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Malthusian catastrophe

The fear of resource depletion, war or famine.
© Adam Smith Center, Singapore

The fear that Malthus, and many of his later followers had, was that of the ‘Malthusian Trap’, which is a catastrophic outcome at the end of unchecked population growth. When food supply eventually runs out, crises will occur, which could include famines, disease outbreaks and conflicts over scarce resources.

Such crises would ironically, shave off human population to a more sustainable level.

According to Malthus in Chapter 7 of An Essay on the Principle of Population:

“Famine seems to be the last, the most dreadful resource of nature. The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race. The vices of mankind are active and able ministers of depopulation. They are the precursors in the great army of destruction, and often finish the dreadful work themselves. But should they fail in this war of extermination, sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence, and plague advance in terrific array, and sweep off their thousands and tens of thousands. Should success be still incomplete, gigantic inevitable famine stalks in the rear, and with one mighty blow levels the population with the food of the world.”

This was a pessimistic view of human society that arose from the writings of Malthus. Even though this seems extreme, Malthus was indeed onto something, which was the zero-sum nature of pre-modern economies.

© Adam Smith Center, Singapore
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Overpopulation: Resource Depletion and Human Innovation

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