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1910 New Catholic Dictionary

Theories of Population

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The first person to present an elaborate theory of the relation between population and food supply was Thomas Malthus (1766-1834), an Anglican clergyman. In his Essay on the Principle of Population (1798), and its six revised editions, Malthus held that population constantly tends to outstrip the means of livelihood, inasmuch as the human species increases in geometrical ratio as the Numbers 1,2, 4,8, 16, whereas subsistence can be increased only in arithmetical ratio, 1,2,3, 4,5. As a result, he said, the food supply exercises certain checks on'the increase of population. These checks are "positive," and include war, poverty, disease, and vice. To forestall the operation of the positive checks, Malthus advocated certain "preventive" checks, chiefly "moral restraint," or the postponement of marriage. Malthus's theory was adopted by later writers, notably Owen, Mill, and Besant, who urged the use of contraconceptives and other immoral practises in order to restrict the population. This application of the theory is known as neo-Malthusianism. Other applications of the theory are the population theories of the Socialist and evolutionary schools. The basic assumption of the Malthusian theory, i.e.,that the reproductive powers of man exceed his power of increasing his food supply, has been proved false by experience. Since Malthus's time the means of subsistence have more than kept pace with the growth of population. Furthermore, the theory mistakes a potential tendency for an actual reality. It declares that what is mathematically possible is certain and unavoidable. Finally, it ignores the great counteracting agencies emphasized by Catholic economists, namely, moral living, the effective organization of production, and the equitable distribution of goods.

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Entry for 'Theories of Population'. 1910 New Catholic Dictionary. 1910.

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