A Farewell to Alms: Malthus revisited.

I’m about a third of the way through A Farewell to Alms.

So far the author has reviewed the malthusian hypothesis and brought a lot of supporting data in support of it being an accurate description of life before 1800s.

The Hypothesis is that any difference in death and birth rate is a transitory and not a steady state.

Related is this:
1. An increase in productivity leads to greater wealth (standard of living).
2. Greater wealth leads to a decrease in the death rate.
3. This leads to an increased population.
4. This decreases productivity as an increase in labor without an increase in land or capital has a diminishing marginal return.
5. Death rate increases back to norm.

Therefore improvements in technology and good goverment only temporarily increase wealth.
Furthermore things like alms, cleanliness and such will, in the long run, only increase population and that population will be poorer.  Things like war and disease on the other hand will raise the standard of living.

As an example of disease raising the standard of living and cleanliness reducing it, he compares wages in unsanitary pre 1800 england with sanitary pre 1800 japan.  The english are much wealthier.  He gives the example of third world countries where people are poorer than any people in history.  This is possible he says because cheap antibiotics means that they can live and not die on a lot less.

My reaction is: life is good.  I’m not sure that these third world peoples have made the wrong choice.  Is wealth better than family?

My deeper thoughts are that a country with more people will have a higher GNP even if the other outputs are constant as the marginal productivity decreases but does not reach zero.  Therefore they will win.

He hasn’t gotten to why the post 1800 advanced world is different.  I’m assuming he’ll mention that productivy increase outsripped population increase.  I.E. technology won.  I’m thinking that for that to happen you need a lot of people, some of whom will have enough money, brains, and intelligence to discover new things (or places).  Income is distributed according to a power law so more people means more wealthy and the most wealthy will have a higher absolute wealth.  I’m sure the exact power distribution probably has a big effect.

Another random though is that since animals are in a malthusian state, your local hunter makes life better for animals in general :).

It is interesting thus far.  we’ll see what he has to say next.

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