Three Essays on Population

Three Essays on Population

Authors: Thomas Malthus, Julian Huxley, Frederick Osborn

Published by The New American Library, Inc. First published in 1960.

This is a must read book for anyone seriously looking for the causes and the solutions to the problems that plague humanity. The authors of these essays, starting with Malthus 1830, Huxley 1955, and Osborn 1960 have accurately assessed the problems of humanity. The problem of overpopulation must be solved before any other problem can be adequately addressed. All through history the ability of a nation, a culture, a tribe, a religion, a group,and the human species overall to increase in numbers has been a necessity for survival. What was once necessary for survival is now undermining and placing survival itself. We are heading for a planetary collapse unless we get the population under control. China is he only nation that has tried to address it with any semblance of reality. In the West you are met with two arguments against and both are emotional. It is either against God’s commands or it is racist. I have quoted some passages of their works that I consider interesting and pertinent. I hope that by reading these paragraphs that enough interest is generated to read them. If we do not solve the population issue everything else is irrelevant. Malthus is a bit difficult to follow because he uses a large number of mathematical statistics which many readers tend to bog down in much like the genealogy of the Bible. It is also written in the vernacular of the place and period of the day at the time of his writing. The other two are contemporary and worded as such so are easier to understand. They also do not have the statistics that make Malthus difficult. Recently written it is easier for a reader to understand what they are saying as the issue is becoming more and more visible and apparent in the world. Although I have not checked it can be reasonably assumed that the essays can be found separately if the book is not.

From the introduction by Frank W. Notestein who was the President of The Population Council at the time this book was published:


“Unchecked, Malthus said, populations tend to grow in a geometric progression and at a rate that would double the numbers about every 25 years. Food supplies at best, he thought, could increase in arithmetic progression. The superior power of population growth over the means of subsistence require that population growth would eventually be checked, if not by preventative measures, then by the positive inroads of starvation, disease, war, etc. which he grouped under the heading of misery and vice.”


“You recognize that improved techniques of production and migration would mitigate the difficulties of population increase temporarily.”


“Malthus was no ivory tower scholar. He was a political pamphleteer. He began the whole exercise as an attack on the poor laws. The poverty and suffering of the masses could not be aided by public relief. That would only stimulate population growth and make the situation worse. None of the plans of the utopian dreamers would work, because the difficulty arose, not from social injustice, but from natural law.”


“Finally, Malthus was wrong, so far as his social doctrine was concerned, in a basic assumption. At the heart of his doctrine is the view that only suffering and the threat of still worse suffering could be relied upon to induce restraint in the masses. Yet there is now clear evidence that abysmal poverty induces more of the same, and not prudence. The poorest must live just for the day to survive. Only when the margins of income are above the minimum can foresight come into play. It was indeed the secure upper and middle classes of Europe’s society and not the necessitous masses that started the trend toward reduced fertility.”

Essay One “A Summary View of the Principle of Population” by Thomas Malthus

“Now, supposing that in any one country during a certain period and under the ordinary cultivation, the return of wheat was six grains for one, it would be strictly correct to say that wheat had the capacity of increasing in a geometrical ratio of such a nature as to sextuple itself every year. And it might safely be calculated hypothetically that if, setting out from the produce of one acre, land of the same quality could be prepared with sufficient rapidity and no wheat were consumed, the rate of increase would be such as completely to cover the whole earthy surface of our globe in fourteen years.”


“In the same manner, if it be found by experience that on land of a certain quality, and making allowance for the ordinary mortality and accidents, sheep will increase on an average so as to double their numbers every two years, it would be strictly correct to say that sheep have a natural capacity of increasing in a geometrical progression, of which the common multiple is two and the term two years; and it might safely be said that if land of the same quality could be provided with sufficient rapidity, and no sheep were consumed, the rate of increase would be such that if we were to begin with the full number which could be supported on an acre of land, the whole earthy part of the globe might be completely covered with sheep in less than seventy-six years.”

“If the soil of any extensive well populated country were equally divided amongst its inhabitants, the check would assume it’s most obvious and simple form. Perhaps each farm in the well peopled countries of Europe might allow of one, or even two doublings, without much distress, but the absolute impossibility of going on at the same rate is too glaring to escape the most careless thinker.”


“According to all past experience and the best observations which can be made on the motives which operate upon the human mind, there can be no well-founded hope of obtaining a large produce from the soil but under a system of private property. It seems perfectly visionary to suppose that any stimulus short of that which is excited in man by the desire of providing for himself and family and of bettering his condition in life, should operate on the mass of society with sufficient force and constancy to overcome the natural indolence of mankind. All the attempts which have been made since the commencement of authentic history to proceed upon a principle of common property have either been so insignificant that no inference can be drawn from them, or have been marked by the most signal failures; and the changes which have been effected in modern times by education do not seem to advance a single step towards making of such a state of things more probable in future. We may, therefore, safely conclude that while man retains the same physical and moral constitution which he is observed to possess at present, no other than a system of private property stands the least chance of providing for such a large and increasing population as that which is to be found in many countries at present.”

“If it were possible to suppose that man might be adequately stimulated to labor under a system of common property, such land might be cultivated, and the production of food and the increase of population might go on till the soil absolutely refused to grow a single additional quarter, and the whole society was exclusively engaged in procuring the necessaries of life. But it is quite obvious that such a state of things would inevitably lead to the greatest degree of distress and degradation.”


“It is specifically this truth constantly intruding itself upon our attention which is the great source of delusion on this subject and creates the belief that man could always produce from the soil much more than sufficient to support himself and family. In the actual state of things, this power has perhaps always been possessed. But for it we are indebted holy to the ignorance and bad government of our ancestors. If they had properly called forth the resources of the soil, it is quite certain that we should not have but scanty means left of further increasing our food.”

“Moral restraint, an application to the present subject, may be defined to be abstinence from marriage, either for a time or permanently, from prudential considerations, with a strictly moral conduct towards the sex in the interval. And this is the only mode of keeping population on a level with the means of subsistence which is perfectly consistent with virtue and happiness. All other checks, whether of the preventative or the positive kind, though they may greatly vary in degree, resolve themselves into some form of vice or misery.”

“The positive checks to population include all the causes which tend in any way prematurely to shorten the duration of human life, such as unwholesome occupations, severe labor and exposure to the seasons, bad and insufficient food and clothing arising from poverty, bad nursing of children, excesses of all kinds, great towns in manufactories, the whole train of common diseases and epidemics, wars, infanticide, plague, and famine. Of these positive checks, those which appear to arise from the laws of nature may be called exclusively misery; and those which we bring upon ourselves, such as wars, excesses of all kinds, and many others which it would be in our power to avoid, are of a mixed nature. They are brought upon us by vice, and their consequences are misery.”


“In an inquiry into the causes of these different habits, we shall generally be able to trace those which produce the first result to all the circumstances which contributed to press the lower classes of the people, which make them unable or unwilling to reason from the past to the future and ready to acquiesce for the sake of present gratification in a very low standard of comfort and respectability;……..”


“These causes will be found resolvable almost wholly into vice and misery, the first of which, and a large portion of the second, it is always in the power of man to avoid.”

This second essay was written in 1955 by Julian Huxley. It has the title “World Population”. At the time this was written he was Director General of UNESCO.


“Population, as Thomas Malthus pointed out in 1798, tends to grow not arithmetically but geometrically – it increases by compound interest. Until well into the present century the compound rate of increase remained below 1 per cent per annum, but it has now reached 1.33 percent per annum. What is more, this acceleration of increase shows no sign of slowing up, and it is safe to prophesy that it will continue to go up for at least several decades.”


“Each major upward step in numbers followed some major discovery or invention – agriculture, the initiation of urban life and trade, the harnessing of nonhuman power, the technical revolution. During the present century the most decisive factor in increasing population has been of a different sort – the application of scientific medicine, or what we may call death control.”


“In the Western world the reduction of the death rate came gradually, and its effect on population growth was buffered by factors which tended at the same time to reduce the birth rate – namely, a rising standard of living and industrialization, which made children no longer an economic asset.”


“Although Malthus’ particular formulation was incorrect, it remains true that there is a fundamental difference between the increase of population, which is based on a geometrical or compound interest growth mechanism, and the increase of food production, which is not.”


“There are still some optimists who proclaim that the situation will take care of itself, through industrialization and through the opening of new lands to cultivation, or that science will find a way out by improving food production techniques, tapping the food resources of the oceans, and so on. These arguments seem plausible until we began to look at matters quantitatively. To accelerate food production so that it can keep pace with human reproduction would take skill, great amounts of capital and, above all, time – time to clear the tropical forests, construct huge dams and irrigation projects, drain swamps, start large-scale industrialization, give training in scientific methods, modernize systems of land tenure and, most difficult of all, change traditional habits and attitudes among the bulk of the people. And quite simply there is not enough skill or capital or time available. Population is always catching up with and outstripping increases in production. ………… The growth of population has reached such dimensions and speed that it cannot help winning in a straight race against production.”

“Is there then no remedy? Of course there is. The remedy is to stop thinking in terms of a race between population and food production and to begin thinking in terms of a balance. We need a population policy.”


“Even primitive societies practice some form of population control – by infanticide or abortion or sexual abstinence or crude contraceptives. Since the invention of effective birth control methods in the 19th century, they have been very generally practiced in all Western countries. Their spread to other cultures has been retarded by various inhibitions – religious, ideological, economic, political. It is worth noting that one retarding factor in the past has been the reluctance of colonial powers to encourage birth control in their colonies, often out of fear that they might be considered to be seeking to use population control as a weapon against an “inferior” race.”

“Cultural differences can create grave difficulties in national development. They often do so when cultural and racial differences are combined. A large minority group which clings to its own standards and its own cultural and racial distinctiveness inevitably stands in the way of national unity and creates all sorts of frictions. And if the immigrant group multiplies faster than the rest of the population, the problem is aggravated, as we have seen in Fiji.”


“Everything points to one conclusion. While every effort must be made to increase food production, to facilitate distribution, to conserve all conservable resources, and to shame the “have” nations into a fairer sharing of the good things of the world with the “have-nots” this alone cannot prevent disaster. Birth control also is necessary, on a world scale and as soon as possible.”rol as a weapon against an “inferior” race.”

This third essay was written by Frederic Osborn it was published in 1958 with the title “Population: An International Dilemma.”

“In advanced countries, the loss of reproductive force through the death of children at early ages is today almost negligible. For example, according to recent life tables for the Netherlands, 94.8 per cent of all females born alive live to have a 30th birthday. Under these conditions, if women exercise their full reproductive capacity, they would bare well on the average well over 8 children for each woman living to the end of her reproductive period. Almost half of all infants are girls, and thus each woman would contribute, on the average, four potential mothers to the next generation. Since there are more than three generations in a hundred years, a completely unimpeded exercise of human reproductive capacity under modern conditions could give a 64-fold increase of population in less than a century (4x4x4=64).”


“It would be very hard to continue a stable, democratic government in India, or in any other country, if poverty and hunger were on the increase. The hopes of all mankind for orderly progress in a peaceful world may well depend in part on real achievements in bringing births into better balance with a reduced mortality.”

“The age structure of underdeveloped countries with high birth rates places an almost intolerable burden on families and communities. If the average investment of the underdeveloped countries in the nurture and development of each child absorb a proportion of their income equal to that devoted to the rearing of the children in the developed countries, the economic burden could not be met. The problem is usually solved by limiting the expenditure on each child to provision for his basic needs for food and other necessities. Even then children have to begin productive labor at an early age. Thus high fertility, through its effect on the rates of increase in age structure of populations, tends to impede national movements for promoting education and the acquisition of new skills.”


“…. as a general rule it must be recognized that for most people in areas where birth rates are high and incomes are low, large families make it difficult to improve the care and education of children, and handicap all efforts to improve the quality of family life.”

“Excessive fertility by families with meager resources must be recognized as one of the potent forces in the perpetuation of slums, ill health, and adequate education, and even delinquency.”


“The characteristics of each new generation are, in part, determined by its origins. These include hereditary factors that are often transmitted with remarkable constancy through innumerable generations, and they include the cultural characteristics of the homes in which the children are reared.”


In a second part of the essay he goes into “Attitudes and Practices Affecting Fertility.” He divided up by areas: The European Experience, Latin America, Eastern and Southeastern Asia, Japan, United States, Russia. He compares the social structures of each and shows how they developed affected their fertility and population. There is also a third part, which goes into “Religious Teaching and Moral Values.” He discusses Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, the Catholic Church, and Protestants. He also gets into the cultural and political barriers in Asia, Africa, and the Arab states.

From the second part, subsection “European Experience”. He also has sub sections on the other geographical areas.

“The traditional social structure, the culture, and the historical development of Western Europe enabled its population to enter the era of rapid technical advance with (1) a lower initial ratio of population to resources than many Asian nations possess today, (2) lower initial fertility, (3) a social structure amenable to entrepreneurial activity and social change. It also promoted (4) an approach to personal relations between men and women that may have influenced later trends in the control of fertility.”

“The primary unit in the social organization of European villages was the nuclear family, formed through the marriage of a man and a woman and including, as dependents, only their own children, along with any relatives deprived of support. This kind of family unit is in contrast to the extended or joint family common in Asian cultures. The emphasis on the nuclear family in Europe was in line with the individualistic legal and religious principles of late Hellenistic, late Hebraic, and early Christian values.”


“Each man at marriage became responsible for the support of his wife and of any children that might be born to them. It was commonly assumed that a man could not properly marry until he was in a position to discharge these responsibilities.”

“In contrast Asian cultures where there is little provision for intimate association outside the family between men and women in work and play, young men and women in Europe (except in the upper classes where maidens were zealously chaperoned) work together in the fields and joined in village festivals during the long years between puberty and marriage.”

The first two paragraphs of the third section “Religious Teaching and Moral Values.”


“The contemporary situation in Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism is such that these religions cannot be expected to give unified and clear cut answers with respect to family limitation. Just as Christianity has produced many separate institutional religious groupings in its history, so too have Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. The problem is even more complicated in the case of non-Western religions in that they have not had a conception of religious organization in the pattern of the Western world. There is no one individual or group which can speak authoritatively for any of these religions. They have not produced institutional forms which readily lend themselves to authoritative and representative statements.”


“The vast majority of the adherence to the non-Christian religions have not and do not face the problem of family planning or birth control with a vivid consciousness of its relationship to religious teaching and moral values. They are guided by the immediate situation which confronts them and by the customer reality of their society. Is usually only the intellectually alert religious person who views the problem in any of its ramifications beyond the particular individual’s economic needs and social circumstances.”