Malthus, Thomas Robert

Malthus, Thomas Robert mălˈthəs [key], 1766–1834, English economist, sociologist, and pioneer in modern population study. A graduate of Cambridge, he was a professor at the East India College, London, from 1805 until his death. In his book An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798, rev. ed. 1803), he contended that poverty and distress are unavoidable, since population increases by geometrical ratio and the means of subsistence by arithmetical ratio. As checks on population growth, Malthus first accepted only war, famine, and disease, but in his revised work he admitted also the preventive check of “moral restraint.” Although his theory caused general controversy, it was later adapted by neo-Malthusians, and its implications influenced classical economists, especially David Ricardo. However, unlike Ricardo, Malthus did not agree with Jean Baptiste Say's law of markets, which held that overproduction and unemployment were impossible since supply creates its own demand. Malthus believed that unemployment could occur when there was a surplus of unwanted products. He also wrote Principles of Political Economy (1820) and other books.

See biographies by J. Bonar (2d ed. 1924, repr. 1966) and P. James (1979); study by D. V. Glass (1953); M. Paglin, Malthus and Lauderdale; the Anti-Ricardian Tradition (1956, repr. 1973); M. Turner, ed., Malthus and His Time (1986); R. J. Mayhew, Malthus: The Life and Legacies of an Untimely Prophet (2014).

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