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The Neo-Malthusian Population theory

As stated the Neo-Malthusian population theory claims that poor nations are stuck in a cycle of poverty which they can’t get out of unless some sort of preventative measures of population checks are engaged. The Malthusian model was developed two centuries ago by a man named Thomas Malthus. Malthus’s model is based upon a relationship between both population growth as well as economic development. Empirical studies now-a-days show that the population theory model is quite flawed because of many factors that render even the two main variables in the theory (population growth and level of per-capita income) not fit to be used within the same conceptual frame work as there is no clear link between them.

Egypt and Kuwait are perfect examples where the model would clearly fail to explain the unexpected link between population growth rate and comparative economic development respectively.

As hitherto stated the Malthusian population theory is based on two factors; population growth and economic development.

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Primarily the theory at its core states that there is a tendency in countries unless there is a problem with the food supply that it’s population is going to double every 30 to 40 years. Based on this model of doubling growth rate; because of fixed factors such as land, food supplies and the population having less land to work on to because of the proposed growth rate, the individual’s contribution to food production would go down. The theory further proposes that because the food supply could not match the growing population per capita incomes based at the time on an agrarian society, the end result accordingly would be a stable population which is barely leading a stable population that is living barely at subsistence level.

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Malthus felt that according to his theory that the only way to avoid being stuck in this loop of abject poverty was to engage in what he called “moral restraint”. Moral restraint is basically acknowledging the fact that our contribution to the population is leading the populous to a state of economic deprivation. In an indirect way as Todaro puts it Malthus was the father of the birth control movement, he furthermore stated that we are morally obligated to regulate birth rate because of the economic and social repercussions that accompany that growth. Modern day economists have named Malthus’s theory perhaps justifiably as the Malthusian population trap; justifiably named in my opinion because of the difficulty is reducing birthrates let alone the actual size of the population and escaping abject poverty.

The Malthusian population theory is based upon two important factors that formulate its ideology: population and per capita income (based on aggregate production). The theory in detail states that at a very low level of per capita income, the population change will be zero and a stable population will exist, this is seen in the case of absolute poverty where the birth rates are equivalent to the death rates. The equilibrium between birth rates and death rates is reached quite simply because higher incomes means less starvation and disease so the more the population expands the more people will die because of starvation or other causes because there is only so much food to cover their needs. The theory also states that if the population achieves its maximum rate at an even higher per capita income it is still assumed that the population will remain at the same size and unlikely that any real change will be noticed until higher per capita incomes are realized.

The other part to the theory states that there is a link between growth rates of aggregate income (when there is no population growth) and the levels of per capita income. A directly proportionate conclusion might easily be reached that if aggregate income is rising then per capita income has to be increasing and if the total population is growing faster than the total income, per capita income must be falling. The ideology of the theory doesn’t stop here because it is based on the positive assumption that saving increases with the incremental increase of income.

Quite simply countries that have a higher per capita income are assumed to be able to generate a higher savings rate and rationally more money is available for investment. It is assumed though that beyond a certain point in per capita income is supposed to level off and in some cases decline as new investments are made and more people are forced to work with fixed amount of land and resources. This is called the point of diminishing returns in the Malthusian model, the aggregate income growth is analogous of the total production curve, at least that’s how the basic theory of production goes.

Quite simply when the population is growing faster than actual income, per capita will always fall, similarly when income grows faster than population it causes the equilibrium per capita income to rise. The pretence of the theory states that poor nations will never be able to rise above subsistence levels of per capita unless they apply a system of checks (birth control) upon the population. Without birth control nature has it’s own positive checks such as starvation, disease, wars that will do what humans fail to accomplish in birth control.

The Malthusian trap as simple and as appealing as a theory concerning the relationship between population growth and economic development goes is based on simplistic assumption that Todaro and anyone with logic can curtail do not stand the test of empirical verifications. Malthus completely ignores the huge impact that technology has on hindering the growth-inhibiting factors of rapid population increase. Malthus had no way of knowing 200 years ago the effects that technology has on either raising the quality of land or the advancements that were to be made to tools to further enhance the production of the same amount of land. Rapid and continuing technological progress can be presented by a clear upward shift of income growth. Per capita has to grow over time hence giving a chance to all countries in escaping the Malthusian population trap.

The second criticism of the trap is that he assumes that national rates of population increase are directly related to national per capita income. Clear research in LDCs show that there is no clear link between population growth rates and level of per capita income. With the institution of modern medicine and public health programs, death rates have fallen lower with no real relationship to per capita income levels. The real measure is not aggregate level of per capita but rather the real factor effecting population growth is how the income is distributed.

If we were to take Egypt for example as you had suggested we would find that it had been trying to implement birth control programs as early as 1966, even though Egypt is looked upon as a successful model in decreasing its population, per capita income more than anything has been going down, simply because a population can’t be decreased over night. Another important point that falsifies the model when we look at Egypt we find a rather strong economic buffer for the poor since expensive goods like bread and many medicines are subsidized by the government making it more likely that the population will not be naturally “thinned out” by means of positive checks as the theory curtails.

If we were to look at purchasing power per capita of Kuwait we would find it $ 15,000 as apposed to Egypt’s measly $ 3,700. Kuwait also has a growth rate of 3.33 % as apposed to Egypt’s 1.66 %. The mere stating of these numbers completely falsifies the Malthusian model by all means here is a country like Egypt with a low population growth rate and a very low per capita income whereas Kuwait has a much higher growth rate but also five time the per capita income that Egypt posses. The theory overlooked not only technological aspects but completely over looked rentee economies like Kuwait have populations that can never be effected by supply of food.

The Malthusian model is well based in theory and looks quite good on paper however it hardly holds water when applied to either real life nations or when critically analyzed as I have attempted to during the writing of this paper. Quite notably countries like Egypt and Kuwait completely bring the theory to it’s feet without much effort. I believe that when Malthus wrote his theory 200 years ago this was by all means a complete revolution even in the ideology of thought when he tried to find out why some nations remained poor no matter what they did.

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The Neo-Malthusian Population theory. (2016, Jul 09). Retrieved from

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