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LECTURE II. - Nassau William Senior, Two Lectures on Population, to which is added, a Correspondence between the Author and the Rev. T. R. Malthus 
Two Lectures on Population, delivered before the University of Oxford in Easter Term, 1828, to which is added, a Correspondence between the Author and the Rev. T. R. Malthus (London: Saunders and Otley, 1829).
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I observed in my last Lecture that the expansive power of population is such that it necessarily and inevitably will be restrained by some check, positive or preventive. I then considered the positive checks, and found them to consist of the different modifications of physical evil. In the present lecture, I propose to consider the preventive checks. We have seen that they are promiscuous intercourse and abstinence from marriage.
The first does not appear to me to be of sufficient importance to require much consideration. It is said to produce some effect in checking the increase of the higher classes in Otaheite, and in some of the other South Sea Islands; and it appears to produce the same effect to a considerable extent among the West Indian Negroes. But the nobility of the South Seas scarcely deserve to be separately considered. And where the other forms of moral and physical evil are accumulated as they are among the West Indian slaves, it is probable that the removal of this obstacle alone would do little to facilitate their increase.
But with these exceptions, there are scarcely any females whose fecundity is prevented or diminished by promiscuous intercourse, except those unhappy individuals whose only trade is prostitution. And they form so small a proportion of the population of the whole world, that the check to population occasioned by their unfruitfulness may safely be disregarded.
The only remaining check is abstinence from marriage. You are of course aware that by the word “marriage,” I mean to express not the peculiar and permanent connexion which alone, in a Christian country, is entitled to that name: but any agreement between a man and woman to cohabit exclusively for a period, and under circumstances likely to occasion the birth of progeny. I observed, in my last Lecture, that abstinence from marriage is almost uniformly founded on the apprehension of a deficiency of necessaries, decencies, or luxuries, or, in other words, on prudence. Some cases certainly occur in which men remain unmarried, although their fortunes are so ample that the expenses of a family would be unperceived. But the number of persons so situated is so small, that they create an exception which would scarcely deserve attention, even if this conduct were as common among them, as it is in fact rare.
We shall scarcely, therefore, be led into error if, in considering the preventive checks, we confine our attention to prudence, and assume that, as nothing but physical evil diminishes the longevity of mankind, nothing but an apprehended deficiency of luxuries, decencies, or necessaries, prevents their fecundity.
The check from an apprehended deficiency of luxuries is but slight. The motives, perhaps I might say the instincts, that prompt the human race to marriage, are too powerful to be much restrained by the fear of losing conveniences, unconnected with health or station in society.
The fear of losing decencies, or perhaps more frequently the hope to acquire, by a longer accumulation during celibacy the means of purchasing the decencies of a higher social rank, is a check of far more importance. Want of actual necessaries is seldom apprehended by any except the poorest classes in any country. And in England, though it sometimes is felt, it probably is anticipated by none. When an Englishman stands hesitating between love and prudence, a family really starving is not among his terrors. Against actual want he knows that he has the fence of the poor laws. But, however humble his desires, he cannot contemplate, without anxiety, a probability that the income which supported his social rank while single, may be insufficient to maintain it when he is married; that he may be unable to give to his children the advantages of education which he enjoyed himself; in short, that he may lose his caste. Men of more enterprise are induced to postpone marriage, not merely by the fear of sinking, but also by the hope, that in an unencumbered state they may rise. As they mount, the horizon of their ambition keeps receding, until sometimes the time has passed away for realizing those plans of domestic happiness which probably every man has formed in his youth.
There are few triter subjects of declamation than the contrast between ancient simplicity and modern luxury. Few virtues, however useful, have received more applause than the contented and dignified poverty, the indifference to display, and the abstinence from unnecessary expense which all refined nations attribute to their ancestors. Few vices, however mischievous, have been more censured than the ostentatious expenditure which every succeeding generation seems to consider its own peculiar characteristic.
It certainly appears, at first sight, that habits of unnecessary expense, as they have a tendency to diminish the wealth of an individual, must have the same effect on the wealth of a nation And, separately considered, it appears clear that each act of unproductive consumption, whatever gratification it may afford to the consumer, must be pro tanto detrimental to the rest of the community. It is so much taken from the common stock and destroyed. And, as the national capital is formed from the aggregate savings of individuals, it is certain, that if each individual were to expend to the utmost extent of his means, the whole capital of the country would be gradually wasted away, and general misery would be the result. But it appears to me equally certain, that if each individual were to confine his expenditure to mere necessaries, the result would be misery quite as general and as intense.
We have seen that the powers of population, if not restrained by prudence, must inevitably produce almost every form of moral and physical evil. In the case which I am supposing, the wants of society would be confined to the food, raiment, and shelter, essential to the support of existence. And they would all consist of the cheapest materials. It may be worth while to trace some of the consequences which would follow, if such a change of the objects of human desire could take place in England.
At present the cultivation of the land does not employ more than a third of our population, and a great part of the labourers so employed are producers of luxuries. Indeed, as potatoes afford a food, five or six times as abundant as corn, and more than twenty times as abundant as meat, and as far as can be judged from the appearance and powers of the lower Irish, quite as wholesome, meat and corn may be considered as decencies or luxuries to the extent in which they are more expensive than potatoes. Nor is our present mode of cultivation directed to the obtaining the largest possible return. The object is always to obtain the largest possible return that is consistent with profitable farming, but in the pursuit of this object, quantity of produce is often sacrificed to economy of labour or time.
If there were no desire for luxuries, both the existing partition of the land and the existing division of labour would be varied. No family would wish to occupy more land than the small spot necessary to afford them potatoes and milk; and supposing them to give to it the utmost nicety of garden cultivation, its management would still leave them time to produce the coarse manufactures necessary for their own use. The whole of our population would be agricultural. At present the four millions so employed, although their labour is far from being directed to the production of the greatest possible amount, provides subsistence for the whole twelve millions. If all were so employed, and if quantity of subsistence were their sole object, it is probable, that in ordinary seasons the soil of England could feed at least one hundred millions of people. And in the absence of any checks more powerful than those experienced in the United States of America, our population might, in seventy-five years, amount to one hundred millions. Indeed, it is probable, that under the circumstances which I am supposing, the increase in England would be, for a considerable time, rather more rapid than that which has taken place in America. Preventive checks would not exist; marriage could not be hindered or even delayed by prudence, since there could be no reason to anticipate want; the habit of early marriages would put an end to profligacy; and as our habits would be eminently healthy, the positive checks which even now affect us less than they do the inhabitants of America, or indeed of any other extensive district, would be reduced to their minimum.
So far the picture is rather pleasing; it exhibits a nation, not rich certainly, nor refined, but supporting a very numerous population in health and strength, and in the full enjoyment of the many sources of happiness connected with early marriage.
Supposing our population to have increased, as would be the case by the beginning of the next century, to one hundred millions, about an acre and a half would be allotted to each family; and, as I before observed, I think that allotment might be sufficient. But it can scarcely be supposed, that three roods would be enough, which would be their allotment in twenty-five years more, or granting that to be enough, it cannot be supposed that at the end of a further term of doubling a family of four persons could live on the produce of a rood and a half.
Sooner or later, therefore, the increase must be checked, and we have seen that prudence is the only check that does not involve vice or misery. But such is the force of the passions which prompt to marriage, and such is each man’s reliance on his own good conduct, and good fortune, that the evils, whatever they may be, the apprehension of which forms the prudential check, are frequently incurred. Where the evil is the loss of luxuries, or even of decencies, it is trifling in the first instance, and bearable in the second. But in the case which I am supposing, the only prudential check would be an apprehended deficiency of necessaries; and that deficiency, in the many instances in which it would be incurred, would be the positive check in its most frightful form. It would be incurred not only in consequence of that miscalculation of chances to which all men are subject, and certainly those not the least so, who are anxious to marry, but through accidents against which no human prudence can guard. A single bad harvest may be provided against, but a succession of unfavourable seasons, and such successions do occur, must reduce such a people to absolute famine. When such seasons affect a nation indulging in considerable superfluous expenditure, they are relieved by a temporary sacrifice of that superfluity. The grain consumed in ordinary years by our breweries and distilleries is a store always at hand to supply a scarcity, and the same may be said of the large quantity of food used for the support of domestic animals, but applicable to human subsistence. To these resources may be added the importation from abroad of necessaries instead of luxuries, and the materials of luxury; of corn, for instance, instead of wine.
It appears, therefore, that habits of considerable superfluous expenditure afford the only permanent protection against a population pressing so closely on the means of subsistence, as to be continually incurring the misery of the positive checks. And as these habits can exist only in an opulent society, it appears to me equally clear, that as a nation advances in opulence, the positive checks are likely to be superseded by the preventive. If this be true, the evil of a redundant population, or to speak more intelligibly, of a population too numerous to be adequately and regularly supplied with necessaries, is likely to diminish in the progress of improvement. As wealth increases, what were the luxuries of one generation become the decencies of their successors. Not only a taste for additional comfort and convenience, but a feeling of degradation in their absence becomes more and more widely diffused. The increase, in many respects, of the productive powers of labour, must enable increased comforts to be enjoyed by increased numbers, and as it is the more beneficial, so it appears to me to be the more natural course of events, that increased comfort should not only accompany, but rather precede, increase of numbers.
But I must admit that this is not the received opinion. The popular doctrine certainly is, that population has a tendency to increase beyond the means of subsistence, or, in other words, that, whatever be the existing means of subsistence, population has a tendency fully to come up with them, and even to struggle to pass beyond them, and is kept back principally by the vice and misery which that struggle occasions. I admit that population has the power (considered abstractedly) so to increase, and I admit, that, under the influence of unwise institutions, that power may be exercised, and the amount of subsistence bear a smaller proportion than before to the number of people; and that vice and misery, more or less intense and diffused, according to the circumstances of each case, must be the result. What I deny is, that, under wise institutions, there is any tendency to this state of things. I believe the tendency to be just the reverse.
As the subject is one of great interest and importance, I will lay before you, to be compared with my own views, those of Mr. Malthus, Mr. M‘Culloch, and Mr. Mill.
“There are few states,” observes Mr. Malthus, “in which there is not a constant effort in the population to increase beyond the means of subsistence. This constant effort as constantly tends to subject the lower classes of society to distress, and to prevent any great permanent melioration of their condition. These effects, in the present state of society, seem to be produced in the following manner. We will suppose the means of subsistence in any country to be just equal to the easy support of its inhabitants. The constant effort towards population, which is found to act even in the most vicious societies, increases the number of people before the means of subsistence are increased. The food, therefore, which before supported eleven millions, must now be divided among eleven millions and a half. The poor, consequently, must live much worse, and many of them be reduced to severe distress. The number of labourers also being above the proportion of work in the market, the price of labour must tend to fall, while the price of provisions would, at the same time, tend to rise. The labourer, therefore, must do more work, to earn the same as he did before. During this season of distress the discouragements to marriage, and the difficulty of rearing a family, are so great, that the progress of population is retarded. In the mean time, the cheapness of labour, the plenty of labourers, and the necessity of an increased industry amongst them, encourage cultivators to employ more labour upon their land, to turn up fresh soil, and to manure and improve more completely what is already in tillage, till, ultimately, the means of subsistence may become, in the same proportion to the population, as at the period from which we set out. The situation of the labourer being then again tolerably comfortable, the restraints to population are in some degree loosened; and, after a short period, the same retrograde and progressive movements, with respect to happiness, are repeated.”—Population, Book i. Chap. 2.
And he afterwards repeats the same doctrine more explicitly in the following words:—
“According to the principle of population, the human race has a tendency to increase faster than food. It has, therefore, a constant tendency to people a country fully up to the limits of subsistence; meaning, by these limits, the lowest quantity of food which will maintain a stationary population.”—Book iii. Chap. 1, Note.
Among the valuable notes which Mr. M‘Culloch has appended to his edition of the Wealth of Nations, one of the most interesting treats of population: and one of the objects of that note is to show, that the population of the United States of America cannot continue to increase for any very considerable period, at the rate at which it has increased during the last hundred years.
I am perfectly convinced of the truth of this position, and I shall read to you the following extract, not with any intention to oppose Mr. M‘Culloch’s anticipations as to America, but because I am anxious to express my dissent to what I conceive to be his general doctrine on the subject of population; and am also anxious, by using his own words, to avoid the chance of misrepresenting them.
“It may be said, perhaps, that allowance must be made for the effects of the improvements which may be supposed to take place in agricultural science in the progress of society, or for the possible introduction, at some future period, of new and more prolific species of crops. But it is easy to see, that the influence of such improvements and changes must, supposing them to be realized in the fullest manner, be of very temporary duration; and that it cannot affect the truth of the principle, that the power of increase in the human species must always, in the long run, prove an overmatch for the increase in the means of subsistence. Suppose, by some extraordinary improvement, the quantity of food, and other articles, required for the subsistence and accommodation of man, annually produced in Great Britain, were suddenly doubled, the condition of all classes being, in consequence, signally improved, there would be less occasion for the exercise of moral restraint; the period of marriage would therefore be accelerated, and such a powerful stimulus would be given to the principle of increase, that in a very short period the population would be again on a level with the means of subsistence; and there would also, owing to the change which must have been made in the habits of the people, with respect to marriage, during the period that the population was rising to the level of the increased supply of food, be an extreme risk, lest it should become too abundant, and produce an increased rate of mortality. Although, therefore, it is not possible to assign any certain limits to the progress of improvement, it is, notwithstanding, evident, that it cannot continue for any considerable period to advance in the same proportion that population would advance, supposing food were abundantly supplied. The circumstance of inferior lands, which require a greater outlay of capital and labour to make them yield the same supply as those that are superior, being invariably taken into cultivation in the progress of society, demonstrates, what is otherwise indeed sufficiently obvious to every one, that, in despite of improvements, the difficulty of adding to the supplies of food is progressively augmented as population becomes denser.
“Mr. Malthus has endeavoured to show, that while population has a power to increase indefinitely in a geometrical proportion, or in the proportion of 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, &c., doubling itself every five-and-twenty years, the supplies of food and other necessary accommodations could not be made to increase faster during the same periods, than in an arithmetical proportion, or in the ratio of the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, &c. But it is impossible to lay down any fixed or certain principle with respect to the ratio of the increase of food. I should, however, be inclined to think, that the ratio stated by Mr. Malthus would be found to be too high for countries whose best lands have already been brought under tillage. But whether Mr. Malthus has over or under stated the increase of food, is of no consequence to the theory of population. It is, at all events, unquestionably true on the one hand, that an increased difficulty of obtaining increased supplies of food, though occasionally obviated for a while by new discoveries and inventions, is uniformly experienced according as society advances, and population becomes denser; while, on the other hand, it is equally true, that the power to produce fresh human beings, a power capable of doubling the population every five and twenty years sustains no diminution. And hence it results, as was stated at the commencement of this note, that the natural tendency of population is to outrun production; and that if this tendency be not counteracted by the prevalence of moral restraint, it must be counteracted by want, misery, and increased mortality.”—Vol. iv. p. 133.
Mr. Mill’s views are to be found in his discussion of wages. Principles, &c. Ch. ii. sec. 2.
“If it were,” he observes, “the natural tendency of capital” (under which term Mr. Mill designates the instruments of labour, the materials on which they are to be employed, when produced by labour, and the subsistence of the labourer) “to increase faster than population, there would be no difficulty in preserving a prosperous condition of the people. If, on the other hand, it were the natural tendency of population to increase faster than capital, the difficulty would be very great. There would be a perpetual tendency in wages to fall. The progressive fall of wages would produce a greater and a greater degree of poverty among the people, attended with its inevitable consequences, misery and vice. As poverty and its consequent misery increased, mortality would also increase. Of a numerous family born, a certain number only, from want of the means of well-being, would be reared. By whatever proportion the population tended to increase faster than capital, such a proportion of those who were born would die: the ratio of increase in capital and population would then remain the same, and the fall of wages would proceed no further. That population has a tendency to increase faster than, in most places, capital has actually increased, is proved incontestably, by the condition of the population in most parts of the globe. In almost all countries, the condition of the great body of the people is poor and miserable. This would have been impossible, if capital had increased faster than population. In that case wages must have risen, and higher wages would have placed the labourer above the miseries of want.
“This general misery of mankind is a fact which can be accounted for, upon one of two suppositions: either that there is a natural tendency in population to increase faster than capital, or that capital has, by some means, been prevented from increasing so fast as it has a tendency to increase. This, therefore, is an enquiry of the highest importance.”
As the result of that enquiry Mr. Mill decides the second alternative in the negative, and consequently conceives himself to have established the former, namely, that there is a natural tendency in population to increase faster than capital.
I have nothing to do at present with those portions of capital which consist of the materials and implements of labour. That they have increased far more than in proportion to the increase of population, is almost too obvious for remark. My present subject is the relative increase of subsistence. A subject on which Mr. M‘Culloch, and Mr. Mill, and I think also Mr. Malthus, coincide.
If the present state of the world, compared with its state at our earliest records, be one of relative prosperity, Mr. Mill’s reasoning is unanswerable. If its means of subsistence continue to bear the same proportion to the number of its inhabitants, it is clear that the increase of subsistence and of numbers has been equal. If its means of subsistence have increased much more than the number of its inhabitants, it is clear not only that Mr. Mill’s proposition is false, but that the contrary proposition is true; and that the means of subsistence have a natural tendency to increase faster than population.
Now, what is the picture presented by the earliest records of those nations which are now civilized? or, which is the same, what is now the state of savage nations? A state of habitual poverty and occasional famine. A scanty population, but still scantier means of subsistence. Admitting, and it must be admitted, that in almost all countries the condition of the great body of the people is poor and miserable; yet as poverty and misery were their original inheritance, what inference can we draw from the continuance of their misery as to the tendency of their numbers to increase more rapidly than their wealth?
But if a single country can be found in which there is now less poverty than is universal in a savage state, it must be true, that under the circumstances in which that country has been placed, the means of subsistence have a greater tendency to increase than the population.
Now this is the case in every civilized country. Even Ireland, the country most likely to afford an instance of what Mr. Mill supposes to be the natural course of things, poor and populous as she is, suffers less from want with her eight millions of people, than when her only inhabitants were a few septs of hunters and fishers. In our early history, famines, and pestilences the consequences of famine, constantly recur. At present, though our numbers are trebled or quadrupled, they are unheard of.
The United States of America afford the best ascertained instance of great and continued increase of numbers. They have afforded a field in which the powers of population have been allowed to exhaust their energy; but though exerted to their utmost they have not equalled the progress of subsistence. Whole colonies of the first settlers perished from absolute want; their successors struggled long against hardship and privation; but every increase of their numbers seems to have been accompanied or preceded by increased means of support.
If it be conceded, that there exists in the human race a natural tendency to rise from barbarism to civilization, and that the means of subsistence are proportionally more abundant in a civilized than in a savage state, and neither of these propositions can be denied, it must follow that there is a natural tendency in subsistence to increase in a greater ratio than population.
But, although Mr. Malthus has perhaps fallen into the exaggeration which is natural to a discoverer, his error, if it be one, does not affect the practical conclusions which place him, as a benefactor to mankind, on a level with Adam Smith. Whether, in the absence of disturbing causes, it be the tendency of subsistence or of population to advance with greater rapidity, is a question of slight importance, if it be acknowledged that human happiness or misery depend principally on their relative advance, and that there are causes, and causes within human control, by which that advance can be regulated.
These are propositions which Mr. Malthus has established by facts and reasonings, which, opposed as they were to long-rooted prejudice, and assailed by every species of sophistry and clamour, are now so generally admitted, that they have become rather matter of allusion than of formal statement. To explain what are the causes of the relative increase of subsistence and population is the principal object of the practical branch of political economy, and the practical and theoretic branches are so interwoven, that my view of those causes is necessarily dispersed throughout my Lectures.
I will only say at present that knowledge, security of property, freedom of internal and external exchange, and equal admissibility to rank and power, are the principal causes which at the same time promote the increase of subsistence, and by elevating the character of the people, lead them to keep at a slower rate the increase of their numbers. And that restrictions on exchange and commerce, artificial barriers excluding the great majority of the community from the chance of social eminence, and, above all, ignorance and insecurity of person or property, are the general causes which both diminish the productiveness of labour, and tend to produce that brutish state of improvidence in which the power of increase, unchecked by prudence, is always struggling to pass the limits of subsistence, and is kept down only by vice and misery. I use the expression general causes, to exclude those causes which, being peculiar to certain nations, require separate consideration. Such are the superstitious desire of offspring in China, the political motives to create freeholders in Ireland, and certain parts of the poor laws in England. But omitting these details, it may be generally stated, that all that degrades the character, or diminishes the productive power of a people, tends to diminish the proportion of subsistence to population, and vice versa. And, consequently, that a population increasing more rapidly than the means of subsistence is, generally speaking, a symptom of misgovernment indicating deeper-seated evils, of which it is only one of the results.