Front Page Titles (by Subject) 32.: JAMES MILL ON THE QUESTION OF POPULATION BLACK DWARF, 25 FEB., 1824, PP. 238-44 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXII - Newspaper Writings December 1822 - July 1831 Part I
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32.: JAMES MILL ON THE QUESTION OF POPULATION BLACK DWARF, 25 FEB., 1824, PP. 238-44 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXII - Newspaper Writings December 1822 - July 1831 Part I 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXII - Newspaper Writings December 1822 - July 1831 Part I, ed. Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson, Introduction by Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986).
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JAMES MILL ON THE QUESTION OF POPULATION
For the context of this final letter in Mill’s series (Nos. 27, 28, and 31) in response to Thomas Wooler, see No. 27. Wooler’s response to No. 31, “Further Inquiry into the Principles of Population,” Black Dwarf, 4 Feb., 1824, pp. 143-9, is here answered by Mill with his strongest weapon, an extensive extract (pp. 260-1) from James Mill’s “Colony” (1818), written for the Supplement to the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Editions of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Vol. III, pp. 257-73. Because J.S. Mill says his father’s comment is in effect his own reply to Wooler, the extract is here included, with Wooler’s editorial notes in reply. Headed “Question on [sic] Population Resumed,” with a subhead, “To the Editor,” the letter is not in Mill’s bibliography, but its signature (“A.M.”) and contents leave no doubt that it is Mill’s.
The accompanying paragraphs are destined for insertion in your Dwarf. They are extracted from the article “Colonies,” in the supplement to the Encyclopaedia Britannica; a discourse composed by an eminent friend of the people. They contain, I think, a most conclusive answer to your last article on population; and if you insert them, you will be very well able to dispense with the reply which you would otherwise have received from
Sir, your most obedient servant,
It should be very distinctly understood what it is we mean, when we say, in regard to such a country as Great Britain, for example, that the supply of food is too small for the population. Because it may be said immediately, that the quantity of food may be increased in Great Britain; a proposition which no man will think of denying.
On this proposition, let us suppose, that in any given year, this year for example, the food in Great Britain is too small for the people, by 10,000 individuals. It is, no doubt, true, that additional food, sufficient to supply 10,000 individuals, might be raised next year; but where would be the amelioration, if 10,000 individuals were, at the same time, added to the numbers to be fed?* Now, the tendency of population is such as to make, in almost all cases, the real state of the facts correspond with this supposition. Population not only rises to the level of the present supply of food; but, if you go on every year increasing the quantity of food, population goes on increasing at the same time, and so fast, that the food is commonly still too small for the people. This is the grand proposition of Mr. Malthus’s book: it is not only quite original, but it is that point of the subject from which all the more important consequences flow,—consequences which, till that point was made known, could not be understood.†
When we say that the quantity of food, in any country, is too small for the quantity of the people, and that, though we may increase the quantity of food, the population will, at the same time, increase so fast, that the food will still be too small for the people; we may be encountered with another proposition. It may be said, that we may increase food still faster than it is possible to increase population. And there are situations in which we must allow that the proposition is true.
In countries newly inhabited, or in which there is a small number of people, there is commonly a quantity of land yielding a large produce for a given portion of labour. So long as the land continues to yield in this liberal manner, how fast soever population increases, food may increase with equal rapidity, and plenty remain. When population, however, has increased to a certain extent, all the best land is occupied; if it increases any farther, land of a worse quality must be taken in hand; when land of the next best quality is all exhausted, land of a still inferior quality must be employed, till at last you come to that which is exceedingly barren. In this progression, it is very evident, that it is always gradually becoming more and more difficult to make food increase, with any given degree of rapidity, and that you must come, at last, to a point, where it is altogether impossible.‡
It may, however, be said, and has been said in substance, though not very clearly, by some of Mr. Malthus’s opponents, that it is improper to speak of food as too small for the population, so long as food can be made to increase at an equal pace with population; and though it is no doubt true, that, in the states of modern Europe, food does not actually increase so fast as the population endeavours to increase, and hence the poverty and wretchedness of that population; yet it would be very possible to make food increase as fast as the tendency of population, and hence to make the people happy without diminishing their numbers by colonization; and that it is owing wholly to unfavourable, to ill-contrived institutions, that such is not the effect universally experienced. As this observation has in it a remarkable combination of truth and error, it is worthy of a little pains to make the separation.§
There can be no doubt that, by employing next year a greater proportion of the people upon the land than this year, we should raise a greater quantity of food; by employing a still greater proportion the year following, we should produce a still greater quantity of food: and, in this way, it would be possible to go on for some time, increasing food as fast as it would be possible for the population to increase. But observe at what cost this would be. As the land, in this course, yields gradually less and less, to every new portion of labour bestowed upon it, it would be necessary to employ gradually not only a greater and greater number, but a greater and greater proportion of the people in raising food. But the greater the proportion of the people which is employed in raising food, the smaller is the proportion which can be employed in producing any thing else. You can only, therefore, increase the quantity of food to meet the demand of an increasing population, by diminishing the supply of those other things which minister to human desires.¶
There can be no doubt, that, by increasing every year the proportion of the population which you employ in raising food, and diminishing every year the proportion employed in everything else, you may go on increasing food as fast as population increases, till the labour of a man, added upon the land, is just sufficient to add as much to the produce, as will maintain himself and raise a family. Suppose, where the principle of population is free from all restriction, the average number of children reared in a family is five; in that case, so long as the man’s labour, added to the labour already employed upon the land, can produce food sufficient for himself and the rearing of five children, food may be made to keep pace with population. But if things were made to go on in such an order, till they arrived at that pass, men would have food, but they would have nothing else. They would have neither clothes, nor houses, nor furniture. There would be nothing for elegance, nothing for ease, nothing for pleasure. There would be no class exempt from the necessity of perpetual labour, by whom knowledge might be cultivated, and discoveries useful to mankind.∥
It is of no use, then, to tell us that we have the physical power of increasing food as fast as population. As soon as we have arrived at that point at which the due distribution of the population is made between those who raise food, and those who are in other ways employed in contributing to the well-being of the members of the community, any increase of the food, faster than is consistent with that distribution, can only be made at the expense of those other things, by the enjoyment of which the life of man is preferable to that of the brutes. At this point the progress of population ought to be restrained. Population may still increase, because the quantity of food may still be capable of being increased, though not beyond a certain slowness of rate, without requiring, to the production of it, a greater than the due proportion of the population.
Suppose, then, when the due proportion of the population is allotted to the raising of food, and the due proportion to other desirable occupations, that the institutions of society were such as to prevent a greater proportion from being withdrawn from these occupations to the raising of food. This it would, surely, be very desirable that they should effect. What now would be the consequence, should population, in that case, go on at its full rate of increase,—in other words, faster than with that distribution of the population, it would be possible for food to be increased? The answer is abundantly plain: all those effects would take place which have already been described as following upon the existence of a redundant population in modern Europe, and in all countries in which the great body of those who have nothing to give for food but labour, are free labourers;—that is to say, wages would fall, poverty would overspread the population, and all those horrid phenomena would exhibit themselves which are the never-failing attendants on a poor population.
It is of no great importance, though the institutions of society may be such as to make the proportion of the population, kept back from the providing of food, rather greater than it might be. All that happens is, that the redundancy of population begins a little earlier. The unrestrained progress of population would soon have added the deficient number to the proportion employed in the raising of food; and, at whatever point the redundancy begins, the effects are always the same.**
What are the best means of checking the progress of population, when it cannot go on unrestrained, without producing one or other of two most undesirable effects; either drawing an undue proportion of the population to the mere raising of food, or producing poverty and wretchedness, it is not now the place to inquire.
It is, indeed, the most important practical problem to which the wisdom of the politician and moralist can be applied. It has, till this time, been miserably evaded by all those who have meddled with the subject, as well as by all those who were called upon, by their situation, to find a remedy for the evils to which it relates. And yet, if the superstitions of the nursery were discarded, and the principle of utility kept steadily in view, a solution might not be very difficult to be found; and the means of drying up one of the most copious sources of human evil, a source which, if all other sources of evil were taken away, would alone suffice to retain the great mass of human beings in misery, might be seen to be neither doubtful nor difficult to be applied.††
[* ]Nothing is easier than supposition: but it is here necessary to shew that not more than food for 10,000 additional mouths could be raised. As one man can raise food for ten, with scope for his labour, the more rational supposition would be, that for every one thousand added to the population, enough food for 10,000 could be provided, with sufficient scope for labour. It is calculated that every labouring agriculturist has fifteen persons to carry on his shoulders; or in other words, that he labours one day for himself, and fifteen for other people.—Ed. [Wooler.]
[† ]It is not now understood, because it is not true that population, on the average of European states, outruns the supply of food. There is a tendency to an enormous encrease; but this tendency is held in check by so many other tendencies, that population in some instances actually decreases, though there be food in plenty.—Ed. [Wooler.]
[‡ ]That is, when you can exhaust the surface of the globe; when the time shall arrive in which there shall at least be a hundred times as many human beings as there exist at present.—Ed. [Wooler.]
[§ ]I have not met with any persons who deny that emigration and colonization are not useful; and, in particular cases, absolutely necessary. It is necessary to the defence of Mr. Malthus’s proposition to say that colonization would not remedy the evil; for if it would, why have recourse to a worse remedy.—Ed. [Wooler.]
[¶ ]This seems begging the question. The original wants of man, are food, clothes, and fire. I shall not discuss what luxuries may be deemed necessary by a few. I look to the mass.—Ed. [Wooler.]
[∥ ]Why not? it is not time, so much as space, that is required for the production of food. With the aid of modern improvements in science, it would not be difficult for one to raise food for a hundred. What, then, should hinder the building of houses, and the cultivation of the arts?—Ed. [Wooler.]
[** ]When this point can be reached, then emigration and colonization become necessary; as the bees swarm when the hive is too full.—Ed. [Wooler.]
[†† ]My argument is, first do justice to the labourer, by reforming the institutions that oppress him, and then deal with the population as imperious circumstances shall dictate.—Ed. [Wooler.]