Malthus, Thomas Robert

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Malthus, Thomas Robert

(măl`thəs), 1766–1834, English economist, sociologist, and pioneer in modern populationpopulation,
the inhabitants of a given area, but perhaps most importantly, the human inhabitants of the earth (numbering about 7.5 billion in 2017), who by their increasing numbers and corresponding increasing needs can seriously affect the global ecosystem.
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 study. A graduate of Cambridge, he was a professor at the East India College, London, from 1805 until his death. In his book An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798, rev. ed. 1803), he contended that poverty and distress are unavoidable, since population increases by geometrical ratio and the means of subsistence by arithmetical ratio. As checks on population growth, Malthus first accepted only war, famine, and disease, but in his revised work he admitted also the preventive check of "moral restraint." Although his theory caused general controversy, it was later adapted by neo-Malthusians, and its implications influenced classical economists, especially David RicardoRicardo, David,
1772–1823, British economist, of Dutch-Jewish parentage. At the age of 20 he entered business as a stockbroker and was so skillful in the management of his affairs that within five years he had amassed a huge fortune.
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. However, unlike Ricardo, Malthus did not agree with Jean Baptiste SaySay, Jean Baptiste
, 1767–1832, French economist. In A Treatise on Political Economy (1803, tr. from the 4th ed. 1821) he effectively reorganized and popularized the theories of Adam Smith.
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's law of markets, which held that overproduction and unemployment were impossible since supply creates its own demand. Malthus believed that unemployment could occur when there was a surplus of unwanted products. He also wrote Principles of Political Economy (1820) and other books.


See biographies by J. Bonar (2d ed. 1924, repr. 1966) and P. James (1979); study by D. V. Glass (1953); M. Paglin, Malthus and Lauderdale; the Anti-Ricardian Tradition (1956, repr. 1973); M. Turner, ed., Malthus and His Time (1986); R. J. Mayhew, Malthus: The Life and Legacies of an Untimely Prophet (2014).

Malthus, Thomas Robert


Born Feb. 17, 1766, at the Rookery, the family home near Guildford; died Dec. 23, 1834, near Bath. English economist and clergyman.

Malthus graduated from Jesus College at Cambridge University in 1788 and received a theological degree in 1793. From 1797 to 1803 he was vicar of a parish in Surrey. From 1805 to 1834 he was professor of modern history and political economy at East India College, where he also performed the duties of a clergyman.

An ideologist of the bourgeoisified landed aristocracy, Malthus was a founder of the vulgar political economy of Great Britain. In defending the interests of the ruling classes, he vigorously opposed the Utopian socialist ideas of W. Godwin and the then progressive views of ideologists of the French bourgeois revolution such as Condorcet and Rousseau. In An Essay on the Principle of Population … (1798), Malthus tried to explain misery and unemployment in the working classes as a consequence of the “absolute excess of the number of people” and of the “natural law of population.” He rejected Ricardo’s labor theory of value, equaling the value of goods with the costs of production, and he considered profit a nominal addition to the cost of the goods. Separating profit from labor, Malthus maintained that the source of the capitalist’s profit is not surplus value but the sale of goods at prices exceeding their value. On this ground Malthus developed the vulgar theory of distribution, maintaining that as a result of the sale of goods on the market at prices exceeding the cost of production, the distribution of any quantity of goods and services cannot be guaranteed on the basis of the total demand for them by workers and capitalists. He saw the solution to the problem of distribution in the steady growth of unproductive consumption by “third persons”—that is, landowners and their servitors, officers, and clergymen—who could, according to Malthus, create additional demand for all the goods produced in a society, a demand that is necessary for capitalist production.

Marx emphasized that Malthus, in an attempt to consolidate the existing regime for the benefit of the ruling classes, economically justified and defended the similar interests of the industrial bourgeoisie and landed aristocracy “against the masses of the people, against the proletariat” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 26, part 2, p. 121).

Contemporary bourgeois economists (Keynes, for example), who have offered a number of apologias for the principles of capitalism, employ several of Malthus’ concepts concerning distribution and measures for maintaining “effective demand” to regulate the capitalist economy.


An Inquiry Into the Nature and Progress of Rent, and the Principles by Which It Is Regulated. London, 1815.
Principles of Political Economy Considered With a View to Their Practical Application. London, 1820.
In Russian translation:
Opyt o zakone o narodonaselenii, vols. 1-2. St. Petersburg, 1868. (Translated from English.)


Engels, F. “Polozhenie rabochego klassa v Anglii.” K. Marx and F. Engels. Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 2.
Marx, K. Teoria pribavochnoi stoimosti (Das Kapital, vol. 4), ibid., vol. 26, part 2, ch. 9.