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lation of a country, through the sweeping operation of Mr.
Malthus's positive and preventive checks, is a dangerous possi-
bility. The investigations of Dureau de la Malle and Zumpt
have established the fact — now accepted by scholars generally —
that the vast decline in its population was a chief cause, if not
the cause, of the overthrow of the Roman Empire by the bar-
barians Greece declined steadily, in this respect, from the
time of the Persian wars; Italy from that of the struggle with
Carthage. The free population of Italy — not including Cis-
alpine Gaul — at that period was about three millions; the de-
crease was so marked and rapid that the jus trium liberorum was
created to make marriage a profitable investment, and discour-

"home fell for want of men." 01

age celibacy. The speech of the Censor Metellus, in praise of
marriage as a duty thuugh an unpleasant one, was revived and
read in the senate by Augustus Caesar, and a multitude of laws
passed, but to uo lasting purpose.. The great famines and
pestilences of the times of the Antouines made the ruin of the
Empire only a question of time. The benefits that might have
beeu expected from the diffusion of Christianity and the restora-
tion of public morality and the sanctities of the family life,
were frustrated by the extravagant estimate put upon celibacy
as a religious virtue. At last '• Rome fell for want of men."

See Seeley's Roman Imperialism, First Essay. The name proletariat,
given to the lower classes of the Roman population, means that the state
supported them in idleness simply that by the growth of their offspring
{prolcx) the state might be strengthened.

" The process of depopulation in many provinces of the
Roman dominions, since the times of the Antonines, has been
excessive, and unaccountable on any of Malthus's hypotheses.
We may instance especially the north of Africa, so populous in
the palmy days of Rome, and Asia Minor and Syria. Accord-
ing to Merivale, Asia Minor once supported 27,000,000 of
people. According to McCulloch, they do not now contain
more than one-fourth of those numbers. Yet we do not find
that they have become either unhealthy or unfertile" (Greg).

It may be said that all this but illustrates the potent efficacy
of the preventive checks. It does more ; it shows that it is
from those checks to the growth of population, rather than from
the growth itself, that we are to fear the most deadly injuries to

§ 66. In modern nations the growth of numbers — as officially
ascertained — varies so greatly as to set at nought all attempts to
fix a general rate of increase. Nor can the difference be traced
to the operation of preventive checks. In England the popula-
tion doubles about once in 47 years, while the annual death-rate
is one in 44. In France, with the same death-rate, there is
hardly any increase, if not an actual decline. In Prussia the
increase is as great as in England, though the death-rate is one


in 32. Tu the United States and Lower Canada — immigration

being deducted for — the population doubles in about 25 years.
In some parts of Mexico about once in 19 years.

The population of Gaul in Roman times was about ten and a
third millions ; in the fourteenth century after Christ the king-
dom of France, about a third of the present area, contained two
and a half millions of hearths, or between ten and eleven
millions of people, being 32 to the kilometre (something over
three-eighths of a square mile). In 1515 the population was
actually less dense — 30 to the kilometre; in 1599, 3-4; in
1G98, 39; in 1772, 45; in 1850, 67; in 18G7, 71.4; in 1872,
67. 3. The greatest rapidity was in the decade 1816-25. just
after the Napoleonic wars, when the annual increment was 7£ to
the thousand. By 1848 it fell to about a third of that number,
and by 1870 it had as good as ceased.

In England the population is said to have been almost
stationary under the Tudors. In six censuses taken during
the present century beginning with 1811, the rate of increase
was found to be 14, 18, 16, 14, 13 and 12 per cent, for
each decade. This shows a diminution during and a great in-
crease following the Napoleonic wars, as in France. After that
the rate fell steadily, and should it not cease to do so, the
time will come when England, like France, will cease to add to
her population.

Ireland is often quoted by the Malthusiaus. It is alleged
that under the great impulse given to Irish prosperity during
the last quarter of the eighteenth century, her population
rose from 2,690,556 in 1777 to 5,395,456 in 1805. These
figures do not rest upon any official census, and may therefore be
questioned. The first is an estimate based on the returns of the
house-tax ; the second is the computation of an individual
statist. If it be true, then the population increased but fifty-
one, per cent, in the next thirty-six years, rising to 8,175,141 in
1841. The failure of the potato crop under the blight of a
single night, August 5, 1846, broke the one staff of life upon
which the Irish people leaned, and the famine of 1817 followed.


But even at that period Ireland was not as closely populated as
England. There was no necessary pressure of population on
subsistence, for large amounts of grain were raised for exporta-
tion to England, and there had been, no great want of food at
home. By the year 1874, population had fallen — chiefly through
emigration to America — to 5,301,336, a decrease of 37£ per
cent, ; such a removal of " the pressure on subsistence " ought
to have produced the happiest effects, if Malthus be right. But
Professor Cairnes, of Galway, wrote in 1865 : " We fail to per-
ceive any solid improvement, scarcely any sensible improvement,
in the present race of daily laborers in Ireland, as compared
with their predecessors twenty years ago." Wages have risen,
but food has risen equally; as clothing is cheaper their " condi-
tion is probably somewhat better physically."

§ 67. There are reasons why the Malthusian theory cannot
be true, as well as facts to show that it is not.

It is an ascertained law of nature that the lower any form of
life stands in the scale of existence, the greater the rate of its
propagation and multiplication ; the higher it stands the less its
rate of increase. Vegetables, as a whole, therefore surpass the
animal kingdom as a whole. A potato sprout multiplies twenty
fold in a single year ; a grain of wheat even two hundred fold
under favoring circumstances. The gardener who would make
a plant propagate freely, starves it; but he knows that when by
care and attention he has doubled its petals and brought it to an
artificial perfection, it becomes sterile. The wild rose of the
open fields brings its seeds to perfection ; the rose of the garden
cannot be raised from the seeds of its like.

So in the animal kingdom. The Clio borealis, of which vast
shoals furnish a mouthful to the whale, multiplies by millions;
the whales themselves almost as slowly as man. The progeny
of a pair of rabbits in a few years will be reckoned by thou-
sands ; that of a pair of wild elephants not by dozens, while
tame elephants, though well fed and cared for, and living under
their native skies, and allowed a large degree of freedom, cease
to breed.


§ 68. Does not this natural law continue in force when we
compare the highest of animals with the rest ? Why should the
whole order of nature be reversed in man's case ? The things
that serve him as food, stand below him in the order of nature ;
their multiplication must therefore be more rapid than his.

Not only does the law hold good as to man in comparison
with the animals ; it is equally true of man as compared with
man. The higher the form of life, the slower the rate of its
increase. Whenever any nation, or class within a nation, have
attained to a high degree of development and culture, there is a
reduction of its rate of propagation, and in many cases its
extinction begins. It is proverbial that men of genius leave no
posterity. In ancient Greece and Italy the extinction of rich
and privileged families went on constantly. Augustus had to
reconstruct the Roman Senate from among the plebeians, as
only fifty families of senatorial rank were left. In France De
Tocqueville could specify two hundred old families in one dis-
trict alone that had become extinct from various causes within
a century. Mr. Greg ascribes the markedly Gallic character of
the French nation to the extinction of the superior Frankish
race who gave their name to the country and constituted its
feudal aristocracy. In England few of the Barons who took
part in the Wars of the Hoses are still represented in the Eng-
lish aristocracy, and genuine pedigrees rarely extend farther
back than the times of the Tudors. Of the Norman aristocracy
who came in with the Conqueror, and who were one in forty-two
of the whole population, only a single descendant was known in
David Hume's time. In spite of new creations, the ratio had
fallen to one in eighty-eight at the beginning of the fifteenth
century, and to one in 12,500 at the beginning of the present
century. A multitude of peerages are extinct for want of heirs,
and of 1400 baronets created between 1611 and 1819, the
families of 783 are now extinct. In the United States,
although the rate of increase is very high, yet it is by no
means universally so. In the New England States, the native
population, which in two centuries grew from 45,000 to


4,000,000 souls, is now increasing very slowly indeed. This
might be ascribed to the great emigration to other parts of the
country, but the observations founded upon the number of
births to marriages shows this reason to be not sufficient. The
most cautious estimate makes the number in the earlier periods
to have been six children to a marriage ; in the later, about
four. [Franklin (1751) says: "Marriages in America are more
general, and more generally early, than in Europe. And if it
is reckoned there that there is but one marriage per annum
among one hundred persons, perhaps we may here reckon two;
and if in Europe they have but four births to a marriage (many
of their marriages being late), we may here reckon eight."" On
the other hand, the foreign population is growing rapidly, and
doubtless will continue to do so, until it rises to the level of the
native in education and general culture. In New York the
census of 1865 showed that in nearly one-fourth of the families
of that state no children had been born, and that in more than
three-fourths the average was little over child to each

It is of course extremely probable that prudential considerations have
much to do in these cases with the avoidance and the postponement
of marriage, and consequently with diminishing the increase of the
population. As society grows in wealth and in an exaggerated respect
for wealth as an element of social standing, young people are less and
less disposed to "begin life where their parents began ; they must begin
where their elders left off." The only point of objection that we would
raise to Mr. Malthus's view of this "moral check on population" is that
such artificial and exaggerated prudence is not a beneficent check to a
wrong tendency, but itself a wrong and lamentable habit, — which
detracts from the health, the happiness and the morality of the com-

§ 69. As of classes, so of nations. A high detrree of civili-
zation and mental culture imposes an immediate and natural
check upon the growth of numbers. The growth of mind and
the growth of numbers are two balancing forces, two tendencies
that counteract each other.

But the growth of mind is a natural result of the growth of
numbers, unless the constitution and course of nature have been


wilfully or thoughtlessly interfered with hy a bad social
economy. There is implanted in the nature of the race a ten-
dency to rise from poverty and barbarism to wealth and civili-
zation. But this tendency has scope for its exercise only
when man can rely upon the help and cooperation of a suffi-
ciently large body of his fellow-men, in the work of subduing
nature, and when association and cooperation are not artificially
hindered or checked. The more people there are in a well-
managed country — up to any number that ever has been
reached or is likely to be — the better each man will be fed and
clothed, if "their industry be wisely directed. The more the
numbers, in that case, the greater that people's mastery over
nature, and the larger the share of the good things that will
fall to each individual.

Thus we find that population is self-regulative. Its multipli-
cation brings the civilization, that is the one effectual and all-
efficient check to all undue multiplication. " The excess of
fertility has rendered the process of civilization necessary ; and
the process of civilization must inevitably diminish fertility,
and at last destroy its excess" (Herbert Spencer).

§ 70. Mr. Doubled-ay was the first who argued that a physio-
logical reason or several of them lay at the root of these facts.
He suggested that ample and sufficient food had directly the
effect of lowering the fecundity of the race. There may be
truth in the suggestion, but it is more probable that cerebral
development has that tendency. This seems to be true even
of the higher animals, as is seen in the case of the tame
elephants of India. As man's brain expands, the objects of
his desire multiply, and the natural desires common to the
whole race, lose their prominence and despotic strength. For a
time they continue to exist in an excessive and unnatural force,
the fruit of long ages of unrestrained indulgence, — the sur-
vivals of the period of barbarism. The passion for alcoholic
liquors, for instance, may be fairly traced back to ages when
drunkenness formed the only escape from a sordid, uncultured
life, which admitted of uo less material exhilaration.


In this particular instance, the distribution of the chemical
elements of the human frame — phosphorus especially — seems to
be closely connected with the question. But we may well hold
with Mr. Greg " that other physiological causes of antifecund
tendency are yet to be discovered ; and that races, nations and
families would not so often die out were it not so."

§ 71. By another compensatory law of nature, the less the
rate of the reproduction of any form of life, the greater the
prolongation of the life of the individual specimen. What
nature produces with difficulty, she guards with care.

This law also holds good between different classes of men.
Steadily for centuries past there have been added days, months,
years to the average length of human life, — partly from occult
natural causes, partly from the growth of medical science and
the adoption of wiser sanitary and hygienic methods. Thus, as
Macaulay notes, the death-rate in London in any ordinary year
of the seventeenth century was greater than in a bad cholera
year of the nineteenth ; and the poorest woman in our times
can command better medical attendance than the queens of that
era could have obtained. The death-rate fell between 1655 and
1845 from one in twenty-three to one in forty. French and
German statistics show that the wealthy and educated classes
live at least a third longer than the poor and uncultured classes.

So again it is a mark of the great advance of Christendom, as
compared with other groups of nations, that the great epidemics
no longer originate within its borders. And since Christiau
governments have taken measures to put under sanitary regu-
lations, the vast Mohammedan and Pagan pilgrimages and fes-
tivals, which still breed pestilences, it is to be hoped that they
will cease.

§ 72. Supposing that a bad social economy should check a
people or a large mass of it in its natural growth in civilization
and intelligence, what would be the effect on their numbers?
That would depend upon the vitality and elasticity of the stock
to which the people belonged.

(1) Tn some cases, as in the provinces under Mohammedan
rule, oppression seems to produce a depression of spirits or of


nervous energy, and thereby to exercise a singularly sterilizing
influence. The population of a besieged city is notably sterile.

(2) More ordinarily, however, the removal of the true pre-
ventive checks, the growth of intellect and the access of com-
fort, tends to cause a rapid and abnormal increase of numbers.
The starved man, like the starved plant, propagates freely.
Reduce the people to the level of the beasts and they will
multiply like the beasts. And so their numbers may become
really excessive, and the mass of a community sink ever deeper
in poverty and misery. Such a result may be expected when
the wealth of a nation tends to concentrate in the hands of a
few, instead of being disseminated throughout the whole people
in something like equality. Overpopulation in such a case is
not the consequence of natural laws, but of man's wilful inter-
ference with them.

§ 73. Man's history as a producer of food may be described
as ordinarily passing through three stages. In the first he is a
hunter depending upon the voluntary, and therefore the scantiest,
productions of the earth that were fitted for his use. In the
second he is a shepherd, who has mastered the services of that
division of nature which meets his wants with most directness
and least labor; but he is compelled to migrate with his tribe
when they seek new pastures, and he has no rights and no safety
save as a member of it. In the third he is a tiller of the soil,
a member of a body politic, possessed of a fixed home. He
makes an acre produce as much food as hundreds did in the
first stage, or tens in the second. He is able to act in greater

O ' *■-

independence of other men; able also to associate more closely
with them. The societary circulation moves more rapidly and
consequently more forcefully. The resistance of nature dimin-
ishing, the pressure of population upon the means of subsistence,
which was very great in the first stage, and great still in the
second, in large measure disappears. It was that very
pressure that overcame the natural inertia of man and forced
him to press forward. " For his sake " the earth was accursed
to be the home of briers, thorns and thistles, that difficulties
might develop his power as the earth's appointed master.

"the more the merrier." 69

§74. Man's "power over nature" continues to grow with
every advance in the compactness of society. Men obtain the
u<e of more iron and coal, houses and ships, wool and cotton, in
return for less labor, as society advances. When the density of
population made it worth while to carry the water in pipes
through the streets of our city, it was obtained with far less
outlay of labor than when every man carried his bucket to the
river's bank, or even to the pump, whose erection also marked a
stage in social development. So when through the growth of
population it becomes " worth while " to sink a shaft to the coal-
bed, it is no longer necessary to waste wood as fuel and spend
labor in chopping it, and the time saved can be spent in turning
the trees into lumber or some other profitable work. Till the
grist-mill is erected the labor of a thousand arms is expended in
grinding grain ; the work then becomes the business of a few
persons, and the rest have the more time for better work than
turning hand-mills or pounding the wheat in querns. And these
are but specimen facts that represent the whole movement of

" From the beginning," says Herbert Spencer, " the pressure
of population has been the proximate cause of progress. It
produced the original diffusion of the race. It compelled men
to abandon predatory habits and take to agriculture. It led to
the clearing of the earth's surface. It forced men into the
social state ; made social organization inevitable ; and has
developed the social sentiments. It has stimulated to progressive
improvements in production, and to increased skill and intelli-
gence. It is daily thrusting us into closer contact and more
mutually dependent relationships. After having caused, as it
ultimately must, the"due peopling of the globe, and the raising
of all its habitable parts into the highest state of culture; after
having brought all processes for the satisfaction of human wants
to perfection ; after having at the same time developed the
intellect into complete competency for its work and the feelings
into complete fitness for social life, — the pressure of population
must gradually bring itself to an end."


The National Economy of Land.

§ 75. We have defined a nation as a people occupying a con-
tinuous area, and owning this in a more eminent sense than any
part of it is owned by any of its citizens. Its stewardship of
the economic interests of its people extends to the general over-
sight of their rural economy, and calls for the careful removal
of all obstacles — especially those of a legal kind — to its improve-
ment and that of the people engaged in it; and also for the
adoption of such measures of improvement as are not easily
attainable by individual action. It may justly be said that this is
true of the duty of the state towards any form of industry ; but
from the peculiar relation of agriculture to the very existence of
the nation, the state stands in a relation of far greater responsi-
bility here. Many of those who most incline to exclude the
state from all activity in the sphere of industrial interests, are
quite ready to admit that where motives of public policy call
for interference, the landowner may fairly be treated as the
trustee or steward of the national property, not in any absolute
sense the owner.

§ 76. What was said in the preceding chapter of the general
advance of industrial methods through the growth of numbers
and of the resulting power of cooperation, is eminently true of
agriculture. As time advances, larger crops are reaped at a less
cost upon lands that were early occupied, and those that were
previously inaccessible to tillage, are cleared or drained. A larger
amount of labor and capital becomes available, and can be ex-
pended with perfect safety upon the same field, as the crops are
increased in still greater ratio. Especially the division of labor
contributes to this. The early agriculturist was "Jack of all
trades and master of none." His house, his clothing, his rude
tools, everything that he had, was his own workmanship. But
when these are produced for him by skilled artisans, who set


him at leisure to do his farm-work better, he obtains all these
things at a less outlay of labor, and of much improved quality.

§ 77. Early agriculture was extensive in its method ; that is,
it expended a small capital upon a large surface. Just as the
hunter required a larger area than the shepherd, and the shep-
herd more than the farmer, so the bad and imperfect agriculture
of a poor half-savage age, required a larger area than when
methods of tillage are highly improved and the capital at the
command of the farmer has increased. Thus we find half-bar-
barous peoples in earlier times driven by famine from lands that
now sustain a dense population.

English agriculture in the middle ages is a case in point. As
much of the land as is now under wheat was taken up in raising
as much food as would now suffice for a million and a half of
persons. The population was something between that number
and two and a half millions ; yet nearly the whole people were
employed in producing food ; even the townsmen poured out
into the country to help to gather in the harvest, and the Long
Vacation at the Universities was established that their thirty
thousand students might go home to assist. As much seed was
sown to the acre as at present, but the average yield was
only above one-fourth what it is now. Yet the climate of
England, as of all Northern Europe, was warmer than it now is.
Grapes grew plentifully in the open air, and wine was made that
compared with those of France. " The land was imperfectly
drained ; the working of the soil was shallow ; the manures
employed were limited " to such as were ready at hand, at a time

Online LibraryRobert Ellis ThompsonSocial science and national economy → online text (page 6 of 38)