Thursday, December 15, 2011

Ronald Bleier: Malthus and 7 Billion: Three Letters to the Media

 In October 2011 I posted a letter to the New York Review of Books regarding media references to Thomas Malthus in connection with world population reaching the 7 billion mark. In the end, I wrote three such letters to the NY media. Afterwards I decided to post all three letters within a little essay (about 3,500 words), which touched on population related issues. I also included reference to Malthus’s theory that the principle of population was the fundamental driving force that underlay the persistence of war in human civilization.

The article: "Malthus and 7 Billon: Three Letters to the Media" is available on the International Society of Malthus website:
 In the following segment from my article I reflect on the broad, wall-to-wall, political spectrum arrayed against Malthus’s teachings.

Excerpt from “Malthus and 7 Billon: Three Letters to the Media”

Malthus Excoriated


Among the more powerful institutions arrayed against Malthusian views would seem to be the pro-natalist Catholic Church. To this day the Church opposes most forms of birth control and advocates unrestricted births and tacitly promotes the repression of women. One can surmise that their authoritarian and patriarchal policies derive from the perception that maintaining the immiseration and illiteracy of so many helps to promote the continuance of their wealth, power and influence.

Ironically or otherwise, the Catholic Church is joined in its refusal to address the consequences of nature’s limits by many on the left including socialists, Marxists and many anarchists who believe that considerations of ever clearer signs of nature’s backlash is not the proper way to look at the problem. Rather they are disposed to believe in “systemic” approaches, with each sectarian element favoring one “system” or another. They tend to start from the fundamental notion that by some means or another—nature, God, etc.—there will always be sufficient supply of food and the means of subsistence. The answer they believe is the implementation of fair and just systems of distribution.

Yet, from a Malthusian perspective, too often such “systems” seem to ignore the day-to-day costs of production and distribution and the requirement to somehow pay for those costs. Many seem to ignore the imperatives of scarcity that drive powerful individuals and institutions to secure the interest of elites at the expense of the rest.  In Malthusian theory, such traits evident in the rich and powerful as unrestrained selfishness, ruthlessness and unmotivated malignancy are symptoms rather than the fundamental causes of evil and misery.

Karl Marx saw Malthus’s teachings as a threat to his own desiderata of a more or less equal per capita division of resources and he favored a system outlawing private property in favor of communal ownership. In all his writings, Marx only devoted about a page of vituperation to Malthus, excoriating him as a plagiarist and as a stooge of the privileged, especially the landed gentry. Marx’s collaborator, Fredrich Engels, at least had the self-assurance to address the central issue Malthus raised of limits to growth. According to Engels, Malthus was proved wrong by the very existence of the lands west of the Mississippi River, which, he believed, demonstrated that humanity would never be bound by an insufficiency of resources.
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1 comment:

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