The Malthusian Trap


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    • Thomas Malthus elaborated on a concept in his book – “An Essay on the Principle of Population”, which quite famously inspired Charles Darwin.

    More about the Malthusian trap

    • About:
      • The Malthusian trap or Malthusian check refers to the theory that as the human population grows there is increasing pressure on earth’s resources, which in turn acts as a check on the further rise in population. 
        • It is named after English economist Thomas Malthus.
    • How?
      • Malthus argued that while a rise in food production in a country can lead to improved living standards for the general population, the benefit is likely to be temporary. 
      • This is because, increase in availability of food would encourage people to have more kids since they could afford to feed them now, thus leading to a rise in the total population and a drop in per capita income levels
        • Growth may also be stopped or reversed by disease, famine, war, or calamity.
          • [Increased food production > Improved living standards > Rise in population > drop in per capita income levels]
    • Inverse relationship:
      • Malthus, in other words, believed that there was an inverse relationship between human population and living standards with rising population leading to lower living standards.

    • Way out of the trap:
      • Malthus also offered a way out of this trap. 
        • Population control:
          • For his own time, he advocated population control through an inculcation of good, virtuous, Christian behavior.
        • Inclusive production:
          • He coupled this by pushing for workhouses to make sure the poor and unemployed could contribute to production while receiving welfare. 
      • In this way, population growth may be slowed even as the means for its subsistence is increased.
    • Criticisms:
      • No strict correlation:
        • According to critics, there may be no strict inverse correlation between population growth and the living standards of people. 
        • As long as human beings can find ways to use earth’s resources more efficiently, their population can grow without compromising their living standards even in the long-term. 
      • Innovations: 
        • In fact, some argue that as the human population rises, the chances of breakthrough innovations happening rise manifold as there would be more human minds working on solving humanity’s problems.
      • Examples from around the world:
        • India:
          • In India, which boasts the world’s second-biggest population, the Green Revolution in the state of Punjab helped feed its growing population. 
        • Germany:
          • In western economies like Germany, which was battered during World War II, population increases did not hamper development.

    Relevance of the theory:

    • According to a theory, By 2045
      • There could be 49 million more malnourished people living on this planet, and 
      • 40 percent of the world’s population could be suffering from water shortages
      • The vast majority of these people will be, as they are now, in the poorer countries of the world.
    • The trends are clear for all to see. 
      • As populations expand and people continue to degrade the environment, agricultural yields will shrink while demand increases
      • A lack of access to food, water, or basic services, together with an increasing concentration of population, will create major humanitarian and security concerns as we push to the half-way point of the 21st century. 
    • Two very important factors will exacerbate these problems that affect some of the world’s poorest nations. 
    • The first is urbanization: 
      • Already, more than half the population of the planet lives in a city, with that proportion expected to increase to 70 percent by 2045
        • This influx will intensify existing problems present in these cities.
      • Without substantial and effective investment in infrastructure, these cities can neither employ those who come seeking work, nor adequately house them.
    • The second factor is climate change: 
      • Coastal population:
        • Asia-Pacific contains many of the countries, like Bangladesh, that risk being submerged by rising sea levels, the vast majority of its population live in low-lying coastal areas. 
      • Food security:
        • Not only do their homes risk being made uninhabitable, but climate change’s effects on agriculture threaten their food supplies. 
        • Human activity has already degraded 25 percent of available land for farming globally, while pollution and overfishing are severely damaging marine ecosystems.

    Way ahead

    • Amid the COVID pandemic & Ukraine War, supply chain issues and soaring inflation, global food prices have been on the rise since mid-2020 and are now at an all-time high.
    • What is of the utmost importance is this: that governments realize the security challenges these Malthusian concerns do and will continue to pose.

    World Population Prospects, 2022

    • Global scenario:
      • The global population will reach 8 billion on November 15, 2022, more than three times the population of 2.5 billion in 1950.
      • The UN projections suggest that the global population could grow to around 8.5 billion in 2030, 9.7 billion in 2050, and 10.4 billion in 2100.
    • Comparing India and China:
      • India is projected to surpass China as the world’s most populous country in 2023.
      • In 2022, China remains the most populous country in the world with 1,426 million, but India has caught up with a marginally less population of 1,412 million.
    • More About the report:
      • The Population Division of the UN has been publishing the WPP in a biennial cycle since 1951. 
      • Each revision of the WPP provides a historical time series of population indicators starting in 1950. 
      • It does so by taking into account newly released national data to revise estimates of past trends in fertility, mortality or international migration.

    Source: TH