An Essay on the Principle of Population by Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834) is one of the most influential and controversial books in the history of social and economic thought. First published anonymously in 1798, and the result of a discussion with his father on the perfectibility of society, it was originally intended as a response to ideas developed in Godwin's Enquirer and Political Justice. The essay is based around Malthus's famous principle of population: that as population increases geometrically, pressure is placed on the earth's agricultural resources, which can only increase at an arithmetic rate; hence Malthus's prediction of mass starvation. His argument further maintained that population is prevented from increasing beyond the food supply by positive (war, famine and pestilence) and preventive (abortions, infanticides and birth control) checks. The principle was and remains one of the most widely debated of modern economic theories.
These volumes reveal all the major and minor changes Malthus made in the Essay in the twenty-eight years that separate the appearance of the first and sixth editions. Considered cumulatively, these reworkings show the progression and modification of Malthus's thinking in the light of the hostile criticism and lively debate it provoked.
The impact of Malthus's book was tremendously far-reaching. Darwin and Wallace acknowledged Malthus as the source of the idea of 'the struggle for existence'; Marx, Engels, Paley, Darwin, Wallace, Keynes and Ricardo were all influenced by Malthus. No other book in the history of economic thought has caused as heated and lasting a debate as the Essay. These editions are an indispensible resource for scholars of social, economic and political theory.
The greatly enlarged second edition, 'the Great Quarto', which Malthus himself calls 'a new work', was written in response to the numerous critical writings and responses to the first Essay. This version places a great emphasis upon preventive checks and an entirely new passage can be found advocating delayed marriage as the most powerful check on population.
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Published January 3, 1999
by Thoemmes Continuum.
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