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CHAPTER IV.: causes of the scarcity of the means of human subsistence. - William Godwin, Of Population. An Enquiry concerning the Power of Increase in the Numbers of Mankind 
Of Population. An Enquiry concerning the Power of Increase in the Numbers of Mankind, being an Answer to Mr. Malthus’s Essay on that Subject (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1820).
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causes of the scarcity of the means of human subsistence.
there lurks an ambiguity under the term “means of subsistence;” and, but for that ambiguity, I conceive that Mr. Malthus's doctrine upon this head could never have been listened to for a moment.
The earth is, in a liberal point of view, the “means of subsistence” to man; and, till her prolific bosom has been exhausted, and her soil has been so cultivated, that the store of provisions she is able to afford can be no further enlarged, there can be no danger to free and unshackled, and at the same time civilized man, on the score of the means of subsistence.
In another, and a very restrained sense, the provisions actually collected from the surface of the earth, may be called our “means of subsistence;” and in this sense Mr. Malthus always chuses to understand the term.
If this ambiguity had been attended to, every one would have felt the absurdity of talking of “population pressing hard against the limits of the means of subsistence,” in any intermediate period, till the “whole earth had been cultivated like a garden.”
To place this fact in a more striking point of view, let us set apart from each other the two great modes of the existence of man, the civilised, and the savage state. For the present I will confine myself to the former.
Civilised man, is man not living upon the wild fruits of the earth, or the wild animals of the field, but for the most part upon that which is matured by human industry. Here therefore every man that is born into the world, is a new instrument for producing the means of subsistence, in the sense of provisions; and every member added to the numbers of the community, is a new instrument for increasing those means.
The basis of civil society, at least as it exists in those countries with which we are best acquainted, will be found in the truth of this proposition, that man in society is capable of rearing a greater quantity of provisions than is necessary for his own subsistence. Till this was the case, all mankind were shepherds or husbandmen; and if the case had not been altered, such we must for ever have remained.
It is to this supererogatory power in man, that we are indebted for all our improvements, our refinements, and elevation. The result has been, the dividing the members of civil society into two great classes, the one, who are employed in rearing the fruits of the earth, and the other, who live in idleness, or who are employed in other kinds of industry, not immediately connected with the production of food.
How profound therefore the absurdity of talking of “population pressing hard against the limits of subsistence,” till the earth, and the different parts of the earth, have been “cultivated like a garden!”
Let us look to the continent of North America, whose real or fabulous history has had the shame to give birth to Mr. Malthus's hypothesis. There, we are told, every man considers each additional child that is born to him, as so much added to his wealth, to his means of subsistence, or rather to his means of indulgence and of accumulating a moderate fortune. There, it has over and over again been pretended, the population doubles by procreation only, in fifteen, twenty, or five-and-twenty years. There, we are assured, the number of inhabitants in 1749 was one million, and at the present hour is ten millions. [I grant the increase; but I deny that there is such a progressive and permanent increase from procreation only.]]
Why is all this? For one simple reason. Because on the continent of North America there is a vast quantity of productive land, yet uncultivated, which may be had gratis, or at a low price, so as to be, with a little patience and industry, within the reach of every man to obtain.
It is clear therefore, that, so long as there is in any country cultivable land, yet unapplied to the purposes of human subsistence, or not yet improved to those purposes to such a degree as is easily within the reach of existing science and skill, population may be checked, but it is not checked by any thing that is connected with a paucity of the means of subsistence. In other words, till the whole earth has been cultivated like a garden (for the power of such cultivation is in proportion to the number of human beings naturally capable of agricultural labour), or till some one of its considerable portions has been so cultivated, and the inhabitants will not be persuaded to seek their fortune elsewhere, there can be no cause, inherent in the nature of things, why population should not go on to increase, to any extent to which it has the power of increasing.
Nothing therefore can be more insolent, or move groundless, than to talk to an unportioned man, who has come into the world in obedience to the great laws of nature, and without his own consent, of his having come into a “world, where every thing is appropriated.” Appropriated indeed it is, but not to the wisest and most honest purposes, not to purposes most conducive to the diffusion of human happiness. He has only to lift up his eyes, and survey our heaths and our forests, our parks and our pleasure-grounds, and he must see that the world is not appropriated, as the simple, but never to be confuted, laws of nature direct us to appropriate it. I am not now enquiring whether the appropriation made by the institutions of society has or has not good reasons to defend it: but I say, that as long as that appropriation operates in its present form, population is not kept down by the want of the “means of subsistence.”
We may indeed venture to affirm, without fear of reasonable contradiction, that there is no country, known at present to exist on the face of the earth, where population is imperiously checked, but by one of two causes, ignorance, or the positive institutious of society.
The savage tribes of mankind are thinly scattered over a vast extent of soil, of which they have never discovered the true and most beneficial use. They subsist precariously upon the wild animals of the forest, or the fruits and roots which accident may offer to their acceptance. They make little provision against the time when these precarious means of subsistence may not be presented to them. A run of what is vulgarly called ill-luck, may starve whole families to death. Man is an animal that, whatever Mr. Malthus may say to the matter, requires to be tenderly treated. In the beginning of existence the infant can scarcely be reared without anxiety and care; and in the decline of life we perish soon, unless we are supplied with accommodations and indulgencies. The latter of these circumstances, as I have shewn, does not diminish the source of population; but the inadequate means which savages possess for rearing their offspring, and the distress which must be supposed to occur from their want of magazines, do so diminish it. Even in maturity the being continually subjected to all the variations of the elements must be materially injurious; and, though uncivilised man does not feel these variations so sensibly as we do, they must, in a vast multitude of instances, tend to cut short the thread of human existence. Undoubtedly the life of a savage is, to my conception of the thing, a miserable life.
The only other cause, beside ignorance, that can tend imperiously to check the progress of population, in a world so imperfectly peopled as that we inhabit, arises from the positive institutions of society. So long as there are vast portions of land, in this or any other country, wholly uncultivated, or not so cultivated as to supply to a considerable extent the food of man, it is a solecism to say that population is kept down for want of the means of subsistence. Arguments may undoubtedly be offered why a country should not be cultivated to its utmost extent: it may be alleged in various ways to conduce to the highest virtue and improvement of man, that there should be differences in rank, and inequalities of fortune: and it is perhaps better that human creatures should exist in inferior numbers, but in the noblest and most admirable state of which we are capable, than that the numbers of mankind should be carried to their utmost extent, while in intellect they should be brought down nearer to the brutes. I am not now disputing about the most eligible form of human society. But I claim, in the language of a homely proverb, but full of good sense, that the “saddle should be put on the right horse.”
The chief object of this work is to restore the old principles of political science, to scatter the clouds, and set aside the paralogisms, with which Mr. Malthus has obscured them. I claim therefore peremptorily to infer from what has been said, that population is not kept down, in the different countries of Europe, provided it has a tendency to increase, by a want of the means of subsistence, but by the positive institutions of society. I claim to reverse the celebrated maxim of Mr. Malthus, and to say, that “human institutions, if erroneous and oppressive, are the mighty and tremendous sources of mischief to mankind, while the progress of population is, in the comparison, light and superficial, a mere feather that floats upon the surface” of the Essay on Population, and hardly worthy of serious consideration any where else.
What is the great difference between the continent of North America, and the principal divisions of the European quarter of the world.
That in America I can say to a man, as God said to Abraham, “Go forth into the field, and look to the east, and the west, and the north, and the south,” and chuse where thou wilt for the place of thy inheritance. In Europe, the destitute man, and the man that is inclined to draw forth the resources of his industry, may in like manner look to all the winds of heaven, and see many tracts uncultivated, or not rendered available to the subsistence of man; but he sees this in vain. If he drives in a spade, or sets up a pale, another will presently come, and pointing to the soil, say, “This is mine,” and will bring his writ of ejectment, or chase out the new-comer with the posse of his companions and dependents in a more summary way. He not only cannot obtain an inch of land gratis, but, if he wants a small portion, cannot obtain it, perhaps at any price, or at any price which, in his circumstances, would make it an available speculation. The land indeed, as Mr. Malthus says, is “wholly appropriated;” but it is not appropriated to the genuine uses of natural man.