[FoRK] Malthusian machinations

Dave Kammeyer kammeyer at kammeyer.org
Fri Jun 11 13:02:03 PDT 2010

On Fri, Jun 11, 2010 at 2:39 PM, Jeff Bone <jbone at place.org> wrote:
>> Malthus was wrong because children are a substitutable good.  Malthus
>> thought that overall, people would have as many children as they could
>> support, but they don't.  People really want sex, and sex requires an
>> input of either children or birth control pills!
> I think you have your inputs and outputs confused. ;-)  Well, hopefully.

No. :)  that was my point.  If we go out to dinner, and the check
comes after the meal, we still say that the money was the input that
got us the food.  You can pay for sex with child rearing, or with
birth control.  If you like kids, they're an output too, but they sure
are an input!  Since the number of children goes down as wealth
increases, economics also tells us that children are an inferior good.

> Malthus missed the rate estimate, but it should be clear that the rate is
> still problematic as long as it is over par, all other things being equal.
>  His real failure wasn't that, though; it was the aforementioned failure to
> anticipate carrying capacity increases.

Malthus' main point was this:

"That the increase of population is necessarily limited by the means
of subsistence,
That population does invariably increase when the means of subsistence
increase, and,
That the superior power of population it repressed, and the actual
population kept equal to the means of subsistence, by misery and

Sure, you can do some math about available resources on earth and
figure out when the collapse will be, but the specifics of resources
miss the big driver, namely that people have as many kids as they can,
and that they only stop when physically incapable, or the herd is
culled due to lack of food.  Some less developed countries have
population growth rates near 5%.  Our technological improvement has
been good, but GWP hasn't gone up by 5% annually.

In places where GDP did go up very quickly, Malthus was temporarily
held at bay, but generally we are capable of growing the population
faster than we are capable of growing the economy.  Therefore, the
only true solution is to make people want to grow the population more
slowly than we can grow the economy.

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