Is Overpopulation a Serious Problem?
This question seems to be question that is asked quite frequently lately. In the last two centuries, population has skyrocketed. In 1800 the world population was only at 1 billion, and today it’s estimated that the world population exceeds six billion people. With overpopulation, many problems have arisen. Some believe that overpopulation is the reason for world hunger, global population will reach crisis proportions by 2050, and some believe that overpopulation will bring the extinction of the human race. When one looks at the arguments that these people present, its quite overwhelming the amount of evidence that’s supports their argument. On the other side, the evidence for the opposing arguments is quite staggering as well.
In this paper I will give a brief description on two opposing arguments dealing with the issues of overpopulation and the effects that it may, or may not have on the present as well as the future. The two articles that I have chosen to analyze are “Overpopulation Is a Serious Problem” written by Thomas Robert Malthus, and “Overpopulation Is a Myth” by Frederick Engels. The titles of the articles are pretty self explanatory on the side that they take on this issue.
To begin with, Thomas Malthus wrote one of the most famous works on population, An Essay on the Principle of Population. He is a man who sticks to his values, and does what he preaches. He wants nothing more than to see the betterment of man, but he feels that it’s a long road with unconquerable difficulties to achieve this. Malthus states that this overpopulation is a huge problem that most people seem to “purposely shut their eyes to such problems”. A good metaphor that he uses about this is that if he were to offer a man a glass of wine repeatedly, and that man were to take no notice to it what-so-ever, he would think that man to be blind, or uncivilized. In his article, Overpopulation Is a Serious Problem, he states the many things that cause overpopulation. He states two postulates in his article about mankind. The first is that food is necessary for man. Without food man could not exist. Second he states that attraction and the passion between the genders is a must, and will continue and will quite closely remain in its present state.
These two laws Malthus says appear to be part of the fixed laws of nature. He states that he doesn’t know if these laws will ever change, but he doesn’t know how man can live without food. However, he cites Mr. William Godwin in that the passion between the genders will eventually, with the help of time, be dissolved. But, has no proof to reinforce this claim. Malthus states that, “The best arguments for the perfectibility of man are drawn from a contemplation of the great progress that he has already made from the savage state and the difficulty of saying where he is to stop.”* Further, he says that he had not seen any progress towards extinguishing of the passion of the genders, and appears to be in full force today, just as it was thousands of years ago. Just as with everything else, there are the exceptions of course, but these exceptions are not showing any signs of increasing. “But, as these exceptions do not appear to increase in number, it would surely be a very unphilosophical mode of arguing, to infer merely from the existence of an exception, that exception would, in time, become the rule, and the rule the exception.”* Malthus states that the power in the earth is forever less than the power of population to produce subsistence for man.
Subsistence increases only in an arithmetical ratio, while population increases in geometrical ratio when left unchecked. From this one can see the sheer overwhelming comparison of the first power to the second. Since food is a necessity for mankind, the consequences of the two powers, subsistence and population, must be kept equal. This shows the strong correlation on population from the difficulty of subsistence. That difficulty of subsistence must fall on someone and be felt in large proportions. Malthus goes on to state that the earth is filled with life in the animal and vegetable kingdoms, and that if left unhindered could fill all the worlds in the universe, but necessity, “that imperious all pervading law of nature” restrains them within their prescribed boundaries. Man cannot escape from this fact. “Among plants and animals its effects are waste of seed, sickness, and premature death. Among mankind, misery and vice”*
Malthus in his article goes on to state what kinds of positive preventive checks there are for population growth and uses England as an example. The difficulties of raising a family acts as a preventive check, as well as some of the distresses of the lower classes in providing food and adequate attention to children also acts as a preventitive check. Malthus states that the preventive check operates in some effect to all ranks of society in England. For example, he says that there are some men even in the highest rank not willing to start a family due to the fact that they have to give up many of their own leisurely activities, or not willing to give up the money to start a family. These consideration are certainly trivial, but a preventive foresight of this kind has objects of much greater weight for its contemplation as we go lower.”* A good situation that embodies this quote is that of a single man that earns just enough money to be considered to be in the class of a gentleman. If this man gets married he must know that if he is social at all in society that his class would be considered like that of a farmer, or the lower class of tradesman. The same effects happen with women. Will a woman marry a man that of the same stature but when married lower both of their class rank among society? There are exceptions to this as well though. There are those whose passion for one another is very strong, or the wrong judgment was made.
Sons of tradesmen, and farmers are encouraged not to marry until they are in a business or work in a farm that is able to sustain a family. This may or may not happen at all, and if it does, it is usually far later in life. A single man that makes only enough to support himself will be reluctant to give up that in order to support a wife and children. He would have to work harder to provide for his family. This alone makes many people reluctant to marry, acting as a preventive check. Malthus believes that this not only applies to England, but to many other states as well. “But I believe it has been very generally remarked by those who have attended to bills of mortality that of the number of children who die annually, much too great a proportion belongs to those who may be supposed unable to give their offspring proper food and attention, exposed as they are occasionally to severe distress and confined, perhaps, to unwholesome habitations and hard labour.”
The next article to refute the argument by Malthus is “Overpopulation is a Myth” by Frederick Engels. To start his article, he immediately argues the points that Malthus has previously laid down. He states that it absurd that the Malthusian theory states that we should let those in poverty die out, to balance out the population. Engels states that under the Malthusian theory that the poor consist to the surplus of the population should simply be left to die off, and that nothing should be done to them and that their lives cannot get it altered.
Engels has a great hatred for the Malthusian theory. “And it is precisely this theory which is the conerstone of the liberal system of free trade, whose fall will bringteh whole edifice down with it.”* He states that competition is the cause of misery, poverty and crime. He goes further to explain that Malthus had taken a one sided view. He did not pay attention to the fact that surplus population is always bound with surplus wealth, surplus landed property, and surplus capital. “Population is too great only when productive power in general is too great.”* This is proven in every overpopulated country.
From what I have learned trough class and life I firmly believe in what Thomas Malthus point of view. I believe that overpopulation is a huge problem that we need to take a closer look at.