Long Run Growth – Pessimistic vs Optimistic

Long Run Growth- Pessimistic vs Optimistic

Thomas Robert Malthus

Thomas Robert Malthus was a demographer and an economist born in 1766, in United Kingdom. In 1798, he published “ An essay on the principle of population”. There he presented his concept on population growth through the “Malthusian growth model”.

Malthusian theory / Malthusian growth model

According to the Malthus theory, there is a positive relationship between population growth and income per head, but with the population growth, the income will get decreased and then population growth also will come to a decline. Malthus explained that in future the food production will have a linear growth while the population will grow in an exponential way (Dunn, 1998)

According to the Malthus, the population grows in a geometric pattern, where the increment of the food happens in an arithmetic pattern. What he pointed out from this was that, the population will increase in a faster rate than the rate at which the food will increase. He believed that this would become disastrous in the long run, there would be a food shortage and therefore many deaths could happen (Quamrul Ashraf, Oded Galor, 2008).He then presented two concepts that controls the population growth named as natural checks and preventative checks.

As Malthus explained natural checks like floods, droughts and wars will decrease the population and that would decrease the gap between the available resources and the population. Another method that can be used to balance the food supply and population growth is by using preventative methods. In preventative methods the population growth is controlled through family planning, late marriages etc. (Persson, 2010)

Boserup Theory

Apart from Malthus’s theory, Ester Boserup has also presented a theory named Boserup theory which is also called the theory of agricultural intensification that describes the population.

 Boserup theory can be viewed as having an opposite concept to Malthus theory.
The main difference between the Boserup theory from Malthus theory was that Ester paid attention to the effect of the advancement of technology. According to Boserup, the population growth would encourage the increment of the food supply through technology.

In contrary to Malthus’s theory which described that if the population kept growing, after some point there will be a food shortage, Ester Boserup believed that with the advancement of technology food shortage will not be a problem.

She further pointed out that increasing needs encourage inventions, where she stated it as “necessity, is the mother of inventions” (D., 1979).Ester argued that instead of starving, people find ways to increase food production hence the population growth does not affect the food supply

Even though Ester Boserup was right that the technology will increase the supply of food there is a limit to the extent to which the increment can happen. And also Ester did not take immigration and emigration into the count. And in relation to Malthus’s theory, it has several limitations too. Malthus only paid attention to the fact that when the population grows the need for food also grows.

He ignored the fact that more population means more people to work. In other words, he completely neglected manpower and considered only the availability of resources like land, etc. And as a solution for the food scarcity along with the growth of population what Malthus suggested was positive checks and preventive checks, he did not consider increasing the food supply through innovations and technology as a solution. But again considering the era he presented the Malthus theory, it can be recognized as an acceptable theory. Because during that time, human beings were mostly dependent on the biological supply of food. 

If there is no advanced technology people would have to solely depend only on what nature provides. That makes Malthus’ view a more acceptable one.

However, there are different views on the relationship between population growth and economic growth. If Malthus was right in the future with the population growth there will be a scarcity in the resources resulting in scarcity in the food supply. There we find the importance of the term sustainability.


Sustainability is meeting today’s needs without overusing the resources so that the future generation can also take the advantage of those resources (Persson, 2010).

With the population growth and with the economic growth the resources have reached a condition where overusing happens, therefore Malthus theory will be proved to be true in long run. Outstripping of resources could do drastic damage in future if the sustainability is not practiced in long-run growth. The accessibility for usable freshwater is becoming scarce and already people in some continents and also in some countries facing this problem. Even though with technology, this problem can be addressed, but the extent to which it can be addressed has limitations. But through sustainability, this problem can be addressed successfully. 

Human activities are encouraged to see the long-term consequences of their activities instead of thinking about the short-term future Even today, arguments are seen on whether there is a positive or negative effect on the long run economic growth. The improvement in education, equality in opportunities, and also having a good life standard play very important roles in achieving sustainability in development. 

Moreover, environmental pollution, food wastage, overusing of resources should also be avoided in reaching the sustainability goals. Sustainability in long run can only be achieved if a real effort is given to achieving it.

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