In 1798, the Reverend Thomas Malthus published what would become an extremely influential and controversial essay about the effects of increased population. An Essay on the Principle of Population was a reaction to the popular notion the society could be improved, and that utopian was imminent. The essay immediately drew attention, and Malthus would later revise his thoughts to answer criticisms and to expand his thoughts through further evidence.
The essay grew out of Malthus’s concern that rising population would ultimately lead to poverty. His theory was that more people equaled a great labor force, leading employers to offer low wages to desperate workers. Malthus examines different problems that arise due to exponential population growth, which include inadequate food supply, war as a way to combat high populations, and the possibility of widespread disease. He also critiques other writers’ suppositions about the nature of mankind in relation to exponential population growth. These writers included William Godwin, David Hume, and Robert Wallace. Exponential population growth is now referred to as the Malthusian growth model.
Malthus believed himself a highly moral man who could step back and look at the big picture surrounding birth control. He was against the idea that would eventually be referred to as eugenics, and instead promoted celibacy and restraint as a means to slow down population growth. He supported putting government money into programs that cultivated agricultural growth so that there would be more jobs for laborers, which would in turn increase wages and help fight poverty.
An Essay on the Principle of Population would ultimately influence the idea behind the theory of natural selection developed by Charles Darwin. The essay remains a fascinating and insightful look into the causes and effects of exponential population growth.