Immagini della pagina

country, and appear at present to be gradually losing ground in England, although they are still maintained in the Edinburgh Review, the journal which was chiefly instrumental in recommending them to the public, and the only leading one which has given them a steady and consistent support. Few of the most recent writers on political economy acquiesce in all his conclusions, and many reject them entirely. Mr. Sadler, for example, in a late work, to which we have already adverted, and which we may perhaps hereafter notice in greater detail, has attacked the whole system with great power and success, although he has not, we think, been equally fortunate in establishing another on its ruins. Mr. Senior, though disposed in the main to adopt the principles of Malthus, is evidently shocked and disgusted with his practical conclusions, and endeavors to escape from them by some ingenious distinctions, which, however, he seems at Jast in a great measure to abandon in the Correspondence, which forms the Appendix to the Lectures. Before we examine the peculiar views of our author, we will briefly recapitulate,—for the purpose of refreshing the memories of our readers,-the leading points of the system of Malthus, and the objections to which, as we conceive, they are liable.

These points, when divested of the mathematical phraseology, under which they were first proposed, are as follows.

1. Population, under ordinary circumstances, increases regularly with great rapidity, excepting so far as it is checked by a deficiency of the means of subsistence.

2. But the means of subsistence at the disposal of any given community, are limited to the produce of the territory it occupies, and can only be increased very slowly and to a comparatively small extent.

3. Therefore, population, at all times and places, regularly outstrips the means of subsistence ; thus producing a constant disproportion throughout the world, between the demand for food and the supply of it, or, in other words, a necessary, permanent and universal famine.*

The first of these propositions, Mr. Malthus considers as proved by the single fact of the increase of population, that has taken place in these United States; and the second he declares to be self-evident.* The premises being admitted,

** At every period during the progress of cultivation, from the present moment to the time when the whole earth shall become like a garden, the distress the want of food will be more or less constantly pressing on mankind.' Essay on Pop. II. 220.

* the conclusions obviously follow of course. The natural disproportion between the demand for, and the supply of, the means of subsistence, which is supposed to be proved by this argument, is considered by its author as the real cause of all the moral and physical evil to be found in the world; and as it is a result of the standing laws of nature, its effects, although they may be in some slight degree palliated, are in the main irremediable. All attempts to bring about any considerable improvement in the existing condition of society, are consequently hopeless, and can only end in disappointment. In the practical application of his conclusions, Mr. Malthus recommends that marriage should be as much as possible discouraged among the mass of the people, and that all public provision for the poor should be abolished. The exercise of private charity, although he does not absolutely prohibit it, has, on his principles, no other operation than to create in one quarter an amount of distress exactly equal to that which it relieves in another.

These doctrines, revolting as they are, are, nevertheless, as we have just remarked, necessary conclusions from the premises of Malthus, and for all who admit the reality of our social and benevolent feelings, amount to a reductio ad absurdum of those premises. The objections to the argument, precisely stated, are as follows.

1. Population does not, under ordinary circumstances, regularly increase with great rapidity, excepting so far as it is checked by a deficiency of the means of subsistence. The state of population is regulated exclusively by political and moral causes. It has no where, except in cases of accidental scarcity, been, at any time, checked by a deficiency of the means of subsistence; but is, nevertheless, so far from regularly increasing with rapidity, that the population of the globe is not supposed to be greater now than it was four thousand years ago. The United States of America afford an example of a community in which population has increased, for a certain time, with great rapidity ; but this example no more proves that such an increase is the general law of population, than the decrease of


* The first of these propositions, I considered as proved the moment the American increase was related; and the second proposition as soon as it was communicated. Essay on Pop. II. 453.

the spot.

population during the same period among our Indian tribes on this continent proves the contrary.

2. The supply of the means of subsistence at the disposal of a given community is not limited to the produce of the soil they occupy, but is determined by the effectual demand, that is by the amount of other produce which they have to give in exchange. Hence an increase of population, however rapid it may be, will always be attended by a proportionate increase in the supply of the means of subsistence, provided it be attended, as it naturally must be, with a proportional increase in the amount of labor. If the supply of the means of subsistence afforded by the territory occupied by a given population be exhausted, they employ themselves in making other articles which they give in exchange for the produce of other territories, and the effect of this change is often to reduce instead of raising the cost of provisions. Thus, the manufacturers of the interior of New England are able, at the present moment, to obtain the grain of the Middle States at a less cost than that for which the cultivators in their neighborhood raise their own upon

3. Both these objections operate directly against the premises of Mr. Malthus, and are each fatal to his argument. It is also liable to another still more decisive objection, which is, that the conclusion is not only not satisfactorily established, but is precisely opposite to that which follows from the true principles of political economy, as applied to this subject; and when these are known, of course falls of itself. In fact, the increase of population, instead of being, as Mr. Malthus supposes, a cause of scarcity, is a cause,-indeed almost the only real and permanent one,

-of abundance. It is generally admitted, that the division of labor is the principal means of increasing its productiveness; while it is equally apparent, on the other hand, that the division of labor is occasioned immediately by the increase of population. An increase of population is, therefore, naturally followed by an increase in the productiveness of labor, and of course in the amount of its products as compared with the labor required for producing them. In other words, it is followed by an increased abundance and cheapness of all the necessaries and comforts of life. We find, accordingly, that the real price of provisions is every where uniformly lower and steadier in direct proportion to the density of the population, and not to the fertility of the soil. In Holland, for instance,

[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]

one of the most populous, and at the same time, barren regions of the globe, the price of provisions has always been lower and steadier than in almost any other part of Europe. If, then, an increase of population be, in reality, a principle of prosperity and abundance, it is plain that any theory, which undertakes to prove that it is a principle of scarcity, must be --independently of any direct objection to it,-sophistical and false.

Having thus briefly stated the leading features of the theory of Malthus, and what we consider as the objections to it, for the

purpose of refreshing the memories of our readers as to the points in controversy, we shall now proceed to examine the views exhibited in the work before us.

We may remark, in the first place, that Mr. Senior admits without hesitation, both the leading propositions of Malthus.

We have seen,' says he, that as a general rule, additional labor employed in the cultivation of the land within a given district, produces a less proportionate return. And we have seen, that such is the power of reproduction and duration of life in mankind, that the population of a given district is capable of doubling itself at least every twenty-five years. It is clear, therefore, that the rate at which the production of food is capable of being increased, and that at which population, if unchecked, would increase, are totally different.'

The premises of Mr. Malthus being admitted, the conclusions which he draws from them, as we have already remarked, are irresistible. If population naturally increase very rapidly, and food very slowly, it is perfectly obvious, that there must be, as that writer says there is, at all times and in all parts of the world, a constant disproportion between the demand for, and supply of food; or, in his own phrase, a constant pressure of population against the means of subsistence. Mr. Senior, however, though he fully admits the premises, does not appear to relish the conclusion. He cannot shut his eyes to the plain fact, that an increase of population has been generally followed, wherever it has taken place, by an increased abundance of the necessaries and comforts of life. On this subject, he has the following remarks.

'I have nothing to do at present with those portions of capital, which consist of the materials and implements of labor. That they have increased far more than in proportion to the increase of population, is almost too obvious to remark. My present sub

[ocr errors]

ject is the relative increase of subsistence. If, after an increase of population, the means of subsistence continue to bear the same proportion to the number of inhabitants as before, it is clear that the increase of subsistence and of numbers has been equal. If the means of subsistence have increased much more than the number of inhabitants, it is clear that the contrary proposition is true, and that the means of subsistence have a natural tendency to increase faster than population.

*Now what is the picture presented by the earliest records of those nations which are now civilized ? Or, which is the same, what is now the state of savage nations ? A state of habitual poverty and occasional famine.

A scanty population, but still scantier means of subsistence. If a single country can be found, in which there is even less poverty than is universal in a savage state, it must be true, that, under the circumstances in which that country has been placed, the means of subsistence have a greater tendency to increase than the population. Now this is the case in every civilized country. If it be conceded, that there exists in the human race a natural tendency to rise from barbarism to civilization, and that the means of subsistence are proportionally more abundant in a civilized than in a savage state, -and neither of these propositions can be denied, -it must follow, that there is a natural tendency in subsistence to increase in a greater ratio than population.'

The reader will perceive, that Mr. Senior, after admitting, with Malthus, that population naturally increases much more rapidly than food, now deduces from his own observation of facts, the conclusion, that food naturally increases much more rapidly than population. It might be thought at first view somewhat difficult to reconcile these two propositions; but our author strenuously insists throughout the work, and in his correspondence with Mr. Malthus, that there is, in truth, little or no difference of opinion between himself and that writer. His argument is as follows.

Population naturally increases faster than the means of subsistence, but the desire which every man feels of bettering his condition, which is the motive that induces him to endeavor to increase his means of subsistence, and which leads him to live single while his circumstances are narrow,-in one word, the moral restraint of Mr. Malthus,-naturally increases with the progress of society, and checks the increase of population to an extent that more than counterbalances its natural tendency to increase faster than food. The consequence is, that

[ocr errors]
« IndietroContinua »