Malthus, Thomas Robert (mălˈthəs) [key], 1766–1834, English economist, sociologist, and pioneer in modern population study. In An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798, rev. ed. 1803), he contended that poverty and distress are unavoidable, since population increases by geometrical ratio and the means of subsistence by arithmetical ratio. As checks on population growth, Malthus first accepted only war, famine, and disease, but in his revised work he admitted also the preventive check of "moral restraint." Although his theory caused general controversy, it was later adapted by neo-Malthusians, and its implications influenced classical economists, especially David Ricardo. However, unlike Ricardo, Malthus did not agree with Jean Baptiste Say's law of markets, which held that overproduction and unemployment were impossible since supply creates its own demand. Malthus believed that unemployment could occur when there was a surplus of unwanted products. He wrote Principles of Political Economy (1820) and other books.
See biography by J. Bonar (2d ed. 1924, repr. 1966); study by D. V. Glass (1953); M. Paglin, Malthus and Lauderdale; the Anti-Ricardian Tradition (1956, repr. 1973); M. Turner, ed., Malthus and His Time (1986).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.