Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Thomas Malthus, fully Thomas Robert Malthus

English Scholar, Economist, Scientist and Political Philosopher

"An ardent love and admiration of virtue seems to imply the existence of something opposite to it, and it seems highly probably that the same beauty of form and substance, the same perfection of character could not be generated without the impressions of disapprobation which arise from the spectacle of moral evil."

"Evil exists in the world not to create despair but activity."

"Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsistence increases only in an arithmetical ratio. A slight acquaintance with numbers will show the immensity of the first power in comparison to the second. By that law of our nature which makes food necessary to the life of man, the effects of these two unequal powers must be kept equal. This implies a strong and constantly operating check on population from the difficulty of subsistence. This difficulty must fall somewhere and must necessarily be severely felt by a large portion of mankind."

"Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometric ratio. Subsistence increases only in an arithmetical ratio."

"Man is the creature of circumstances."

"The power of population is infinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man. Population, when unchecked, increases at a geometrical ratio. Subsistence only increases in an arithmetical ratio. A slight acquaintance with numbers will show the immensity of the first power in comparison of the second."

"A feather will weigh down a scale when there is nothing in the opposite one."

"During this season of distress, the discouragements to marriage, and the difficulty of rearing a family are so great that population is at a stand."

"Each pursues his own theory, little solicitous to correct or improve it by an attention to what is advanced by his opponents."

"Every endeavor should be used to weaken and destroy all those institutions relating to corporations, apprenticeships, which cause the labors of agriculture to be worse paid than the labors of trade and manufactures."

"But such consumption is not consistent with the actual habits of the generality of capitalists.The great object of their lives is to save a fortune, both because it is their duty to make a provision for their families, and because they cannot spend an income with so much comfort to themselves, while they are obliged perhaps to attend a counting house for seven or eight hours a day...There must therefore be a considerable class of persons who have both the will and power to consume more material wealth then they produce, or the mercantile classes could not continue profitably to produce so much more than they consume."

"A great emigration necessarily implies unhappiness of some kind or other in the country that is deserted."

"Among plants and animals are waste of seed, sickness, and premature death. Among mankind, misery and vice."

"But, fortunately for mankind, the neat rents of the land, under a system of private property, can never be diminished by the progress of cultivation."

"Famine seems to be the last, the most dreadful resource of nature. The power of population is so superior to the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race. The vices of mankind are active and able ministers of depopulation. They are the precursors in the great army of destruction; and often finish the dreadful work themselves. But should they fail in this war of extermination, sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence, and plague, advance in terrific array, and sweep off their thousands and ten thousands. Should success he still incomplete, gigantic inevitable famine stalks in the rear, and with one mighty blow, levels the population with the food of the world."

"Few persons will leave their families, connections, friends, and native land, to seek a settlement in untried foreign climes, without some strong subsisting causes of uneasiness where they are, or the hope of some great advantages in the place to which they are going."

"Had population and food increased in the same ratio, it is probable that man might never have emerged from the savage state."

"Hard as it may appear in individual cases, dependent poverty ought to be held disgraceful"

"I cannot doubt the talents of such men as Godwin and Condorcet. I am unwilling to doubt their candor."

"I do not know that any writer has supposed that on this earth man will ultimately be able to live without food."

"I feel no doubt whatever that the parish laws of England have contributed to raise the price of provisions and to lower the real price of labor."

"I happen to have a very bad fit of the tooth-ache at the time I am writing this."

"I have read some of the speculations on the perfectibility of man and of society with great pleasure."

"Every exchange which takes place in a country, effects a distribution of its produce better adapted to the wants of society... If two districts, one of which possessed a rich copper mine, and the other a rich tin mine, had always been separated by an impassable river or mountain, there can be no doubt that an opening of a communication, a greater demand would take place, and a greater price be given for both the tin and the copper; and this greater price of both metals, though it might be only temporary, would alone go a great way towards furnishing the additional capital wanted to supply the additional demand; and the capitals of both districts, and the products of both mines, would be increased both in quantity and value to a degree which could not have taken place without the this new distribution of the produce, or some equivalent to it."

"I see great, and, to my understanding, unconquerable difficulties. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to see them completely removed."

"I think I may fairly make two postulata. First, that food is necessary to the existence of man. Secondly, that the passion between the sexes is necessary, and will remain nearly in its present state. These two laws ever since we have had any knowledge of mankind, appear to have been fixed laws of our nature; and, as we have not hitherto seen any alteration in them, we have no right to conclude that they will ever cease to be what they now are, without an immediate act of power in that Being who first arranged the system of the universe, and for the advantage of his creatures, still executes, according to fixed laws, all its various operations."

"I think it will be found that experience, the true source and foundation of all knowledge, invariably confirms its truth."

"If a country can only be rich by running a successful race for low wages, I should be disposed to say at once, perish such riches!"

"If I saw a glass of wine repeatedly presented to a man, and he took no notice of it, I should be apt to think that he was blind or uncivil. A juster philosophy might teach me rather to think that my eyes deceived me, and that the offer was not really what I conceived it to be."

"If one fourth of the capital of a country were suddenly destroyed, or entirely transferred to a different part of the world, without any other cause occurring of a diminished demand for commodities, this scantiness of capital would certainly occasion great inconvenience to consumers, and great distress among the working classes; but it would be attended with great advantages to the remaining capitalists."

"In a state therefore of great equality and virtue, where pure and simple manners prevailed, the increase of the human species would evidently be much greater than any increase that has been hitherto known."

"In general it may be said that demand is quite as necessary to the increase of capital as the increase of capital is to demand."

"In no state that we have yet known has the power of population been left to exert itself with perfect freedom."

"In prosperous times the mercantile classes often realize fortunes, which go far towards securing them against the future; but unfortunately the working classes, though they share in the general prosperity, do not share in it so largely as in the general adversity."

"It accords with the most liberal spirit of philosophy to suppose that not a stone can fall, or a plant rise, without the immediate agency of divine power."

"It cannot be true, therefore, that among animals some of the offspring will possess the desirable qualities of the parents in greater degree, or that animals are indefinitely perfectible."

"It has appeared that from the inevitable laws of our nature, some human beings must suffer from want. These are the unhappy persons who, in the great lottery of life, have drawn a blank."

"It has been said, and perhaps with truth, that the conclusions of Political Economy partake more of the certainty of the stricter sciences than those of most of the other branches of human knowledge."

"It is a mere futile process to exchange one set of commodities for another, if the parties; after this new distribution of goods has taken place, are not better off than they were before."

"It is also very important to observe, that menial servants are absolutely necessary to make the resources of the higher and middle classes of society efficient in the demand for material products."

"It is an acknowledged truth in philosophy that a just theory will always be confirmed by experiment."

"It is not the most pleasant employment to spend eight hours a day in a counting house."

"It is quite obvious therefore that the knowledge and prudence of the poor themselves, are absolutely the only means by which any general and permanent improvement in their condition can be effected. They are really the arbiters of their own destiny; and what others can do for themselves. These truths are so important to the happiness of the great mass of society, that every opportunity should be taken of repeating them."

"It must be acknowledged that we are all of us too prone to err."

"Man cannot live in the midst of plenty."

"No check whatever has existed to early marriages, among the lower classes, from a fear of not providing well for their families, or among the higher classes, from a fear of lowering their condition in life."

"No limits whatever are placed to the productions of the earth; they may increase forever."

"No move towards the extinction of the passion between the sexes has taken place in the five or six thousand years that the world has existed."

"Not many years had elapsed after the first edition of this work, when it became known to all with whom Mr. Malthus had the opportunity of communicating on the subject, or who were acquainted with his last publications, that his opinions on the subject of value had undergone some change."

"On the whole it may be observed, that the specific use of a body of unproductive consumers, is to give encouragement to wealth by maintaining such a balance between produce and consumption as will give the greatest exchangeable value to the results of the national industry."