Published on: Mar 4, 2016
Transcripts - Populationtheories
Population theories: Malthus, Boserup,
The Club of Rome and Simon
1766-1834. Born near Guildford!
Wrote ‘An essay in the First Principle
of population’ first published in 1798
Debatable whether the principles of
Malthus two hundred years ago (that
were very revolutionary and
controversial) have any relevance to
the modern world.
The world population in 1798 was at
nine million people. We have now
passed the six billion mark.
The Core Principles of Malthus:
Food is necessary for human existence
Human population tends to grow faster than
the power in the earth to produce subsistence
The effects of these two unequal powers must
be kept equal
Since humans tend not to limit their
population size voluntarily - “preventive
checks” in Malthus’ terminology.
Malthus recognised that population if
unchecked, grows at a geometric rate:
1 2 4 8 16 32
However, food only increases at an arithmetic
rate, as land is finite.
1 2 3 4 5 6
and therefore he said….
Malthus suggested that once
this ceiling (catastrophe) had
been reached, further growth
in population would be
prevented by negative and
He saw the checks as a
natural method of population
control. They can be split up
into 3 groups….
Negative checks (decreased birth
Negative Checks were used to limit the
It included abstinence/ postponement of
marriage which lowered the fertility rate.
Malthus favoured moral restraint (including
late marriage and sexual abstinence) as a
check on population growth.
However, it is worth noting that Malthus
proposed this only for the working and poor
Positive checks (increased
Positive Checks were ways to
reduce population size by events
such as famine, disease, war -
increasing the mortality rate and
reducing life expectancy.
'J' Curve - Population Crash
Was Malthus right?
There has been a population explosion
Africa – repeated famines, wars, food crisis,
environmental degradation, soil erosion,
crop failure and disastrous floods – so was
Technological improvements which he could
not have foreseen
The increased amount of cropland due to
Reduced population growth as countries
move through the DTM
The Club of Rome
Group of industrialists, scientists,
economists and statesmen from 10 countries
Published ‘The Limits to Growth’ in 1972
The Club of Rome – basic conclusion….
If present growth trends in world
population continue and if associated
industrialisation, pollution, food production
and resource depletion continue
unchanged, the limits to growth on this
planet will be reached sometime in the next
The most probably result will be sudden
and uncontrollable decline in both
population and industrial capacity
Is the Club of Rome right?
Don’t panic yet!
Doesn’t take human dimension
sufficiently into account
Human race is adaptable and innovative
Human responses have changed – e.g.
alternative sources of fuel (to replace
fossil fuels), HYVs seeds to prevent
starvation in parts of Asia
Esther Boserup 1965
Boserup believed that people have the
resources of knowledge and technology
to increase food supplies.
Opposite to Malthus – she suggested
that population growth has enabled
agricultural development to occur
Assumes people knew of the
techniques required by more intensive
systems and used them when the
Demographic pressure (population density)
promotes innovation and higher productivity
in use of land (irrigation, weeding, crop
intensification, better seeds) and labour
(tools, better techniques).
Was she right?
Boserup argued that the changes in
technology allow for improved crop strains
and increased yields.
Boserup admits overpopulation can lead to
unsuitable farming practices which may
degrade the land
e.g. population pressure as one of the
reasons for desertification in the Sahel
region (so fragile environments at risk)
Boserup’s theory based on assumption of
‘closed’ society -not the case in reality
American Economist wrote the Ultimate
Resource in 1981
Argued that the supply of natural materials
As a resource begins to run low the price will
rise so therefore people will invest
worthwhile time and thought into producing
technology that will:
Find more raw materials
Extract more from what is already known to
Discover alternative resources that can
replace those in short supply
Produce alternative ways of organising
society to manage without that resource
In a nutshell
There is only one scarcity:
Human brain power – The
Issues – Was he right?
Simons was a very controversial figure
Famously he bet Prof. Paul Ehrlich (author
of "The Population Bomb") that any $1000
shopping basket of raw materials of Ehrlich's
choosing would be less expensive by 1990.
The loser was to pay the winner the
difference. In 1990 Ehrlich sent Simon a
check for $576.01.
In many circles he was condemned as a
His message that markets were doing a good
job of protecting the environment
Also that growth does not reduce the
worldwide standard of living were highly
compatible with politically conservative
Copper as an example