at present it only aroused a most profound distaste.’’ (9)
This venomous hatred by Amory, and by extension the upper social echelons and the powers-that-be (PTB) and their fear of the subterranean mob has had a long history, from Malthus to the neo-Malthusianism of H.G.Wells who openly declared, ‘’those non-white swarms of black and brown, and dirty white, and dirty yellow people who do not come into the new needs of ‘efficiency’ were self-evidently otiose. The World is a World and not a charitable institution, and I take it that they will have to go. The whole tenor and meaning of the World as I see it is that they will have to go.’’(10) In addition there was also the staunch Cecil Rhodes, a devotee to the updated Malthusian creed. The present version of the cult is spearheaded by those such as Klaus Schwarz and Bill Gates, et al. A policy of mass depopulation spearheaded by the Western alliance consisting of the political/media/ monied/security Leviathan. From their point of view the enemy within and the enemy without.
This ‘Great Reset’ is an absurdly over-ambitious programme based on what is a frankly deranged strategic agenda. (Not that these PTB think of themselves as deranged. They no doubt think of themselves as the staunch defenders of western civilization). Such are the delusions of a declining civilization and the insanity of a decaying end-game, a system of rule – if this is the right word – in the hands of a small cabal of untouchable elites who are not very far removed from clinical schizophrenia. The Great Reset as such is little more than an updated version of the Great Game, played out in the 19th century, only more ambitious, dangerous and deluded.
(1) Replacement population level in every European country – particularly in Eastern Europe have not reached population stability figure of 2.1 per female of child-bearing age.
(2) Edwin Cannan – History of the Production and Distribution in English Political Economy – 1776-1848- p.40.
(3)Thomas Malthus – Essays on The Principles of Population – p.552.
(4) Freidrich Engels – The Condition of the Working Class in England 1844 – p.289.
(5) Extracts from Information received from the Poor Law Commissioners – Published by Authority – London 1883.
(6) Engels, Op.cit – p292.
(7) Engels, Op.cit – p.296.
(8) Karl Marx – The 18th Brumaire of Napoleon Bonaparte.
(9) F Scott Fitzgerald – This Side of Paradise – p.236.
(10) H.G.Wells – Anticipations – London 1918 – p.317.