Malthusian catastrophe

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A Malthusian catastrophe (also phrased Malthusian check, Malthusian crisis, Malthusian disaster, or Malthusian nightmare) was originally foreseen to be a forced return to subsistence-level conditions once population growth had outpaced agricultural production. Later formulations consider economic growth limits as well. The term is also commonly used in discussions of oil depletion. Based on the work of political economist Thomas Malthus (1766–1834), theories of Malthusian catastrophe are very similar to the Iron Law of Wages. The main difference is that the Malthusian theories predict what will happen over several generations or centuries, whereas the Iron Law of Wages predicts what will happen in a matter of years and decades.

An August 2007 science review in The New York Times raised the claim that the Industrial Revolution had enabled the modern world to break out of the Malthusian growth model,[1] while a front page Wall Street Journal article in March 2008 pointed out various limited resources which may soon limit human population growth because of a widespread belief in the importance of prosperity for every individual and the rising consumption trends of large developing nations such as China and India.[2]


Traditional Malthusian theory

In 1798, Thomas Malthus published An Essay on the Principle of Population, describing his theory of quantitative development of human populations:


Assuming then my postulata as granted, I say, that the power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man. Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio.

A series that is increasing in geometric progression is defined by the fact that the ratio of any two successive members of the sequence is a constant. For example, a population with an average annual growth rate of, say, 2% will grow by a ratio of 1.02 per year. In other words, for every 100 people who exist in one year, 102 people will exist the next year. In modern terminology, a population that is increasing in geometric progression is said to be experiencing exponential growth.

Alternately, in an arithmetic progression, any two successive members of the sequence have a constant difference. In modern terminology, this is called linear growth.

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