Hunger Pains: The Difficulty of Feeding A Popping Population

Thomas Malthus believed that the future of England was dismal, to say the least. With the best interest of humanity in mind, he advocated for brutal social policies which would basically lead to his country’s poor dying in the street like rabid dogs. Malthus had strong reasoning for his cold-hearted policy recommendations. He believed that humanity was like any animal population which would grow until it outstripped its resources and would suffer from calamity as disease and plague burned through the starving masses. His basic idea was that humans eat and eat and reproduce plentifully. He thought that population would grow exponentially faster than agricultural output and that death and disaster was the only possible outcome. So, a few centuries later with a few more billion people living on the earth, why hasn’t Malthus’ predictions become reality? How is it possible for the world’s population to be finding enough to eat? How is it possible for the same amount of farmland to be feeding billions of additional mouths? England took the reigns as the world Super Power during the eighteenth century because of its agricultural revolution, Malthus hypothesized that its increasing population would produce a future of social raptures and decay. England’s population was swelling at an explosive pace; growing exponentially while farming was only increasing arithmetically. Therefore, output was not keeping pace with people. The components of the agriculture revolution that was transforming England included the enclosure movement and innovations in farming technique and equipment that increased crop yields. The enclosure movement was the process whereby the system of communal exploitation and regulation of arable land such as: open pastures, meadows and wastes (land that was not cultivated) was gradually replaced by a system of private land management. This made farming into more of an industry and therefore the process became much more productive! It was a transformation from inefficient family farms to reaping the benefits of economies of scale by huge agricultural businesses; aka the land owners. Output also grew with the discovery of legumes which replenished the nitrogen that crops took out of the fertile soil; it made the land, that previously wasn’t, sustainable. These discoveries resulted in greater amounts of agriculture production with less labor input. But in addition greater food helped stimulate an increase in the population. Thus, there was a resulting surplus in available workers which found its place as a fuel for the start of the industrial revolution. In other words improved agricultural production made the industrial revolution possible, and many would regard the industrial revolution as the beginning of the modern world. By 1850 only 22% of the British workforce was in agriculture; the smallest proportion for any country in the world. It was in this world that children were necessary for families to survive. Parents depended on their children bringing in income in order to support their wellbeing. Education was not valued. What was important was the amount of family members in the labor force. Children were intended to have strength, perseverance, and the capability to maneuver in ways and places adults had no intention of going. The younger the better. So they were beginning work as early as the age of four. Thomas Malthus predicted a sudden collapse for England in the late eighteenth century. When you look at the world, there are stark contrasts economically between the developed and the developing world. While the developing world is largely in a position similar to England in the days of Malthus; the developed world can look back having already going through the industrialization movement. From this perch it is easy for the developed world to heath Malthus’ call and expose the problems in the exponential growth that is occurring in the underdeveloped world. Today, the average family in the western world has no more than two children because children are no longer an asset, but a liability. They are no longer helping to support their family, but are requiring much more financial attention and giving little back. The concern parents have for their children is that they obtain a higher education and that requires large sums of money. Many adults are working just to support their kids. It is quality over quantity as opposed to the old quantity over quality outlook. Malthus was wrong to predict the world diminishing as a result of overpopulation, because not to state the obvious but we are all still here. Yet, he was not wrong to focus on the importance of population control. Developed countries around the world have slowly realized the opportunity cost involved in having numerous amounts of children. So what do we do today? Do we finally buckle down and listen to the pessimist theories of Thomas Malthus, realizing that he does have a point? Two hundred years later developing nations that have not been hit with industrialization are barely surviving; yet they are having more kids than the families that can afford to have them. If the world is still “allowing” these overpopulated countries to pop out children in order to increase their subsistence, will we soon face the demise of an earth that has been able to hide from Malthus’ repugnant hypothesis? Or do we still have two hundred more years under our belt?