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Thomas Malthus

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Thomas Robert Malthus (February 14, 1766 - December 23, 1834) was an English demographer and economist best known for his pessimistic but highly influential views.

Malthus was born to a prosperous family. His father was a personal friend of the philosopher and skeptic David Hume and an acquaintance of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The young Malthus was educated at home until his admission to Jesus College, Cambridge in 1784. There he studied many subjects and took prizes in Latin and Greek. He earned a masters degree in 1791 and was elected a fellow of Jesus College two years later. In 1797, he was ordained and became a country parson.

Malthusís views were largely developed in reaction to the optimistic views of his father and the men he associated notably Rousseau and William Godwin. In An Essay on the Principle of Population, published in 1798, Thomas Malthus predicted population would outrun food supply, leading to a decrease in food per person. This prediction was based on the idea that population if unchecked increases at a geometric rate whereas the food supply grows at an arithmetic rate. (See Malthusian catastrophe for more information.) Only misery, self-restraint and vice (which for Malthus included contraception) could check excessive population growth. The influence of the Malthus's theory of population was very great. Previously it had been believed that high fertility contributed to national wealth. Malthus theory apparently also influenced Charles Darwin. Darwin, in his book Origin of Species, called his theory an application of the doctrines of Malthus in an area without the complicating factor of human intelligence.

In 1804, Malthus married and in 1805 he became professor at the East India Company College in Hertfordshire. Here he developed a theory of demand supply mismatches which he called gluts. Considered ridiculous at the time his theory was latter confirmed by the Great Depression and works of John Maynard Keynes.

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