Notes on Malthusian Principle of Population are as follows:
Thomas Malthus’ work Essay on the Principle of Population is considered as the pioneering work on population in which he explicated the fundamental theory of population growth. According to the theory, population grows at a much faster rate than what the natural resources can provide for.
The number of people doubles every 25 years if unchecked and thus grows at a geometric rate (1, 2, 4, 8, etc.) while food production increases at an arithmetic rate (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc.). And given the limited natural resource base, there will be a shortage of food supply.
This gap between the rates of increase of population and food supply creates what he termed as ‘positive’ conditions such as wars, famines and epidemics that act as checks against overpopulation. He was against the use of birth control methods and abortion to check population. He suggested some ‘preventive’ checks for overpopulation like prolonged celibacy and late marriage.
Malthus proposed his theory at a time when Europe was experiencing a decline in death rates due to improvements in medicine and an overall industrial growth. Subsequently, there was a rapid growth of population in Europe, but the spread of industry and acquisition of colonies accommodated the growing population. Moreover, between the years 1800 and 1930, an estimated 400 million migrated from Europe to North America in search of better opportunities of work.
Europe experienced ‘depopulation’ rather than ‘overpopulation’. America was concerned about the rise in population, largely because of the influx of migrants as well as the high rate of fertility among them. America came up with strict immigration policies, which was resented by some European countries, as it closed doors to greater economic opportunities.
France was the first country to experience a fall in birth rates around 1800 and her low fertility rate was considered as one of the reasons for her defeat against Prussia in 1870. Government efforts were made to deal with the problem in 1919 when a separate Council was established as a part of the Ministry of Health to suggest remedial action. The government introduced a number of measures to encourage larger families. Family allowances were granted to assist wage earners with large families. In 1923, the law against abortion was amended to make it more effective.
Other European countries too registered low birth rates, which led to pro-natalist measures in countries like Italy and Germany. For example in Italy, strict laws against abortion and birth control measures and emigration were introduced. In Nazi Germany, marriage loans were extended to couples to start families. A feature, which was already in place in Italy and France.
The pro-natalist measures related well to the Fascist and Nazi propaganda of the time and took on ethnic and racist hues. Considerations of race and science led to the emergence of eugenics, a political movement and a philosophy that dominated Europe in the early twentieth century, particularly in Germany under Hitler. Eugenics is the selective breeding of the supposedly ‘superior’ human genes to improve the quality of the human race. Eugenics became the fundamental justification for the persecution of Jews in Germany and racial discrimination in general.
Demographic considerations dominated many of the fears and consequent policy measures in Europe till the end of World War II. Population concerns became internationalised with the League of Nations (between 1900 and 1914) taking up issues of birth control and immigration for discussion in its various forums. Advocates of Malthus’ prophecy from countries such as France, Italy and Holland, debated over the relationship between overpopulation and war.
According to them, population pressure was the major reason for international tensions and economic rivalry between countries as well as colonialism. Pro-natalist movements were viewed as expressions of disgruntlement with the lack of access to economic resources leading to racist and ethnic rivalries. The Neo- Malthusians, in their various forums such as the British Malthusian League and the Sixth International neo-Malthusian and Birth Control Conference repeatedly pledged to restrict the birth rate so that people are able to live in comfort in their own country without feeling the need to expand their territorial base. The British Malthusian League adopted a resolution to deny membership to any country that did not pledge to restrict its birth rate.