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The idea of population growth being constrained by subsistence production was not a new one when Malthus wrote his Essay on the Principles of Population (1798). However, earlier authors such as Cantillion and Steuart recognised the importance of social and historical relations governing population growth. Adam Smith and William Godwin both concentrated on the problems of income inequality and poverty, but believed that economic growth could/would be used to alleviate the conditions of poverty under which the majority lived.

Malthus introduced two notions that were to change the nature of the discussion on poverty: the first was that poverty was inescapable deriving from natural/scientific "laws" governing the production of foodstuffs and population growth; the second point is a corollary of the first and it was that attempts to alleviate poverty using economic, government, or social policy was doomed to failure and would bring everyone to the same level of poverty.  There is no historical evidence to back up either of these arguments.

Yet Malthusian and Neo-Malthusian (birth and population control as an attempted fix) arguments have historically been advocated and the latter is still advocated by the birth-control and population control movements in an attempt to regulate the reproduction of the poor both in the advanced capitalist world and in the 3rd world. The diary asks instead why we are not fighting to get people out of poverty by fighting for changes in the economic system rather than limiting people’s human rights to reproduce?

The argument on Malthus on wages and population closely follows the argument of Stirati (1994), while the discussion of poverty comes from my research on the history of discussions of poverty in the 18th and 19th centuries, some of which can be found in previous diaries on this site (see: http://www.dailykos.com/..., http://www.dailykos.com/..., http://www.dailykos.com/...).  

I. Malthus on Wages and Population

A. Population

The primary thesis of Malthus's Essay on the Principle of Population is that the potential capacity for population growth is greater than the capacity for increasing the production of food necessary for human survival. Malthus's first assumption is that population growth is limited by the growth of subsistence. As a corollary, this means that population is proportional to the level of subsistence. There are natural limits to increase the amount of subsistence, these then provide natural checks to population growth and ensure that the wage is always at the level of subsistence.

Malthus argues that when population is not limited by the scarcity of resources (i.e., all the fertile land has either not been appropriated or is not in use), then population growth will increase geometrically, whereas the production of food only increases arithmetically.  This thesis on the different rates of progression provides the cornerstone of Malthus's theory throughout all the subsequent editions of the Essay on Population. This is so irrespective of Malthus’s replacement of the notion of the arithmetic progression of food production with his theory of differential rent or diminishing returns to agricultural production to provide an explanation for his thesis.

The limit placed upon the production of workers' subsistence due to the diminishing fertility of the soil provides a natural constraint to the growth of the size of the workers' subsistence and hence population (See Stirati (1994) for this transformation in Malthus's works and also for an excellent discussion of the distinction between Malthus on population and earlier discussions on population).

This constraint is natural in that it is not imposed by the economic system, but derives out of the fact that there is a limit to the amount of the most fertile soil in existence in the economy. In other words, the constraint is imposed by "mother nature."  It is important to note, that it is foodstuffs that is important here with the constraint due to limited fertility of the soil; this has nothing to do with limited resources such as oil, as the operative words are production of foodstuff.  

In Malthus, the increase in employment and wages determined by the growth of national wealth does not automatically imply a corresponding increase in the food supply as assumed by Smith. Growth of the food supply is essentially constrained, subsistence is at a biological level constrained by the difficulties in increasing the level of the food supply, and the level of employment depends on the demands for its use.

B.  Wages:

Malthus's general argument is that the supply of food determined the size of the working class and its purchasing power. Thus, what keeps the worker's wage at the level of subsistence in Malthus's argument is that with any increase in wages, there will be a resulting increase in population, which will drive the wage back to the level of subsistence.  

Why is there an inevitable increase in population coincident upon a better standard of living? Because humans have an inescapable urge to procreate.  Malthus's "iron law of wages" is derived solely from natural phenomena and, as such, is inescapable. There is no manner in which the natural wage will remain above subsistence level for a long period of time in Malthus's theory.

[...] We will suppose the means of subsistence in any country just equal to the easy support of its inhabitants. The constant effort towards population, which is found to act even in the most vicious societies, increases the number of people before the means of subsistence are increased. The food, therefore, which before supported eleven millions, must now be divided among eleven millions and one half. The poor consequently must live much worse, and many of them will be reduced to severe distress. The number of labourers also being above the proportion of work in the market, the price of labour must tend to fall, while the price of provisions would at the same time tend to rise. The labourer therefore must do more work to earn the same as he did before. During this season of distress, the discouragements to marriage and the difficulty if rearing a family are so great that the progress of population is retarded. In the meantime, the cheapness of labour, the plenty of labourers, and the necessity of increased industry among them, encourage cultivators to employ more labour upon their land, [...], till ultimately the means of subsistence may become in the same proportion to the population as at the period from which we set out. The situation of the labourer being again tolerably comfortable, the restraints to population are in some degree loosened; and after a short period, the same retrograde and progressive movements, with respect to happiness, are repeated (Malthus, 1798, pp. 15-6).

This is a major departure from Smith. The fact that the natural wage could remain above subsistence for a long period of time if the pace of accumulation proceeded faster than population growth was essential to Smith’s analysis: it provided the mechanism how the subsistence wage changed over time; moreover it demonstrated how workers could obtain a portion of the surplus product over and above subsistence when the economy was growing and how the natural wage increases over time due to economic growth and capital accumulation. In general, Smith recognised that the employers had the power and also government laws on their side; but this could be overcome by economic growth. Smith believed that this would happen automatically, he was wrong; this required the organisation of workers in trade unions and combinations and political organisation. (see for an explanation of Smith’s theory of wages: http://www.dailykos.com/..., http://www.dailykos.com/...,http://www.dailykos.com/....

For Malthus’s discussion on wages, we should turn to his Principles of Political Economy. According to Malthus, the natural price of labour (i.e., the wage) is that price which is necessary to occasion an average supply of labourers, sufficient to meet the average demand for labour on the part of producers.

If the resources of a country are stationary and the habits of the working classes prompt them to supply a stationary population cheaply, the wages of labour will be low.  Malthus argues that the wages of labour can not fall below what is necessary (i.e., the subsistence wage) under the actual habits of the people to maintain a stationary population. Essentially if they do then this will provoke the positive checks causing a fall in population as subsistence must be biological if the principle actually can operate.  If the resources of a country are stationary, not increasing or declining, the principle of supply and demand would always interfere to ensure that wages would either cause a rise or fall in the population.  As resources rise or fall, the population would rise and fall, to maintain the level of wages at the subsistence level.

In summation, in Malthus's theory, natural wages are determined by the supply and demand for labour. The population mechanism keeps the natural wage at the subsistence level. Since Malthus does not have a full employment theory and he argues that it is difficult to increase the fund for the maintenance of labour, the only manner in which to treat unemployment is on the side of the labour supply.

II.  Malthus on Poverty: Blaming the Poor and Nature

In general, given Malthus's Principle of Population, there are only two ways to consider poverty and its elimination. You can either affect the supply or demand side of the labour market. That is, we can attempt to slow population growth to be commensurate with the growth of subsistence or we can increase the accumulation of capital in the attempt to increase the employment of labour. We see both of these arguments in the classical tradition following the publication of The Essay on the Principle of Population.

For the most part, Malthus insisted that poverty is a natural phenomenon arising from the difficulty in procuring the subsistence of the working class. This difficulty places the burden for control on the poor. In other words, the problem caused by natural phenomenon can only be alleviated through acting on another natural phenomenon, i.e., the supply of labour.

Given Malthus's prohibition on moral grounds of the use of contraceptives prior to marriage (vice), the only solution or preventive checks to limit the labour supply (so that it is commensurate with the growth of subsistence) can be found in abstinence prior to marriage on the part of the working class or in delayed marriages until the workers could afford to have a family (Malthus, 1798, pp. 169-73).  There are also positive checks that increase the death rate; these are well known, if the population increases too much, there will be disease, wars over subsistence and land, disasters and, of course, famine if all the other things do not reduce population sufficiently.

In Malthus, poverty derives from natural laws governing population growth and agricultural production; it can not be overcome by changes in institutions and/or human laws. Malthus uses this argument as a criticism against the 1795-7 Poor Law Amendments and against the egalitarian ideas of reformers who were trying to improve the conditions of life for the working class in Britain.  According to Malthus, attempts to abolish or diminish the inequality in the distribution of wealth and income would only reduce everyone to the same level of poverty because the growth of population could not be checked except by resort to contraceptives and abortion (which he considered to be vices, he was a reverend) or through starvation and misery.  Malthus argued that the pressure of population on scarce resources is the cause of poverty, and that this rules out any possible improvement of the living conditions of the working classes.

    To sum up, Malthus argues that poverty derives from natural circumstances, which cannot be alleviated by changes in legislation, attempts at redistribution, changes in distribution. To this effect, he supports the gradual abolition of the poor laws and argues that the only remedy for poverty is checking population growth, that is the eliminate poverty by operating on the supply side of labour.

III. Critical Comments on Malthus

What is wrong with this analysis? It sounds perfectly plausible although a bit harsh.To be perfectly honest, it should sound very familiar to many people. It underlies a number of modern discussions of poverty as well as population explosion catastrophe scenarios although the discussions on supply and demand for labour are not as apparent.

   In fact, historically this argument combined with the Darwin’s theory of evolution led to the creation of Social Darwinism by Francis Galton and Herbert Spencer; which served as the basis not only of much of the early birth control movement but also the Eugenics movement, which then justified the deliberate negative intervention of eugenics (there is a lot of information on Malthus’ influence on Galton and Spencer, see for example: http://en.wikipedia.org/... and on Eugenics and Malthus’ influence see for example: http://www.all.org/..., for linkage between the birth control movement and the eugenics movement in the US see, http://www.blackgenocide.org/..., for more information, see Davis (1981), Reilly (1991), and Roberts (1997) and Schoen (2005).

A. Contemporary criticisms:

The purpose of Malthus’s publication of the Essay on the Principles of Population is stated quite clearly even in its title; it is an attack on the ideas of the French enlightenment being promulgated by Godwin following the French Revolution. Specifically, the aim of the original essay (1798) is to "examine the possibility of realising egalitarian social systems in light of the principle of population" (Stirati, 1994, 102).  

Contemporary direct responses to Malthus’s argument stressed 3 points: 1) people marry and have children only in so far as they could support them given their incomes [Godwin (1801, 1820), Hall (1805)]; 2) the importance of social causes and economic causes that were responsible for poverty rather than population [Hall (1805)]; and 3) food production is not fixed but depends on the demand for food, with natural limits on agricultural either non-existent or far off in the future [Godwin (1820), Hall (1805), Hazlitt (1807)]  (see Stirati,1994, p. 111); This is in addition to the arguments that had already been stated in Smith prior to Malthus’s essay, specifically, the fact that demand determined the level and composition of all production, and that poverty could be overcome by increasing wages commensurate with growth.

Even in the age of liberalism of the intelligentsia, Malthus’s argument was extremely useful as it shifted the responsibility for poverty away from the insufficiencies of the capitalist system (evident in Smith and Godwin) in eliminating poverty towards that of nature and the irresponsibility of the poor themselves.  Blame the victim has always been a useful tool; if poverty is the fault of nature and/or the poor being irresponsible due to immorality, debauchery, degeneracy, then treating the problem as an economic one that can be fixed or ameliorated is by-passed and responsibility falls on the poor itself.  

In fact, there were two main arguments articulated at the time as part of an attack on the 1795-7 Poor Law Amendments (http://www.vincenter.org/...), one by the liberal Bentham, the other by Malthus, that when united in the wages-fund theory produced one of the worse social policy attacks on the poor in the 1834 Poor Law Reform (http://en.wikipedia.org/...) and remained legal government policy until 1929 (it was effectively replaced in 1912 with the creation of a basic social security system including sickness benefit, unemployment benefit and maternity benefit (http://www.metamute.org/...).

B. Fallaciousness of the argument:

The principle of population is not a scientific analysis; it is clearly an ideological attack masquerading as science, economics and demography.  It relies on very specific assumptions many of them that have been historically disproved. In fact, it is far more probable that it is poverty that causes overpopulation, rather than overpopulation that causes poverty. Historically, we can see that increases in wage and the wage share have not led to explosive population growth; instead as people become wealthier, they have fewer children.

     Malthus’s argument that increasing wages will send everyone into poverty has no historical evidence to sustain it. We have ample historical evidence to already reject Malthus’s principle of population and his discussions on poverty; the most obvious is that when the working poor and working class were finally able to organise to get higher wages that there was not a population explosion of the poor that sent the capitalist world into poverty. In fact, increased wages for the working classes enabled the continued growth of the domestic market and domestic demand for commodities which created the impetus for technical change and extended growth.

    Historical inaccuracy and logical incoherency should be enough to overturn an argument, yet this argument persists (as do many ideologically based economics arguments) and is still used to continue to attack the poorest especially in the third world.

IV. Birth Control vs Population Control

A.  Francis Place and Birth Control

The historical linkage between the birth control movement and Malthusianism (and the transition to neo-Malthusianism begins with Francis Place. Given Malthus’s argument and pessimistic conclusions, Place supported what Malthus refused to do; he advocated for the usage of birth control on the part of the poor to keep their population consistent with the demand for labour.

If means were adopted to prevent the breeding of a large number of children than a married couple might desire to have, and if the labouring population could thus be kept below the demand for labour, wages would rise so as to afford the means of comfortable subsistence for all, and all might marry. Marriages under these circumstance, would be, by far, the happiest of all conditions, as it would also be the most virtuous, and consequently the most beneficial to the whole community; [...] the poors [sic] rate would soon be reduced to a minimum, and the poor laws might, with the greatest ease, be remodelled and confined to the aged and helpless, or might, if it appear advisable, be wholly abolished [...](Place, 1822, p. 177).

It is interesting to note that while Place's advocacy of Malthus's principle of population led to his condemnation by the then contemporary working class movement, it has endeared him to many modern feminists, who view him as a "progressive advocate of birth control."

Place’s arguments in this book and his letters were used historically by supporters of birth control to encourage its usage amongst the working class and poor. The idea that using birth control will improve the conditions of life for the poor deriving from keeping the supply of labour below the demand for its use is an argument that is less obvious and a bit more subtle than what we are used to hearing.

B. Birth control, Eugenics and Population Control

The use of the argument concerning contraceptives and the provision of a better life for the poor became a corner-stone of the birth-control movement.  However, underlying this argument is the fallacious population principle of Malthus and that is what appealed to Social Darwinists and Eugenicists whom viewed the danger of the degenerate and feeble poor out-breeding those of better breeding stock. Rather than encourage people to try and improve their lives, or actually help women take control of their reproduction as advocated by many early feminists and suffragettes, Social Darwinists and Eugenicists attempted to get the wealthy white people to breed more, while restricting the reproduction of the poor, people of colour, and immigrants.  

The linkage between proponents of birth control and eugenicists (not only as publications and advocacy, but financial assistance and control of the former by the latter) lead to a very dangerous alliance in the US which not only undermined some of the goals of the birth control movement (ensuring access to contraceptives for all and giving women control over their reproduction), but lead to wide-spread abuse including involuntary sterilisation of those deemed feeble, infirm or degenerate (see Schoen, Reilley, Roberts, Silliman, et al, see also the eugenics archives, http://www.eugenicsarchive.org/...). Unsurprisingly, these people were invariably poor and women of colour.

     Sterilisations were divided between 3 types: 1) Eugenic (to protect society from "feeble degenerates" polluting the gene-pool, permitted by Buck v Bell (1927, http://en.wikipedia.org/...); 2) "therapeutic" supposedly to help a condition that could be ameliorated; and 3) punitive for punishment to control violent impulses usually used against prisoners (illegal as of Skinner vs. Oklahoma, 1942, http://en.wikipedia.org/...).

Constraints were placed upon reproductive control: while white upper class women needed to get permission from their husbands to obtain birth control and choose to be sterilised, poor women and women of colour were forced to be sterilised and to use contraceptives. Women that were dependent upon government assistance bore the brunt of these assaults on their bodies and their right to reproduce. From 1924-80, these coercions were often linked to receipt of government assistance in the form of welfare and aid to dependent children.  Even recently in the US (1994), legislation was put forward in several states to link the use of birth control to receipt of government assistance (the legislation failed, but generated massive debate (http://www.guttmacher.org/...,  http://www.aclu.org/...), to force convicted child abusers and drug dealers to use Norplant to obtain reduced sentences (http://academic.udayton.edu/...), to force welfare and AFDS/ADC recipients to limit family size by placing a cap on benefits if family size increases (New Jersey, 1992),  here is a link to K. Smith’s justification of the offer of additional welfare benefits to those who agree to use Norplant based upon the fact that Norplant is only temporary sterilisation and that being on welfare and ADC is only of "short-term" duration; the article also contains an discussion of the history of sterilisation abuse in the US and supreme court rulings http://www.law.indiana.edu/...). While sterilisation abuse is now illegal in the US, this has never stopped population control supporters from exporting it to the 3rd world during the 20th century and this still exists today.

     One thing about motivations behind access to birth control, as long as the usage of birth control is voluntary (neither coerced by law or by economic constraint), it has been gratefully accepted by women everywhere as long as access is not contingent upon other things. However, even when coercive, both out of desperation and to gain control over their reproduction, women have dealt with the eugenicists and the purveyors of contraception that want to limit their numbers rather than actually assist them to gain control over their lives.

    We need to separate the idea of access to birth control as a positive advance giving women the choice of whether to have children, when, and the number and control over their own bodies from the Malthusian argument that was attached to it by Social Darwinists and Eugenicists. The right of reproduction choice is a human right which should not be abridged.

One thing is to advocate the right of reproductive choice for all; another is to compel reproductive decisions on the possibility of a population explosion. What is common between the modern discussions of population control and early discussions on population, and eugenics is that it is always the poor that bear the brunt of these policies. Reproduction for the wealthy is fine; it is reproduction for the poor whether in an emerging capitalist economy in the 18th and 19th centuries or a modern 3rd world country that is perceived as a problem that threatens to bring down the wealthiest.

Perhaps, of all the reasons to support birth control, the idea that the poor will continue breeding and wipe out the future for everyone is probably the most woefully inexplicable one. Yet, that is the argument that is used by most people about the dangers of uncontrolled population growth in 3rd world countries.

V. Summation

We know that there is no evidence that Malthus’s proposition has any historical validity. We know that increased wages and income for the poor has lead to decreased family size and not an uncontrolled population explosion where people could not be fed. Increased demand for food was easily met due to changes in production techniques in the advanced capitalist world.

   We also know that the direction of causality begins with poverty and which leads to higher levels of population: the poor have more children due to higher incidence of child mortality, the need for children to help earn household income especially in rural societies, traditional social/societal formations that encourage high birth rates, lack of control over reproductive choices and social/religious prohibitions. If we are truly concerned about increased population as a threat, why not fight the poverty that creates it?  

    What we should be doing is fighting against poverty and economic exploitation of people in the 3rd world, not opposing the right of people to reproduce and control their own reproduction. Support trade union organisation, increased wages in 3rd world countries, health and safety regulation and different forms of production that will meet the needs of people not the needs of corporations and advanced capitalist countries.

     Instead, what the US and other advanced capitalist economies have done is supported the rule of the same oligarchic family’s control and undermined democratic change, undercut the formation of trade unions, undercut domestic agricultural production through supplying cheap food stuff through US Aid that domestic producers cannot compete with and force them out of the market. The World Bank and IMF have consistently undercut subsidies on foodstuffs, state provision of clean drinking water in favour of privatisation of water supplies, forced export-led growth regimes that concentrate on producing goods for external markets rather than ensure growth of the domestic market and production for the domestic market. MNCs rely on the low-wages being paid in these countries, the lack of health and safety regulation and weak unions and cooperative ruling classes and governments to try and gain higher and higher profits on goods sold in advanced capitalist countries.

     All of this arises because it is in the interests of the powerful and wealthy in the capitalist system. The system encourages and relies upon poverty in the 3rd world in a futile, misguided attempt to lower costs of production and raise profits while at the same time encourages over-consumption in the advanced capitalist world where they sell the products produced overseas. Globalisation enables the extension of the worst excesses of the capitalist system that prevails inside a country during the industrial revolution and which are now illegal or deemed socially repugnant to a global level where whole countries play the role that the working classes played during the industrial revolution. Even in the advanced capitalist world, we have not eliminated poverty; unemployment is a by-product of the system. Different forms of production and distribution can eliminate it. Production to cover people’s needs, rather than the needs of a system that requires constant growth in order to preserve profits can make a difference.
 
References and suggested reading:

Davis, A. (1981) Women, Race and Class. Random House.
Godwin, W (1801) Thought Occaisioned by Dr. Parr’s Spital Sermon.
Godwin, W. (1820) Of Population: An Enquiry Concerning the Power and Increase in the Numbers of Mankind. Being an answer to Mr. Malthus’s Essay on the Subject, AM Kelley, 1964.
Hall, C. (1805) The Effects of Civilization on the People in European States, AM Kelley.
Hazlitt, W. (1807) A Reply to the Essay on Population, by the Rev. T.R. Malthus, Longman, Hurst, Rees and Orme.
Malthus, T.R. (1798) An Essay on the Principle of Population, 1st edition
Malthus, T.R. (1826) An Essay on the Principle of Population, 6th edition
Malthus, T.R. (1820) The Principles of Political Economy, Considered with a View to their Practical Applications.
Place, F. (1822, 1930) Illustrations and Proofs of the Principle of Population, AM Kelley, 1967.
Reilly, P. (1991) The Surgical Solution: A History of Involuntary Sterilization in the United States, Johns Hopkins.
Roberts, D. (1997) Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction and the Meaning of Liberty, Vintage.
Schoen, J (2005) Choice and Coercion: Birth Control, Sterilization and Abortion in Public Health and Welfare, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill.
Silliman, J, M. Gerber Fried, L. Ross and E. Gutiérrez (2004) Undivided Rights: Women of Colour Organise for Reproductive Justice, South End.
Stirati, A. (1994) The Theory of Wages in Classical Economics, Edward Elgar.

Originally posted to NY brit expat on Sun Aug 29, 2010 at 02:58 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (25+ / 0-)

    No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable (Adam Smith, 1776, I, p. 96).

    by NY brit expat on Sun Aug 29, 2010 at 02:58:43 PM PDT

  •  Hope that I got the time right, there is supposed (6+ / 0-)

    to be an 8 hour time difference between PST and GMT. Sorry if I messed this up.

    No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable (Adam Smith, 1776, I, p. 96).

    by NY brit expat on Sun Aug 29, 2010 at 03:03:44 PM PDT

  •  Here's the thing. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Rich in PA

    Our system is, and always has been, and always will be a capitalist system. We can argue the merits of and problems with capitalism, but that isn't going to change the system we have and are stuck with. To me, this is the equivalent of arguing against wind. It's pointless, is it not?

    I'm in the I-fucking-love-this-guy wing of the Democratic Party!

    by doc2 on Sun Aug 29, 2010 at 03:06:18 PM PDT

    •  Have you read the diary? It is about population (10+ / 0-)

      control, Malthusianism ... it discusses how the priorities of the system are skewed; read it and then comment.

      No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable (Adam Smith, 1776, I, p. 96).

      by NY brit expat on Sun Aug 29, 2010 at 03:07:57 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Did and did. Again, so what (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Rich in PA

        if the system is skewed, if that system is permanent? What exactly is the point of conversing about it?

        I'm in the I-fucking-love-this-guy wing of the Democratic Party!

        by doc2 on Sun Aug 29, 2010 at 03:09:35 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  that is absurd, some of the problem can even (8+ / 0-)

          be addressed in the confines of the capitalist system ... if you are not interested, why are you here? There are tons of diaries that you can be reading at this time.

          No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable (Adam Smith, 1776, I, p. 96).

          by NY brit expat on Sun Aug 29, 2010 at 03:11:15 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I'm not here to interfere with (0+ / 0-)

            you guys talking, I just wanted to understand the point of it. I'll go now.

            I'm in the I-fucking-love-this-guy wing of the Democratic Party!

            by doc2 on Sun Aug 29, 2010 at 03:13:09 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  we can do reforms even in the context of the (7+ / 0-)

              capitalist system; why reject something and spend time on a political blog working for change?

              No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable (Adam Smith, 1776, I, p. 96).

              by NY brit expat on Sun Aug 29, 2010 at 03:16:36 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Down with wind! n/t (0+ / 0-)

                The most impressive thing about man [...] is the fact that he has invented the concept of that which does not exist--Glenn Gould

                by Rich in PA on Sun Aug 29, 2010 at 04:23:01 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  sorry that went right past me ... (0+ / 0-)

                  No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable (Adam Smith, 1776, I, p. 96).

                  by NY brit expat on Sun Aug 29, 2010 at 04:24:34 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                •  Try as you might... (9+ / 0-)

                  there are many who aren't buying that "Capitalism is part of the natural order of things."

                  That argument really is the refuge of the desperate or the lazy.

                  Freedom without equality is a fraud. Equality without freedom is despotism. Michael Bakunin

                  by goinsouth on Sun Aug 29, 2010 at 04:37:50 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  That wouldn't be my argument at all. (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    doc2

                    I think capitalism is developed in a highly contingent way.  Nothing inevitable about how it developed and spread.  Having said that, capitalism has shown itself to be very resilient, to the point where the only thing that's been able to contest it has been authoritarian socialism.  I don't see a third way as being viable, if by third way you mean something to the Left of European social democracy and my sense from these diaries is that you (collectively) do.  Work for wages is what's beyond that mountain.

                    The most impressive thing about man [...] is the fact that he has invented the concept of that which does not exist--Glenn Gould

                    by Rich in PA on Sun Aug 29, 2010 at 04:47:22 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  Capitalism is resilient? That's funny. (10+ / 0-)

                      This is especially telling:

                      Having said that, capitalism has shown itself to be very resilient,

                      Really?  How resilient was it in the 1930s?  Even the Capitalists relented and assented to a hybrid democratic socialist solution to save themselves.

                      And in 2008?  How resilient was Capitalism then?  Were you an opponent of TARP and the radical Fed policies instituted to "save Capitalism?"  If not, how can you claim that Capitalism is resilient as an economic system.  Or are you going to take the cheap out and claim, "That wasn't really Capitalism."

                      Capitalists are quite creative when it comes to employing the State to save it when it's about to go under.  Imperialism as an antidote to excess capacity?  Check.  Caving, albeit temporarily, to socialist measures and trade unionism to stave off a revolution when Capitalism lies prone?  Check.  Threaten the end of western civilization unless a massive bailout program is taken against the interest of the general public?  Check.

                      Capitalism is actually quite fragile and full of internal contradictions, but Capitalists, using the power provided by the capital they have accumulated, have proven quite adept at capturing the State and using it to rescue the system over and over again.

                      Freedom without equality is a fraud. Equality without freedom is despotism. Michael Bakunin

                      by goinsouth on Sun Aug 29, 2010 at 05:00:25 PM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  The capitalist state's next trick -- (4+ / 0-)

                        will be to create more nearby Earthlike planets which can be exploited for commodity production, when this planet is used up for that purpose.

                        "Always in motion is the future" -- Yoda, in Episode V

                        by Cassiodorus on Sun Aug 29, 2010 at 05:50:26 PM PDT

                        [ Parent ]

                      •  OK, solike THIS is a keeper (4+ / 0-)

                        Capitalists are quite creative when it comes to employing the State to save it when it's about to go under.

                        Imperialism as an antidote to excess capacity?  Check.  

                        Caving, albeit temporarily, to socialist measures and trade unionism to stave off a revolution when Capitalism lies prone?  Check.  

                        Threaten the end of western civilization unless a massive bailout program is taken against the interest of the general public?  Check.

                        Capitalism is actually quite fragile and full of internal contradictions, but Capitalists, using the power provided by the capital they have accumulated, have proven quite adept at capturing the State and using it to rescue the system over and over again.

                        I'm hoping you don't mind if I post this elsewhere, goinsouth?

                        Where have all the mainstream Republicans gone? Apparently they're working for the Democrats in DC.---James Kresnik

                        by ohmyheck on Sun Aug 29, 2010 at 07:16:47 PM PDT

                        [ Parent ]

                      •  Comment of the Day, Week, and Year (2+ / 0-)
                        Recommended by:
                        goinsouth, NY brit expat

                        (Comment of the Decade would require the P-Funk All Stars, and today is their day off.)

                        The Republican establishment wins the votes of fools by invoking terrorism; the Democratic establishment wins them by invoking the Republicans.

                        by MrJayTee on Sun Aug 29, 2010 at 09:33:52 PM PDT

                        [ Parent ]

        •  Why post on a politcal blog (11+ / 0-)

          if there is no hope of ever changing things? Change is the one constant in human history. The system we have now is not the system we will have a thousand years from now.

        •  This is the sort of comment (7+ / 0-)

          What exactly is the point of conversing about it?

          That stands, luminous and solitary, radiating wisdom and insight to all the grateful world.  It cannot be improved upon.

          A sincere thanks.

          The Republican establishment wins the votes of fools by invoking terrorism; the Democratic establishment wins them by invoking the Republicans.

          by MrJayTee on Sun Aug 29, 2010 at 04:26:13 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  "if that system is permanent" (0+ / 0-)

          Are you referring to feudalism or hunter/gatherer societies?

          We cannot win a war crime - Dancewater, July 27, 2008

          by unclejohn on Mon Aug 30, 2010 at 12:57:43 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  doc2 (5+ / 0-)

      the problem isn't really with the capitalist part; the problem is the System part of "Capitalist System".

      I fully approve of human ingenuity being rewarded and the right to make a buck or two. But.

      The wholesale destruction of the resource base of the planet in pursuit of profit and wealth, irregardless of whether we actually need another shiny thing to buy, so that there can be more Paris Hiltons, is going a bit far, don't you think?

      don't always believe what you think...

      by claude on Sun Aug 29, 2010 at 03:38:30 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  What is called Capitalism today is far... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ohmyheck
      ...from Capitalism as Adam Smith understood it.

      Adam Smith was a liberal and as such believed in the benefits of democratic systems and equality of opportunity. He definitely would not have considered the control governments by what we call crony capitalism or Monopoly Capitalism as anything but the destruction of free markets and the democratic principle.

      What we now "enjoy" as an economic and governmental system is not Capitalism as Smith understood it. It is Corporate Socialism and can be simply described as the control of the powers of government by small group of wealthy corporatists in such a manner that they become the antithesis of a democracy and use their powers to promote their personal economic interests by increasing their monopolistic hold over free markets. The last thing our Plutocracy of corporatists wants is free markets or a democracy controlled by the people they consider their proprietary assets and who should labor and consume to enrich them not their own self.

      Socialism is not in and of its self evil or destructive no mater to what degree it exists if it exists in a democratic system. Communism is a corruption of Liberalism that controls a government and its prevailing economic system to suit the whelm of a small party who falsely claim to be the representatives of the "people," it is a destructive form of Socialism. It is anti- democratic and anti freedom of economic opportunity. By the same token the seizure of the powers of government by a small group of corporatists or powerful business owners and management seeking the powers of government in order to control an economy and accumulate its assets for their personal benefit is a corruption of conservatism which had its roots as a royalist philosophy and has been normally called Fascism since the Nineteen Thirties.

       Our current form of Fascism is called Corporate Socialism and it has already destroyed the American democratic legacy and equality of opportunity. It pretends to be in favor of democracy but in reality wants to and does control governments putting a lie to its claimed belief in democracy and or progress.

      Worse...Our Corporate Socialists are not satisfied with controlling our government and economy they want to extend their greedy system to the rest of the world under the name of Globalism. In reality these people are imperialists without a specific country to operate from and they hide behind Neo-Liberalism or Neo-Conservatitism philosophical positions, whichever works best at the time or place, and claim to believe in spreading the benefits of democracy and progress worldwide, but world control, personal wealth, and ultimate power is their goal and their ambition would embarrass Alexander the Great or any Caesar modern dictator. They are a far greater threat to the worlds people and their lives and fortunes that either Stalin or Hitler were. They are the chief threat to democratic government, personal freedom and economic opportunity just as president Eisenhower warned they would become back in Nineteen Sixty when he named them the Military Industrial Complex. They are corporate socialists.

      The young man who has not wept is a savage, and the old man who will not laugh is a fool. George Santayana

      by Bobjack23 on Sun Aug 29, 2010 at 07:46:38 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  You're right. Malthus didn't get much right. (4+ / 0-)

    The good news is that birth rates go down when incomes of the poor increase, no?

    The bad news is that Malthus proposition that the need for labor creates a floor under wages would appear to be wrong as well with the mobility of capital and technological advances.

    What do you think?

    Freedom without equality is a fraud. Equality without freedom is despotism. Michael Bakunin

    by goinsouth on Sun Aug 29, 2010 at 03:24:32 PM PDT

    •  The erosion of a floor that is socially (5+ / 0-)

      based and accepted can only be accomplished in the context of a collapse of the system over a long period of time. It requires time for people to view that wages are inappropriate.  Even in some-one like Malthus where the floor is biological, that floor cannot be eroded. Moreover, in the situation like we are seeing in advanced capitalist societies where wages have been stagnant for a while, they are primarily eroding the conditions of work (movement to part-time employment) before they attack the basic minimum wage. It is very hard to undercut wages when you have such extremes in income distribution and wealth. They are trying their best; but this can be the basis for people coming together to fight. We have already seem popularist disgust against bankers bonuses while the economy is crashing.

      However, given that unemployment is a by-product of the manner of the system, while creating vast differentials in wealth and income; this is a main point to argue for changes in the manner in which the system operates.

      No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable (Adam Smith, 1776, I, p. 96).

      by NY brit expat on Sun Aug 29, 2010 at 03:31:22 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Is there such a thing as a "floor" anymore? (4+ / 0-)

        Malthus lived in a time when capital was not as mobile and labor shortages could arise.  Thus the idea of some floor under wages--because even the Capitalists couldn't afford to starve too many workers to death--made some sense.

        I'm not sure that such an obstacle exists any longer.  I suppose we're seeing some restriction of the labor supply in China as they hit a baby bust generation, but there's still plenty of other cheap labor out there.

        My point is that in that past, Capitalism might have had some constraints with respect to how low it could push wages.  That would no longer seem to be the case from the standpoint of the supply of labor.

        Now there's a completely different issue when it comes to what will constitute a market for goods if wages are driven too low.

        Freedom without equality is a fraud. Equality without freedom is despotism. Michael Bakunin

        by goinsouth on Sun Aug 29, 2010 at 03:36:48 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  at the very least there is a biological (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          mint julep, lams712, soothsayer99

          floor for wages or people would not be able to reproduce the working class which is needed for the system to survive. In advanced capitalist countries there is a socially recognised minimum wage which citizens should receive; this is embodied even in the feeble and pathetic minimum wage levels in the US and UK.

          This is also due to the fact that they need people to purchase their goods and services as wages in many 3rd world countries are literally at biological level for certain jobs.

          No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable (Adam Smith, 1776, I, p. 96).

          by NY brit expat on Sun Aug 29, 2010 at 03:41:50 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  excellent overview! (7+ / 0-)

    tes tes tes

    What we should be doing is fighting against poverty and economic exploitation of people in the 3rd world, not opposing the right of people to reproduce and control their own reproduction. Support trade union organisation, increased wages in 3rd world countries, health and safety regulation and different forms of production that will meet the needs of people not the needs of corporations and advanced capitalist countries.

    "....while there is a soul in prison, I am not free." Eugene V. Debs

    by soothsayer99 on Sun Aug 29, 2010 at 03:29:05 PM PDT

  •  Other examples of pseudo-scientific covers... (7+ / 0-)

    for Capitalism?

    You've expose a very interesting and persistent one, NY brit expat.

    It seems to me that the whole "science" of economics is largely pseudo-scientific cover.  It's predictive value has pretty well been blown out of the water over the past few years.

    Freedom without equality is a fraud. Equality without freedom is despotism. Michael Bakunin

    by goinsouth on Sun Aug 29, 2010 at 03:31:02 PM PDT

  •  lots to chew on here (5+ / 0-)

    Pulling out just one piece--

    The birth control debate is an interesting one.  Our government has done many things worldwide (the global gag rule for one), which have exacerbated population growth in third world countries.  On one hand we decry the heavy-handed approach of China's One Child policy, but on the other, we worry about the effects of runaway population growth in that country if it isn't employed.  

    India has recently tried another tactic, using a carrot, rather than a stick to curb population growth.  

    There are both access and cultural issues to address when attempting to curb population growth, but whatever means are employed, empowering the women to take control of their fertility, and expanding their opportunities if they do so, is the best means forward.

    There is no snooze button on a cat who wants breakfast.

    by puzzled on Sun Aug 29, 2010 at 03:49:47 PM PDT

  •  As one who comes here to learn (6+ / 0-)

    this diary is alot to absorb.  But, since I have seen "Malthusian" tossed around alot, this diary is a great primer for understanding.  Just the basics.  Thanks!

    Can't engage in the discussion, since I think one should have some knowledge about the topic.  I will soon enough!

    Where have all the mainstream Republicans gone? Apparently they're working for the Democrats in DC.---James Kresnik

    by ohmyheck on Sun Aug 29, 2010 at 04:09:53 PM PDT

    •  thanks ohmyheck, it is a bit dense ... (5+ / 0-)

      I am sorry; I wanted to trace out the pernicious influence of this man and his followers historically; I hope that it is of some help to understand Malthus, Malthusianism and neo-Malthusianism ... it is unfortunately live and well and used regularly.

      No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable (Adam Smith, 1776, I, p. 96).

      by NY brit expat on Sun Aug 29, 2010 at 04:22:06 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  actually covered Malthus on population (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      lams712, soothsayer99

      pretty closely; only didn't discuss his argument wrt to the US and that population wasn't a problem "because it is so empty", but that it was bound to become one as we cannot increase food production commensurate with population growth. It is an incredibly short proposition babbled on about endlessly in the expanded version of the pamphlet.

      No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable (Adam Smith, 1776, I, p. 96).

      by NY brit expat on Sun Aug 29, 2010 at 04:45:40 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Time & Cost Reducing Birthrate. (6+ / 0-)

    The exorbitant cost of raising a child in the U.S. is becoming a malthusian barrier to multiple births per couple.  Given relatively easy access to birth control in the U.S., family size, even within Catholic families, is falling.

    Another dimension is limiting family-size as well among working women, and that is the absence of time.  Pregnancy and childbirth reduces hours in the work force, and thus economy, but working women also face the reality that there is simply not enough time in the day to raise more than one or two children.

    I'm observing the same phenomena here in Venezuela in the educated classes.  While many of those age thirty and above come from families with a minimum of four children (and some come from families of eight or ten) now those in which the women work outside the home are stopping at one or two.  The reason I believe is that they are hitting the time barrier.  Even with helpful husbands, those with a job don't have the luxury of time to raise more than two kids.

    Convict Bush, Cheney and their torture cabal. Support single-payer health care and unions.

    by Justina on Sun Aug 29, 2010 at 04:15:52 PM PDT

    •  That is an excellent point to (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      lams712

      explain why birth-rates are falling as people become wealthier; I should have gone into more of that discussion, but I literally had too much in here already.

      No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable (Adam Smith, 1776, I, p. 96).

      by NY brit expat on Sun Aug 29, 2010 at 04:23:45 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Malthus (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lams712, NY brit expat

    Malthus has been so discredited, I'm embarrassed that anyone would still quote him.

    •  I agree, but I think that people do (5+ / 0-)

      not realise that their statements are Malthusian or neo-Malthusian. I swear I got into a fight with a man that was a proud Malthusian when I was presenting a paper to the secular society years ago. He actually believed that the construction of sewers in London was responsible for poverty (people weren't dying from cholera apparently) and blamed WWII on population growing out of control. He was a nut; but many people still advocate these ideas and are supporters of population control argument expecting the world to be destroyed by the world's poor over-breeding.

      No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable (Adam Smith, 1776, I, p. 96).

      by NY brit expat on Sun Aug 29, 2010 at 04:32:00 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Just a quick thank you NY brit expat (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    goinsouth, lams712, NY brit expat

    for continuing this ongoing series. As with Teacherken's last diary, I have it bookmarked for later perusal as I don't have enough time to read it in-depth now.

    "Space Available" is now the most popular retail chain in the nation.

    by Free Jazz at High Noon on Sun Aug 29, 2010 at 05:03:37 PM PDT

    •  Sorry I didn't respond immediately, (0+ / 0-)

      I went to bed and probably just missed your comment. Thanks for the kudos, I hope that the diary is helpful and clarifies some of this garbage. I am honoured to be treated in the same manner as teacherken, you made my day! :)

      No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable (Adam Smith, 1776, I, p. 96).

      by NY brit expat on Mon Aug 30, 2010 at 12:20:17 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  And it deserves a careful read (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    goinsouth, lams712, NY brit expat

    and consideration! TY

    "Space Available" is now the most popular retail chain in the nation.

    by Free Jazz at High Noon on Sun Aug 29, 2010 at 05:04:45 PM PDT

  •  Malthus is an example of what the field of.... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Cassiodorus, goinsouth, NY brit expat

    ...economics REALLY is: coming up with bogus theories that justify the position of those in power. Malthus' theory has been widely debunked but it carried  a lot of intellectual weight. Malthus justified doing nothing to aid the poor and that was exactly what the powers that be wanted to hear.

    Great diary. I want to apologize for coming late to this party, especially after missing the last one altogether (was out of town).

    "...if my thought-dreams could be seen, they'd probably put my head in a guillotine...." {-8.13;-5.59}

    by lams712 on Sun Aug 29, 2010 at 05:23:33 PM PDT

  •  The Malthusian myth is still potent (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Cassiodorus, NY brit expat

    and drives much of our discussion.  The reality, as you point out, is that his theories on population growth simply don't play out.  From the time of Ancient Rome on, we have seen that affluence lowers birth rate.

    If you want to lower the population, don't espouse limits to childbearing, give people ipods!  All industrialized nations are, without taking immigration into account, having negative population growth -- in some cases pretty seriously:  Singapore, for example, has a 1.25 child per woman birthrate (far less than 2.0 replacement).  They call it "lifestyle infertility".

    The goal should be to raise the standard of living of third world nations, of course we have to be careful to do this with a lower resource footprint than previously but good engineering is more efficient than poor engineering, so that helps.

    As to capitalism keeping wages down, obviously capitalists want to take advantage of low wage markets to be more competitive, but they also need markets so in the long run they want a higher standard of living.

    •  You'll need to give me an example. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Cassiodorus, lams712, NY brit expat

      they [Capitalists] also need markets so in the long run they want a higher standard of living.

      We all know about Henry Ford, but he changed his tune later on, brought in the Department, and drove his workers' wages and the wages of the employees in his suppliers to the bottom.

      And we know that corporations apparently feel it's important to prop up the ultra-luxury market by paying CEOs obscene amounts.

      But otherwise, would you care to provide examples of corporations paying more than what "the market will bear" so as to preserve demand?  It appears to many that in fact wages have been dropping for 35 years in the U. S. and that demand has only been preserved by:

      1. most households becoming two-earner households; and
      1. taking on debt made possible by a huge debt bubble that has now burst.

      Freedom without equality is a fraud. Equality without freedom is despotism. Michael Bakunin

      by goinsouth on Sun Aug 29, 2010 at 05:49:34 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I didn't say that they paid more than they had to (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        goinsouth, NY brit expat

        simply that corporations have a vested interest in bigger markets.  They would simply rather someone else paid them so they wouldn't have to raise their prices to cover the wages.

        While all corporations need people to sell things to, no corporation is really large enough that they can make a profit out of paying more.  Someone who pays less and can charge less will get the sale.

        Unless you deliberately pick higher priced goods when buying things for yourself, you're a part of the pattern.

        •  That's why it's called an internal contradiction (0+ / 0-)

          You're exactly right.  No Capitalist can afford to be altruistic in the least.

          That's why wages will always be beaten down to the lowest level possible and Capitalists will try to offload every cost possible onto society.

          That's also why these crises are unavoidable and getting worse.

          Freedom without equality is a fraud. Equality without freedom is despotism. Michael Bakunin

          by goinsouth on Mon Aug 30, 2010 at 07:46:20 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Actually that's not true (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            NY brit expat

            If you absolutely optimize short term return then what you say is true.  In the long run, though, there are other factors.  If you pay your employees too little, you will have attrittion with the loss of training investment and subsequent additional training investment and productivity disruption.

            You must also compete with other companies for employees so, while you may want to pay the lowest you can, you have to pay enought to hire someone other than the ones your competitors don't want.  An unproductive cheap employee is expensive.

            And, we are all human beings, company leaders like to engage in some generous gestures, it gives them status in the community.  Employees, too, like the idea of being part of an organization that contributes to good causes -- as long as it doesn't significantly impact their wages.

            The same is true with the shareholders -- as long as it doesn't significantly impact thier returns.

  •  Next week on Anti-Capitalist Meetup (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Cassiodorus, lams712, NY brit expat

    soothsayer99 will present a diary on Catholic Social Teaching and connnections to Marxism with a specific focus on Praxis and the links to the Pastoral Circle used in CST.

    Don't miss it.

    Freedom without equality is a fraud. Equality without freedom is despotism. Michael Bakunin

    by goinsouth on Sun Aug 29, 2010 at 05:55:45 PM PDT

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