Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Malthus and overpopulation

"[Malthus] … relates a specific quantity of people to a specific quantity of necessaries. Ricardo immediately and correctly confronted him with the fact that the quantity of grain available is completely irrelevant to the worker if he has no employment; that it is therefore the means of employment and not subsistence which put him into the category of surplus population.

The invention of surplus laborers, i.e. of propertyless people who work, belongs to the period of capital. The beggars who fastened themselves to the monasteries and helped them eat up their surplus product are in the same class as the feudal retainers, and this shows that the surplus produce could not be eaten up by the small number of its owners. It is only another form of the retainers of old, or of the menial servants of today. The overpopulation e.g. among hunting peoples, which shows itself in the warfare between the tribes, proves not that the earth could not support their small numbers, but rather that the condition of their reproduction required a great amount of territory for few people."

Grundrisse

4 comments:

Karl Franz Ochstradt said...

I'm always amused by how The Left misinterprets Malthus for political and ideological ends.

So it's really about having a job so that you can consume the resources more effectively?

Maybe this writer should try re-reading Malthus without all the Marxist trappings layered over the top of it.

Huntly said...

Random, though somewhat related question. Any idea why the book "The Naked Communist" has popped up on the radar recently? I run an ILL department for a library and have had 20+ requests for our copy in the last several months; as opposed to zero over the years that I have worked here.

Coldtype said...

This is probably the best response to this bullshit argument that I have ever come across. I think the book by these guys may be worth a look as well.

Brian M said...

coldtype:

I guess one problem I have with the argument is the assumption that these "evil corporations" exist in some kind of economic and social vacuum, with their activities only producing for and benefiting the "1%". Is this really true? Is it realistic to claim that "the 99%" in America have no environmental impacts? Do you really believe that? Many of the Occupy protestors, for example, drive (or drove) private automobiles and live...or lived "middle class" (i.e., environmentally profligate) lifestyles.

Environmentally destruction industrialism in China increases profits for the 1%, but the Wal Mart Nation which benefits (from a consumption side, at least) certainly creates environmental impacts. And, if there are 200 million Wal Mart shoppers, all driving SUVs and pick-up trucks to the malls, certainly have higher ecological impacts than, say, 50 million Wal Mart shoppers.

You are correct that a Nicaraguan peasant would have much less impact than a corporate scion on the world, but deforestation which occurs with a population of 30 million people certainly causes more environmental impacts than a population base of 3 million. Even if part of the deforestation is to allow for export-driven beef production so the salt of the earth American 99% can eat a large hunk of cheap beef every day.
I would also note that there is a history of human devastation of localized environments which predates industrial capitalism. The Greek Islands, for example, were once heavily forested and became arrid and deforested because of forestry practices to produce ships.