Front Page Titles (by Subject) 2: Changes in Population - Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis
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2: Changes in Population - Ludwig von Mises, Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis 
Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis, trans. J. Kahane, Foreword by F.A. Hayek (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1981).
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Changes in Population
For the naive socialist there is quite enough in the world to make everybody happy and contented. The dearth of goods is only the result of a perverse social order which, on the one hand limits the extension of productive powers, and on the other, by unequal distribution, lets too much go to the rich and thus too little to the poor.84
The Malthusian Law of Population and the Law of Diminishing Returns put an end to these illusions. Ceteris Paribus the increase of population beyond a certain point is not accompanied by a proportional increase of wealth: if this point is passed, production per head diminishes. The question whether at any given time production has reached this point is a question of fact which must not be confused with the question of general principle.
In the light of this knowledge, socialists have adopted various attitudes. Some have simply rejected it. During the whole of the nineteenth century scarcely any author was so vigorously attacked as Malthus. The writings of Marx, Engels, Dühring, and many others, bristle with abuse of “parson” Malthus.85 But they do not refute him. Today, discussion of the Law of Population may be regarded as closed. The Law of Diminishing Returns is not contested nowadays; it is therefore not necessary to deal with those authors who either deny the doctrine or ignore it.
Other socialists imagine that it is possible to undermine such considerations by pointing to the unprecedented increase in productivity which will take place once the means of production are socialized. It is not necessary at this point to discuss whether in fact such an increase would take place; for even granted that it would, this would not alter the fact that at any given time there is a definite optimal size of population beyond which any increase in numbers must diminish production per head. If it is desired to deny the effectiveness of the Laws of Population and Diminishing Returns under Socialism, then it must be proved that every child born into the world beyond the existing optimum will at the same time bring with it so great an increase of productivity that production per head will not be diminished by its coming.
A third group of writers content themselves with the reflection that with the spread of civilization and rational living, with the increase of wealth and the desire for a higher standard of life, the growth of population is slackening. But this is to overlook the fact that the birth-rate does not fall because the standard of life is higher but only because of “moral restraint,” and that the incentive to the individual to refrain from procreation disappears the moment it is possible to have a family without economic sacrifice because the children are maintained by society. This is fundamentally the same error that entrapped Godwin when he thought that there was “a principle in human society” which kept the population permanently within the limits set by the means of subsistence. Malthus exhibited the nature of this mysterious “principle.”86
Without coercive regulation of the growth of population, a socialist community is inconceivable. A socialist community must be in a position to prevent the size of the population from mounting above or falling below certain definite limits. It must attempt to maintain the population always at that optimal number which allows the maximum production per head. Equally with any other order of society it must regard both under- and over-population as an evil. And since in it those motives, which in a society based on private ownership of the means of production harmonize the number of births with the limitations of the means of subsistence, would not exist, it will be obliged to regulate the matter itself. How it will accomplish this need not be here discussed. Nor is it relevant to our purpose to inquire whether its measures will serve eugenic or ethnological ideas. But it is certain that even if a socialist community may bring “free love,” it can in no way bring free birth. The right to existence of every person born can be said to exist only when undesirable births can be prevented. In the socialist community as in any other, there will be those for whom “at the great banquet of Nature no place has been laid” and to whom the order must be given to withdraw themselves as soon as may be. No indignation that these words of Malthus may arouse can alter this fact.
[84. ]Bebel, Die Frau und der Sozialismus, p. 340. Bebel quotes therewith the well-known verse of Heine. Publisher’s Note: p. 463 in the English edition.
[85. ]Heinrich Soetbeer, Die Stellung der Sozialisten zur Malthusschen Bevölkerungslehre (Berlin, 1886), pp. 33 ff.; 52 ff.; 85 ff.
[86. ]Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population, 5th ed. (London, 1817), Vol. II, pp. 245 ff.