Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Thomas Robert Malthus: The First Professional Economist

Thomas Malthus
Thomas Robert Malthus
Thomas Robert Malthus was a minister/economist who is best known for his theories regarding population growth versus sustainability. He was the first person to hold a professional position in the field of economics and he was a member of several clubs and societies for intellectuals like himself. Malthus' ideas were well ahead of their time during his life and some of them led to a lot of criticism for Thomas. However, many of his most controversial ideas are now regarded as correct.

Thomas Robert Malthus was born in 1766 on an estate in Dorking, Surrey. He was one of eight children. He had one older brother and six sisters. His father was a gentleman by the name of Daniel Malthus. Daniel seems to have been the guiding influence in Thomas' life. He did not attend school in his youth, but was taught by his father and some tutors until he was eighteen. Thomas Malthus then began attending Jesus College in Cambridge. Four years later, in 1788, he became an ordained minister of the Church of England. He continued his studies until 1791, when he received his M.A.

Two years after Thomas Malthus received his degree, he became a Fellow of Jesus College. A few years after that, he became a curate in the town of Albury. He lived close to his father, with whom he seems to have conducted conversations about his burgeoning ideas about economics and population growth. For years, Thomas mulled over the issue of population growth versus sustainability. It was his belief that unfettered population growth was detrimental to a society's success. He was not the first man to have such ideas, but they did go against mainstream thinking of the time.

In 1798, Thomas Malthus anonymously published a pamphlet titled "Essay on the Principle of Population, as it Affects the Future Improvement of Society with Remarks on the Speculations of Mr. Godwin, M. Condorcet and Other Writers." This pamphlet and subsequent related works would become his legacy, despite the fact that his work was hardly relegated to his theories on this subject.

Within the pamphlet, Thomas Malthus discusses his belief that population is capable of increasing much faster than food supplies. He also mentioned that natural occurrences, such as disaster, war, famine and disease are not enough to keep the human population from multiplying. Thomas Malthus also believed that humans are doomed to procreate constantly; he viewed it as a 'vice.' Taking all of these beliefs into account, Thomas concluded that population growth is doomed to outpace the growth of food on the planet. Popular belief at the time was that increasing populations was a good sign for a society's economy; so many people viewed Malthus as something of a doomsayer and disregarded his theories. We know now that what he theorized is possible.

In 1803, a renamed and heavily revised version of Thomas Malthus' Essay on Population was published. In his new version, Malthus suggested that the only way to keep people from overpopulating the planet they would need to initiate their own means of population control, such as voluntary abstinence. He also included possible links between population growth, class and education. He suggested that if poor people were educated and given better job opportunities, this would prevent them from procreating early in life, thus inhibiting population growth.

One year after he published his revision, Thomas Malthus got married. In doing so, he lost his fellowship at the Jesus College. He was 38-years-old, at the time. He and his wife went on to have a happy marriage and produce three children together. In 1800, Malthus became interested in various other aspects of the economy. He published many more works on his economical theories, some of which were received as well as his theories on population.

In 1805, Thomas Malthus accepted a position as Professor of Modern History and Political Economy at the East India College in Hailebury. He kept that position until his death on December 23, 1834. This was the first professional position in economics ever held.


Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834), retrieved 3/30/10,

Thomas Malthus Biography, retrieved 3/30/10,

Thomas Malthus (1766-1834), retrieved 3/30/10,

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