Redbriars

 
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    Re: world population decreases

    I think that more people should read Thomas Maltus’
    An Essay on the Principle of Population, and not the online version. My copy is from Pelican Press, and the introduction and end-notes are invaluable.

    Malthus wrote this around 1800 in England, and in context the enclosures were pretty much complete, industrialisation was in full swing, the peasants forced off the land were living in slums and working in dreadful factories, many workers were not paid enough to buy subsistence calories, and the nation was not doing a good job of feeding itself.

    Malthus was of a privileged class and would be OK no matter what, but many others in the UK were facing a short future. A whole bunch of things changed in the next 40 years, including:
    – dramatic improvements in agricultural production, as a result of improved breeds, improved machinery, improved cropping techniques and especially the development of row cropping and the introduction of turnips (winter feed for livestock) and clover (for nitrogen fixing);

    -the scientific revolution, hastened by wealthy amateurs who were just discovering the elements, the composition of the atmosphere, accurate measuring instrumentation, scientific approaches to agriculture.

    – the means to exploit fossil fuels and leap out of the solar-energy-economy.

    By modern standards Malthus was not particularly nice, as he opposed the welfare state as it encourages people to have more children than they could support, social benefits re-distribute wealth that could be used for bettering and advancing the nation, and he thought that family formation should not be encouraged among people with few resources. (One of my neighbours currently thinks that only people who pay taxes should be permitted to have sex, which is a very Malthusian thought.)

    At any rate, I think that all of the advances that “proved” Malthus wrong about population exceeding carrying capacity were only temporary, and we have reached peak food and peak agriculture again, with no new scientific and agricultural revolution in the wings to save us this time.

    I heartily recommend the paperback version of Malthus’ book. It’s good reading.

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