Two Lectures on the Checks to Population/Lecture 1

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LECTURE I.

 
 

I proposed to consider, in this and in the following Lecture, the checks to population.

We have seen that the increase of food cannot keep pace with the theoretical rate of increase of population. Since, therefore, food is essential to the existence of man, it is obvious, that, with reference to the increase of numbers actually possible, the theoretical power of multiplication can be of little moment, and that, whatever be its extent, the actual excess of the births above the deaths must be determined according to the inferior progression of the supply of food.

In considering therefore the condition of any country in respect of its population, we have two rates of increase to which to direct our attention; viz. first, the theoretical rate, or, in other words, as I explained in a former Lecture, that amount of the annual excess of the births above the deaths, which would be possible, and might be expected to have a real existence, were the supply of food abundant, and were no part of the people cramped in their circumstances: and secondly, the actual rate of increase, or the annual excess of the births above the deaths really occurring.

It is necessary, I say, to attend to these two rates of increase, because the difference between them is the measure of the amount of existences repressed, and it is in the mode by which the repression is effected, that the happiness or misery of every people is essentially involved. The superabundant tendency to increase must of necessity be repressed by some one mode of repression or another[1]. So far is absolutely unavoidable. But there are material differences in the possible modes of repression, and it is of importance to ascertain the circumstances, which favour them respectively, and tend to give the predominance to any one of them in particular.

The modes of repression are the same as what have been called the checks to population. It is obvious that the theoretical rate of increase, that is, the theoretical excess of the births above the deaths, may be reduced to the dimensions of the increase actually possible, in two ways, namely, either by a diminution in the births, or an increase in the deaths. Mr. Malthus therefore distinguishes the checks into two principal classes, the preventive, which restrain the number of the actual births, and prevent its being as great as the theoretical number: and the positive, which swell the number of the deaths, and increase them beyond the proportion due to the natural law of mortality in the human species.

There is reason to believe, as I intimated in a previous Lecture, that the poverty and hard living, which in many cases operate to the destruction of life, have in other cases the effect of diminishing fecundity. So far as they produce this latter effect they are preventive checks. Promiscuous intercourse, beyond a certain degree, prevents the birth of children, and therefore belongs to the same class. But the most important branch of the preventive check consists in, what is termed by Mr. Malthus, moral restraint. For an explanation of its nature, I will read his own description of it.

"The preventive check," he observes, "as far as it is voluntary, is peculiar to man, and arises from that distinctive superiority of his reasoning faculties, which enables him to calculate distant consequences. The checks to the indefinite increase of plants and irrational animals are all either positive, or, if preventive, involuntary. But man cannot look around him, and see the distress which frequently presses on those who have large families; he cannot contemplate his present possessions or earnings, which he now nearly consumes himself, and calculate the amount of each share, when, with very little addition, they must be divided, perhaps, among seven or eight, without feeling a doubt whether, if he follow the bent of his inclinations, he may be able to support the offspring which he may probably bring into the world. In a state of equality, if such can exist, this would be the simple question. In the present state of society other considerations occur. Will he not lower his rank in life, and be obliged to give up in a great measure his former habits? Does any mode of employment present itself by which he may reasonably hope to maintain a family? Will he not at any rate subject himself to greater difficulties, and more severe labour, than in his single state? Will he not be unable to transmit to his children the same advantages of education and improvement that he had himself possessed? Does he even feel secure that, should he have a large family, his utmost exertions can save them from rags and squalid poverty, and their consequent degradation in the community? And may he not be reduced to the grating necessity of forfeiting his independence, and of being obliged to the sparing hand of charity for support?"

"These considerations are calculated to prevent, and certainly do prevent, a great number of persons in all civilized nations from pursuing the dictate of nature in an early attachment to one woman."

This is Mr. Malthus' account of the operation of that branch of the preventive check termed moral restraint. I now proceed to what he says about the positive checks.

"The positive checks to population are extremely various, and include every cause, whether arising from vice or misery, which in any degree contributes to shorten the natural duration of human life. Under this head, therefore, may be enumerated all unwholesome occupations, severe labour and exposure to the seasons, extreme poverty, bad nursing of children, great towns, excesses of all kinds, the whole train of common diseases and epidemics, wars, plague, and famine."

Now, if we examine the particulars mentioned by Mr. Malthus, we shall see, that, though they embrace all the checks arising, either directly or indirectly, from a want of food, yet they are not limited to these alone. They go much further, and include checks which must exist in every stage of society, as well while an immense expanse of fertile land remains unappropriated, as when every acre of land in the country has been cultivated like a garden. In every stage of society the period of infancy is helpless, and the prospect of a family must always carry with it the prospect of some division of a limited command of wealth, or otherwise of greater difficulties and more severe labour than in a single state. Wealth is never to be had for nothing, and to have to maintain those who contribute no addition to it, must of course imply either a deduction from the existing stock, or a compensation derived either from increased labour or extraneous sources.

An American, we will suppose, settles in the woods, marries and has a family. He clears his ground, builds his house, plants an orchard, incloses his fields. As time rolls on, he acquires experience, obtains a knowledge of the localities, finds out the most advantageous channels of trade, his orchard becomes productive, the cultivation of his land becomes more easy, he improves his habitation, every year adds to his comforts, and eventually he surrounds himself with many of the conveniences and luxuries of refined life. In a word, his daily enjoyments depend much more on accumulation, than on the daily labour of himself or of his family. His children are brought up participating in all these advantages. Thus comfortably situated at home, have they no cause for hesitation, or for an interval of preparation, before they venture upon marriage? Surely they have, and so long as man is a reasoning animal, and not only food but all the conveniences and luxuries of life are not to be had for nothing, motives for prudential restraint must present themselves, more or less imperiously, in every condition of society[2].

Again, as to the positive check. The whole train of common diseases and epidemics, war and plague, are contained in the list. But these, as a whole, are not, either mediately or immediately, the effects of a deficiency of food. The cholera, for example, has appeared in America, to say the least of it, in a form as severe as in England; and though in England it has been most destructive in the abodes of poverty, yet neither has it altogether spared the rich. The like may be said of wars, and other evils which we bring upon ourselves. They are not universally the result of a scarcity of the means of subsistence. Many would, perhaps, be startled on being told, that they have any thing to do with it. Yet I think that, on consideration, they would agree with an observation of Mr. Malthus, that the causes of war, in their remote ramifications, are not unconnected with it. The late war, for example, was owing, in a very considerable degree, to the apprehension entertained by the aristocracy of the contagion of the French revolution. But they would have had less ground for apprehension, had the bulk of the people been easy in their condition. Few will deny that an easy command of subsistence is almost a panacea for discontent among the lower classes.

Suppose that the cases, in which prudential restraint arises from the fear of a want of sustenance, were clearly distinguishable, by some manifest token, from those in which it depends on other motives. Suppose also poverty, by which I here mean misery produced by want, to have diseases of its own, wars of its own, and other modes of destruction of its own, all marked by some specific difference, and never to use any tools, or instruments of death, not peculiarly appropriated to its own department. Then the view of the subject would be comparatively simple, and we might draw a hard line of distinction between the different checks, separating them into two classes, and placing on one side of the line all those motives, and all those diseases and other causes, which diminish fecundity or destroy life, and which arise from a scarcity of the means of subsistence; and on the other, all causes productive of the same effect, but originating in moral and physical circumstances totally independent of this scarcity. Now, though in the natural course of events, causes appertaining to both of these classes are commonly intermixed in their operation, and cannot be disentangled, and though, perhaps, scarcely a single case of diminished fecundity or of death, in which poverty is concerned, be the result of poverty alone, yet these circumstances constitute no objection to our distinguishing in imagination the quantities of the effects due to each description of causes. A line, or the equivalent of a line, parting the quantities of the effects, must exist in nature, though not visible to the eye of the philosopher, and we are at liberty to reason respecting the quantities placed on each side of this line in the same manner as if its position were actually ascertained.

We shall thus have a third rate of increase, viz. a theoretical rate, which might be expected to have a real existence, were not only food always abundant, but also all wars, all diseases, and other causes in any way tending to diminish fecundity, or to extinguish human life before the completion of the natural term of longevity, to be utterly removed. The three rates will then stand as follows:

First, we shall have a theoretical rate, derived from the supposition of the absence, not only of a scarcity of food, but also of all other causes whatever, which tend to diminish fecundity, or prematurely to weaken or destroy the human frame. Let us assume this to be such as would double population in ten years.

Secondly, we shall have another theoretical rate, derived from the supposition of the absence only of a scarcity of food, and not of the other causes of retardation unconnected with this scarcity. This is not, like the other, merely an imaginary case, but one of which examples may be found; and according to this rate it has appeared in a former Lecture that population would probably, in this country, double itself at the least in thirty-five years.

Thirdly, there is the actual rate which occurs in every country under its existing circumstances, and which, at the present time, and in this country, is that of a duplication in forty-nine or fifty years.

With respect to these different rates of increase we may remark, that the first is the most stable of all, and that though its exact quantity is difficult to be ascertained, yet, whatever it is, it is nearly invariable, and, if it can be rightly assumed to give a rate of duplication in ten years at any particular time and place, the same assumption will be equally applicable to all times and places. The second is much less stable, and oscillates between limits widely distant, according to the varieties of different countries in respect of climate, and in the same country at different times, according as it is cleared, drained, and improved, and according to the advance of its inhabitants in the knowledge of medicine, and in their command of the conveniences of life. Though however not accurately geometrical, it yet preserves those main features of a geometrical progression, which are essential with regard to practical considerations, viz. that the increase of one period furnishes the power of a greater increase in the next, and this without any limit.

The third rate, or the actual progression, is of course the most variable of all, being influenced by the greatest variety of causes. It is observable, that, while the checks, which produce the difference between the first rate and the second, have the property of retarding, and of taking away a part of the original rate of progression, still they are not connected with any limitation of its range, and their intensity is not necessarily increased in consequence of any actual increase of number. But the checks, which cause the difference between the second rate and the third, are subject to variations in intensity dependent on the actual range. They not only retard, but they limit also. In short, the difference between the first and second class of checks, to which I am here alluding, is, that those of the first class, though they lessen the rate of progression, yet prescribe no bounds to the ultimate accumulation of population; while those of the second class, i.e. those which determine the third rate of increase, not only lessen the rate of progression, but also confine the amount of ultimate accumulation.

The remark, therefore, which I made on Mr. Malthus' enumeration of the checks amounts to this, that they comprise the whole difference between the first and third rates, or between the ideal rate of duplication in ten years and the actual rate, and not that part only of the difference which depends on a scarcity of the means of subsistence[3].

Assume the circumstances of a nation to admit of a certain rate of advance in its means of subsistence; then its population will increase at the same rate, and the whole difference between the first rate of increase and the third will be a given quantity. The two classes of checks therefore, viz those independent of, and those generated by, a scarcity of the means of subsistence, which by their combined action produce this difference, must also be given. In other words, their sum, must remain the same, whatever variation may take place among their parts. Where therefore those independent of a scarcity of food are great, those dependent on such scarcity are small. Now, in proportion to the amount of, or rather to the range for, the checks dependent on a scarcity of the means of subsistence, is the necessity for moral restraint, or the preventive check[4]. Consequently, as in unhealthy countries there is little, so in the healthy there is great necessity for moral restraint.

In ancient times war was the great depopulator. And it stood so far, at least, unconnected with the want of food, that the prevalence of the preventive check in any particular nation would not have operated to diminish its ravages, as it would to diminish those sufferings which result immediately from scarcity. We may therefore look on the wars of ancient times in the same light as an unhealthy climate, which diminishes the field for the checks depending directly on want of subsistence, but of which the effects would not be lessened by the prevalence of moral restraint. Hence, considering the importance of a numerous population for the great object of national defence, the maxims of ancient legislators respecting the propriety of encouraging marriage were probably correct as general rules, and suitable to the times to which they were applied.

But now, when the invention of gunpowder has changed the whole art of war, which, partly from that cause, and partly from the greater humanity of modern times, has become much less destructive; when also from the improvement of medicine, and of the arts which supply the comforts of life, epidemic and other diseases, not depending on want of food, have abated in violence, the ancient doctrine is no longer suitable. The first class of checks, or, at least, so many belonging to that class, as are also of a positive description, having been contracted, a wider sphere is now opened for those depending on a scarcity of subsistence, and it has become a matter of importance, instead of encouraging marriage, rather to discourage it, and by restraining the number of the births, to prevent the sickness and misery, arising from a want of food, which would be otherwise inevitable. In our times, therefore, the influence of different institutions and conditions of society, according as they are favourable or unfavourable to the preventive check[5], will form an interesting subject of inquiry.

Systems of equality, with a community of labour and of goods, are highly unfavourable to it. I begin with these, because, in all the objections to such systems, a common principle is involved, the knowledge of which, in its different bearings, will be useful to us afterwards, when we come to examine the encouragements to moral restraint, which, under the existing state of things, are offered to the different classes of society.

Suppose the case of two persons agreeing to labour jointly, and that the result of their labour is to be common property. Then, were either of them, at any time, to increase his exertions beyond their previous amount, only half of the resulting benefit would fall to his share; were he to relax them, he would bear only half the loss. If, therefore, we may estimate the motives for exertion by the magnitude of the personal consequences expected by each individual, these motives would in this case have only half the force, which they would have, were each labouring separately for his own individual benefit. Similarly, in the case of three partners, they would have only one third of the force—in the case of four, only one fourth—and in a multitude, no force whatever. For beyond a certain point of minuteness, the interest would be so small as to elude perception, and would obtain no hold whatever on the human mind.

In this, I have not assumed that the produce of the labour is to be equally divided, but merely, that all are equally interested in it, so long as it is unknown how it will be divided; and, therefore, that each person will view the future consequences, expected to result from an increase or relaxation of his own exertions, in the same light as he would any other benefit or injury extending indifferently to the whole community.

Again, suppose two persons to have a common purse, to which each may freely resort. The ordinary source of motives for economy is a foresight of the diminution in the means of future enjoyment depending on each act of present expenditure. If a man takes a guinea out of his own purse, the remainder, which he can spend afterwards, is diminished by a guinea. But not so, if he takes it from a fund, to which he and another have an equal right of access. The loss falling upon both, he spends a guinea with as little consideration as he would use in spending half a guinea, were the fund divided. Each determines his expenditure as if the whole of the joint stock were his own. Consequently, in a multitude of partners, where the diminution effected by each separate act of expenditure is insensible, the motive for economy entirely vanishes.

It may here be asked, what has this to do with the preventive check? It merely serves to illustrate those parts of a cause and of its consequences, which enter into human motives, and to shew how the future is struck out of the reckoning, when the constitution of society is such as to diffuse the effects of individual acts throughout the community at large, instead of appropriating them to the individuals, by whom they are respectively committed. Where the present and the future are not opposed, of course there can be no question. I am here, therefore, referring only to cases, such as those which I have been considering, in which the endurance of a present pain or inconvenience will be the cause of a future benefit, or the gratification of a present desire will lead to eventual evil. Prudence is a selfish virtue; and where the consequences are to fall on the public, the prudent man determines his conduct, by the comparison, of the present pleasure with his share of the future ill, and the present sacrifice with his share of the future benefit. This share, in the multitude of a large society, becomes evanescent; and hence, in the absence of any countervailing weight, the conduct of each person is determined by the consideration of the present alone. The present good is chosen; the present evil is refused. This is what happens with the brute creation, and thus the obligation to prudence being placed upon the society collectively, instead of being distributed to the individual members, the effect is, that, though the reasoning faculty is in full force, and each man can clearly foresee the consequences of his actions, yet the conduct is the same as if that faculty had no existence.

Now, the objection, drawn from the theory of population, against such systems of equality, is this. Marriage is a present good. The difficulties attending the maintenance of a family are future. But in a community of goods, where the children are maintained at public tables, or where each family takes according to its necessities out of the common stock, these difficulties are removed from the individual. They spread themselves, and overflow the whole surface of society, and press equally on every part. All may determine their conduct by the consideration of the present only. All are at liberty to follow the bent of their inclinations in an early marriage. But, as we have already seen, it is impossible to provide an adequate supply of food for all who can be born. Hence, supposing the form of the society to remain, the shares of subsistence are continually diminishing, until all are reduced to extreme distress, and until, ultimately, the further increase of population is repressed by the undisguised check of misery and want.

We may observe, that, supposing the proceedings of all in respect of marriage to be alike, the aggregate amount of the several shares of pressure accruing to one person by reason of the acts of all, will be equal to the primary amount of the pressure distributed to the whole society in consequence of the act of one. Each, therefore, will feel ill effects, corresponding precisely, in character and quantity, with the consequences of his own conduct. Yet they will not be the identical effects flowing from that conduct; but, being a portion of the accumulated effects resulting from the whole conduct of the society in general, would, therefore, still be felt, though the conduct of the individual should be changed. Thus it is that the universal distress fails to suggest to individuals any motive for moral restraint.

From what has been said, I draw one general inference, viz. that the simple fact of a country being over populous, by which I mean its population pressing too closely against the means of subsistence, is not, of itself, sufficient evidence that the fault lies in the people themselves, or a proof of the absence of a prudential disposition. The fault may rest, not with them as individuals, but with the constitution of the society, of which they form part.

I do not profess to be here considering generally the merits of systems of equality, and, therefore, I shall not stop to inquire, whether any, and what substitute, for the motive of private interest, can be suggested, to stimulate exertion, to prevent waste, and to check the undue increase of population. My object, in now referring to them, has merely been to illustrate the principle of objection to them, derived from the theory of population—a principle, which to some may perhaps appear so plain and self-evident, as not to have required the notice I have bestowed on it, but which, while it exists in a considerable degree of force in the present condition of the labouring classes in this country, seems nevertheless, as to its bearing on those classes, in a great measure to have escaped observation.

In order to shew the principle in a clear light, I will take an abstract case, removing in idea those adjuncts and modifications, which, in the existing state of things, operate to disguise its action.

Let us assume, therefore, the imaginary case of a society, constituted in part as society is at present constituted in this country, viz. one in which there shall be a small class of proprietors of the soil, and a large class of labourers, but where the power of labouring shall commence from the moment of birth, and shall afterwards increase progressively with the necessities of the different ages up to the period of adolescence. For example, supposing that to supply the necessities of a new-born infant, and those of his parent in the same degree, two shillings and ten shillings a week are respectively required; I assume, that, where the parent can manufacture ten yards, the infant can manufacture two. It must be observed, that the supposition expresses merely a relation between the bodily powers of the child and the adult, and does not involve any assumption respecting the absolute power of either to obtain by labour a competent subsistence. It implies, that, if the labour of the father be rewarded liberally, so also will be that of the child; or, on the other hand, if the father can earn but little, that the child also can earn but little. In short, the whole hypothesis differs only from the actual state of things in this country in this respect; that, whereas the discoveries in manufactures seem to render it possible to turn to account the labour of children at an earlier age than formerly, and we may expect that with the progress of discovery it will be possible to turn it to account at a still earlier age, I now, for the convenience of argument, assume the progression to have advanced up to the very beginning of life. Not that we can believe that it will ever reach this extreme limit, but because this assumption serves to simplify the elements of the reasoning. With the like view to convenience and simplicity, I shall for the present omit the class of capitalists. I set aside also the class of proprietors, and the definite quantity of food which, in proportion to their numbers, they take, for their own consumption, out of the general stock, proposing to attend only to the causes, which will determine the ratio, between the number of the labourers, and the remaining portion of the food.

In the actual business of life, we commonly find some labourers out of employment, and more at one time than at another. So long however as the whole stock of food is sufficient for the possible maintenance of all, want of employment does not arise from an absence of demand for labour in general. It depends on more partial causes. The inability of the labourers to change at pleasure the quality and direction of their capacity to labour, and to adjust it to the varying tastes and demands of those who have the food of the country at their disposal, will prevent some from obtaining employment, whenever such variations may occur. Another impediment consists in the difficulty of arranging contracts—a difficulty, which is periodically increased or mitigated by oscillations in the currency. A third arises out of the greater trustiness and greater ability to labour of some than others, while all insist on an equal recompense. Abstracting however from all these disturbing causes, with which I am not now concerned, we may safely lay down the general proposition, that the channel of employment can always receive as many labourers as can live; from which it follows, that employment will be coextensive with the ability to labour, and may be considered simply as an appointed mean, for obtaining a ticket entitling the bearer to a proportional share of the general stock of subsistence. In the case before us, therefore, where the children are able to labour from the moment of birth, they can immediately earn their ticket which is to give them a share; not a definite share, (containing a precise weight in pounds or ounces,) but a share determined by the proportion of the whole number of tickets to the food which is to be divided. Suppose an unmarried man to be able to command by his labour, of the general stock of food, one part out of ten million parts. If he marries, and has children requiring as much more, he and his children will command two out of ten million and one parts. All the privation therefore, which his family entails on him, consists in the difference between one out of ten million, and one out of ten million and one parts. This difference in a single case is of course imperceptible. All the other members of the society are, however, subjected to the like privation, and the ten million differences thence arising constitute in fact the new share acquired by his family. In this case, therefore, as well as under a community of goods, there is a want of appropriation to each person of the consequences of his own conduct. All suffer through the act of one, and no encouragement to moral restraint is offered to individuals.

I have here proceeded on the tacit assumption of the stock of food being a given quantity. That assumption renders the case a little easier, but it is evident that it is not essential to the conclusion. The whole food of a country divided by the sum of its population, constitutes the share of each person. Here, the food is the numerator, and the population the denominator of a fraction. In order that this fraction shall diminish, it is not necessary that the numerator shall continue stationary while the denominator increases: it is sufficient that it shall not increase as fast; and this is the case with food, which, we know, cannot increase as rapidly as an unchecked population.

I have also stated that the channel of employment can receive as many labourers as can possibly be maintained. It is to be remarked, however, that neither is the truth of this proposition essential to the conclusion. It is sufficient that all persons, young and old, shall have an equal chance of obtaining employment, even though there be not employment adequate for all. If there be no established order of succession among the labourers; no claim, that is, to a priority of admission, and no permanency in the possession of a place once obtained in the field of employment; then, though a man may know that it can contain no more, yet he will have no reason for expecting that his children cannot find their way into it. He will know that by their entrance some will be cast out, but he will consider this as a chance, to which all, whether married or unmarried, are equally liable. Being himself exposed to it, in innumerable instances, from the increase of population resulting from the marriages of others, he will not anticipate any sensible increase of danger to himself, from the competition of his own children. Amongst so many, he would reckon it hard, were he the person, on whom, in a particular instance, the lot should fall. In short, upon the supposition of all being able to obtain employment, the inference is, that the consequences of the act of one will be equally divided between all: on the supposition of the field of employment admitting only a certain number, these consequences fall undivided upon some one unlucky person. But before the drawing of the lottery, since the chances of all are equal, we must in idea consider them as divisible. The motives therefore are the same upon both suppositions, and in both cases the encouragement to moral restraint is equally wanting.

It will serve to illustrate the subject, if we compare the relation subsisting between the cases of two countries, in one of which the constitution of society is such as to throw the burden of a family entirely on the parents, and in the other such that the children maintain themselves at a very early age, with that subsisting between the parallel cases of inclosed grounds and commons; the parallel consisting in what regards the degree of density, in which the countries are peopled, and the commons are stocked, respectively. Why are the cattle on a common so puny and stunted? Why is the common itself so bare-worn, and cropped so differently from the adjoining inclosures? No inequality, in respect of natural or acquired fertility, will account for the phenomenon. The difference depends on the difference of the way in which an increase of stock in the two cases affects the circumstances of the author of the increase. If a person puts more cattle into his own field, the amount of the subsistence which they consume is all deducted from that which was at the command, of his original stock; and if, before, there was no more than a sufficiency of pasture, he reaps no benefit from the additional cattle, what is gained in one way being lost in another. But if he puts more cattle on a common, the food which they consume forms a deduction which is shared between all the cattle, as well that of others as his own, in proportion to their number, and only a small part of it is taken from his own cattle. In an inclosed pasture, there is a point of saturation, if I may so call it, (by which, I mean a barrier depending on considerations of interest,) beyond which no prudent man will add to his stock. In a common, also, there is in like manner a point of saturation. But the position of the point in the two cases is obviously different. Were a number of adjoining pastures, already fully stocked, to be at once thrown open, and converted into one vast common, the position of the point of saturation would immediately be changed. The stock would be increased, and would be made to press much more forcibly against the means of subsistence.

Now, the field for the employment of labour is in fact a common, the pasture of which is free to all, to the born and to the unborn, to the present tenants of the earth and to all who are waiting for admission. In the common for cattle, the young animal begins an independent participation in the produce, by the possession of a set of teeth and the ability to graze. In the common for man, the child begins a similar participation, by the possession of a pair of hands competent to labour. The tickets for admission being so readily procurable, it cannot happen otherwise, than that the commons, in both cases, must be constantly stocked to the extreme point of saturation.

It appears then, that, neither in the actual condition of the labouring classes, nor under a system of equality with a community of labour and of goods, when the increase in the resources of the society is so slow as to require prudence in reference to marriage, is the obligation to such prudence sufficiently divided and appropriated. In neither case, if individuals are prudent, do they alone reap the benefit, nor, if they are imprudent, do they alone feel the evil consequences. The helplessness of the first few years of life operates indeed, to a certain degree, as a weight in favour of individual prudence. But this is not enough. It ought to be an adequate weight. Nobody would maintain, that, were the helplessness to continue only for nine or ten days, or for nine or ten weeks, or for nine or ten months, it would offer a sufficient incentive to abstinence. Why then should there be any peculiar virtue in nine or ten years? If the pressure of a family during that period is disregarded, the public is not saved from the subsequent inconvenience. It does not follow, that, because the children are able to maintain themselves, as it is called, or, in other words, to purchase by their labour their daily bread, nobody else is the worse for their being brought into the world. Were this a just inference, it would be equally just could they work for their living from the moment of birth, as under the abstract hypothesis. I shall return to this subject in the next Lecture.


  1. The consideration of the resource of emigration is at present waived.
  2. In proportion to the depression consequent upon a change of life, must be the force of the motives opposed to such change, though its consequences would not involve any scantiness of the mere means of subsistence. The prevalence of the preventive check among the middling classes in England does not depend on a scarcity of mere subsistence, and in America similar reasons must exist for its prevalence among all classes elevated above poverty. Were it not that the wild life of a woodsman offers many attractions, it would actually prevail there in a much more considerable degree than it does at present.
  3. This distinction of these rates of increase (which, it will be remarked, involves a second independent classification of the checks) is not introduced merely as a criticism on Mr. Malthus' account, but because it seems to be really useful with a view to clearness of conception.
  4. In what follows, I omit the other branches of the preventive check, and use the expression synonymously with moral restraint.
  5. To the whole of the preventive check, understood, as I have used the term, synonymously with moral restraint: not to that part of it only, which depends on a scarcity of food, but also to that, of which we see so much in all classes of society elevated above poverty, and which results from the apprehension of lesser evils and inconveniences; the laws of nature, which require merely an equilibrium between the population and the food, being equally satisfied, whatever he the causes or motives, through the medium of which the necessary equilibrium is actually produced.