Front Page Titles (by Subject) POPULATION AND PRODUCTIVITY - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume II - The Principles of Political Economy with Some of Their Applications to Social Philosophy (Books I-II)
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POPULATION AND PRODUCTIVITY - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume II - The Principles of Political Economy with Some of Their Applications to Social Philosophy (Books I-II) 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume II - The Principles of Political Economy with Some of Their Applications to Social Philosophy (Books I-II), ed. John M. Robson, introduction by V.W. Bladen (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1965).
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POPULATION AND PRODUCTIVITY
The problems of population crop up throughout the Principles. The study of production becomes a study of the race between production and population. In the chapter on the “Law of the Increase of Labour” (I, x), it is held that “It is a very low estimate of the capacity of increase, if we only assume, that in a good sanitary condition of the people, each generation may be double the number of the generation which preceded it” (I.155.11-3). That population does not increase at that pace is not “through a providential adaptation of the fecundity of the human species to the exigencies of society” (I.155.20-1) but through “prudent or conscientious self-restraint” (I.157.35-6). An “acceleration of the rate [of population increase] very speedily follows any diminution of the motives to restraint” (I.159.7-8). Thus the problem is posed: “Unless, either by their general improvement in intellectual and moral culture, or at least by raising their habitual standard of comfortable living, they can be taught to make a better use of favourable circumstances, nothing permanent can be done for them; the most promising schemes end only in having a more numerous, but not a happier people” (I.159.14-8). The problem is here posed as an individual one; in Chapter xiii it is posed as a social one. “The return to labour has probably increased as fast as the population; and would have outstripped it, if that very augmentation of return had not called forth an additional portion of the inherent power of multiplication in the human species. . . . [N]othing could have prevented a general deterioration in the condition of the human race, were it not that population has in fact been restrained. Had it been restrained still more, and the same improvements taken place, there would have been a larger dividend. . . . The new ground wrung from nature by the improvements would not have been all used up in the support of mere numbers.” (I.189.36—190.17.)
In Book II there is further discussion of the prospects for prudence. In his discussion of communism (Chapter i) he appears less afraid of the population effect than was Malthus: there would be provided “motives to restraint.” “. . . Communism is precisely the state of things in which opinion might be expected to declare itself with greatest intensity against this kind of selfish intemperance. . . . [O]pinion could not fail to reprobate, and if reprobation did not suffice, to repress by penalties of some description, this or any other culpable self-indulgence at the expense of the community” (I.206.9-19). This sounds more like Orwell’s bad dream of 1984 than the sentiments of the author of the essay On Liberty!
He recurs to the problem in his three chapters on wages (II, xi, xii, and xiii). Again the “motives for restraint” are the primary concern: “No remedies for low wages have the smallest chance of being efficacious, which do not operate on and through the minds and habits of the people” (I.366.6-7). Education might help. “If the opinion were once generally established among the labouring class that their welfare required a due regulation of the numbers of families, the respectable and well-conducted of the body would conform to the prescription . . .” (I.372.16-8). But a more important influence would follow the admission of women “to the same rights of citizenship with men” (I.372.28—373.1). In commenting on “hard-hearted Malthusianism” he said: “as if it were not a thousand times more hard-hearted to tell human beings that they may, than that they may not, call into existence swarms of creatures who are sure to be miserable . . . and forgetting that the conduct, which it is reckoned so cruel to disapprove, is a degrading slavery to a brute instinct in one of the persons concerned, and . . . in the other, helpless submission to a revolting abuse of power” (I.352.6-12). And later: “It is seldom by the choice of the wife that families are too numerous; on her devolves (along with all the physical suffering and at least a full share of the privations) the whole of the intolerable domestic drudgery resulting from the excess. . . . Among the barbarisms which law and morals have not yet ceased to sanction, the most disgusting surely is, that any human being should be permitted to consider himself as having a right to the person of another” (I.372.6-15). To education and a change in the status of women must be added, Mill argued, a dramatic improvement in the condition of the poor. The minor improvement resulting from the repeal of the Corn Laws he did not consider important. “Things which only affect them a very little, make no permanent impression upon their habits and requirements, and they soon slide back into their former state. To produce permanent advantage, the temporary cause operating upon them must be sufficient to make a great change in their condition. . . . Of cases in point, the most remarkable is France after the Revolution” (I.342.21-32). He recurs to this point in Chapter xiii. “For the purpose therefore of altering the habits of the labouring people, there is need of a twofold action, directed simultaneously upon their intelligence and their poverty. An effective national education of the children of the labouring class, is the first thing needful: and, coincidently with this, a system of measures which shall (as the Revolution did in France) extinguish extreme poverty for one whole generation” (I.374.34-9). “Unless comfort can be made as habitual to a whole generation as indigence is now, nothing is accomplished; and feeble half-measures do but fritter away resources . . .” (I.378.11-4). All of this is highly relevant to the problem of the modern world; I propose to underline only one point. With reference to the poorer countries with high fertility one may well ask whether external aid, like poor relief in nineteenth-century England, may simply postpone the necessary adjustment in the birth rate, may be “frittered away,” mere numbers rather than happiness resulting. One may also wonder whether Mill had the answer for his day and for ours. He saw that relief (or aid) must be on a massive scale to permit the dawn of hope. If this is correct, as I believe it to be, we should concentrate our “aid” on a few countries, and those countries must be chosen as most nearly ready for massive improvement. This “hard-hearted Malthusianism” would be hard to practise. The choice of those to be aided would be heart-breaking; and there is the danger that those not chosen will in exasperation and frustration do injury to themselves and us.38
[38 ]See my Preface to Canadian Population and Northern Colonization, ed. V. W. Bladen. Royal Society of Canada, “Studia Varia” series, no. 7 (Toronto, 1962).