growth population faster than the planet’s ability to produce food and other necessities will lead to a sudden population collapse



Thomas Malthus : Economist
In the original Malthusian argument, if the world’s population grows faster than the planet’s ability to produce food and other necessities, the cost of those necessities will rise while wages fall because more people will be available to work. At a certain point we will no longer be able to afford children and as a result will stop having them, leading to a sudden population collapse. When he laid out this apocalyptic theory 200 years ago, Malthus was the center of intellectual attention. His dire view provoked strong arguments in support and in opposition. Among other things, it helped shape the Corn Laws, British tariffs designed to limit the availability of cheap foreign imports.
One of the most influential thinkers of all time, Malthus was concerned with the relationship between human population and scarcity. Because he sought to constrain the former and reduce the latter, he was active in public policy in early 19th-century Britain, supporting high tariffs on grain and opposing the Poor Laws, which he felt increased population pressures. He had a profound influence on such luminaries as Charles Darwin, John Maynard Keynes, and Mao Zedong. But Malthus wrote at a time before agricultural mechanization, when 90% of Americans, for example, worked on farms. The linear growth in agricultural production that was central to his thesis turned dramatically geometric as the Americas, New Zealand, and Australia opened up to farming and then mechanized. Staggering productivity growth in manufacturing as well as agriculture followed. Malthus seemed to have entirely missed the mark, while Alfred Marshall, the dominant British economist of his time, explained to the world that productivity growth was now a centrally important feature of economic performance, spurring generations of economists to study it.

Malthus’s ideas reentered the mainstream for a brief period 40 years ago, when Paul Erlich (The Population Bomb, 1968), the Club of Rome (The Limits to Growth, 1972), and William D. Nordhaus and James Tobin (Is Growth Obsolete?, 1972) all warned in vivid and uncompromising terms that conventional economic growth was on the verge of ruining the world. Once again events suggested that the warnings were misplaced: Energy and commodity prices fell, deregulation delivered the benefits of more-intense competition, and the technology revolution boosted opportunities and productivity. Today, however, as apprehension about environmental degradation mounts, Malthus’s notion that we are headed inexorably toward our own destruction is back at the center of the public discourse, heating up the debate about the role of corporations in finding solutions to urgent global problems.
Modern Malthusianism generalizes the argument beyond food: The better we get at making things, the cheaper it is to consume and the faster we reproduce and use up the planet’s resources. The fear is that economic growth comes at the expense of the world’s natural resources, including oil, fish, clean air, clean water, carbon-absorbing forests, and so on. Our economic activity not only eats up nonrenewable resources but degrades the ecosystem while fueling faster and faster population growth. In other words, we are steadily approaching a metaphorical wall that lurks out there in the distance. Each year we get closer and closer; eventually we will smack into the wall, with devastating consequences that include natural disaster, plague, famine, and death. The only possible recourse is to slow our progress.


An Essay on the Principle of Population