Laws Regulating the Growth of Nations

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1. Law of Population.

Law of population

It is not intended to discuss here what has been sometimes called the Law of Population, further than briefly to state how the increase of population depends on many elements, which vary and produce various results—sometimes identical in the mere numbers which they present at the Census, but different under all other aspects.

The numbers, and consequently the increase or decrease of people in a civilized country, depend upon the age of Marriage and the age of the parents when their children are born—the numbers who marry, the fertility of the Marriages—the duration of life—the activity of the migration flowing into or out of the country. These acts more or less influence each other, and in the present state of statistical observation, the precise effect of a change in any one of them involving others cannot be easily determined. It will be sufficient to indicate the effect of a change in each element, while the others remain constant.

Population dependent on the duration of life

1. The numbers of the population bear a definite relation to the duration of life, or to the mean lifetime. Thus, if the mean lifetime of a population is 30 years, then if the Births are 100,000 a year and remain uniform, the population will be 30 times 100,000, or 3,000,000. Now, the Births remaining the same, let the lifetime be gradually extended to 40 years; then the population will become 4,000,000; or if the lifetime is extended to 50 years, the population, from the extension of life alone, will rise from three to Jive millions. The Deaths, upon this hypothesis, will be equal to the Births; and the same in number when the population is five , as when it is four, or three millions. It is probable that the mean lifetime of the great body of the population did increase from the year 1801 to 1821, when the increase of population was greatest in Great Britain.

Age of parents when children are born

2. The interval from the birth of one generation to the birth of their descendants of the generation following bears also a definite relation to the numbers, which increase as the interval is shortened. Thus, if the population increases at the rate of 1.329 annually, and if the intervening time from generation to generation is 331/3 years, it follows that the increase from generation to generation is 55 per cent.; or that every 1,000 women are succeeded, at the interval of 331/3 years, by 1,553 women; every two couples, male and female, by three. If the interval is contracted, and the increase from 1,000 to 1,553 takes place in 30 years, the annual rate of population increases, simply on this ground, from 1.329 to 1.477 per cent.; and, as we assume by hypothesis that the Births and the lifetime remain the same, the population would be ultimately one-ninth part more numerous than it was under the former conditions. Early marriages have the effect of shortening the interval between generations, and tend in this way to increase the population.

3. An increase in the fertility of Marriages will evidently cause an increase in the population.

Fertility of marriages. Marriages

4. In ordinary times, a large proportion of the marriageable women of every country are unmarried, and the most direct action on the population is produced by their entering. the married state. A change in the matrimonial condition of a large proportion of the unmarried women, at the child-bearing age, would have an immediate effect on the numbers of the population; and, if continued, by increasing the rate of birth to the living through successive generations, would operate on population like a rise in the rate of interest on the increase of capital.


5. The effect of migration on the numbers of the population is evident. It is probable that the immigration of Irish has contributed to the increase of the population in England; and it is certain that the emigration from the United Kingdom contributes largely to the increase of the population of the United States. The emigrants are a self-perpetuating body in healthy climates; and they increase faster abroad than the general population at home, as they contain an excess of population at reproductive ages; so that, if their numbers are added together, it is certain that we get in the aggregate a number much below the number of survivors. The population of the United Kingdom, including the army, navy, and merchant seaman, was 21,272,187 in 1821, and 29,321,288 in 1861; but, in the interval, 4,906,6231 persons emigrated, who, if simply added to the population of the United Kingdom, make the survivors and descendants of the races, within the British Isles in 1821, now 34,227,911.

Subsistence and epidemics

6. Finally, the numbers of the population are increased by an abundance of the necessaries of life; and reduced by famines, epidemics, and public calamities, affecting the food, industry, and life of the nation. The pestilences of the middle ages—the famine, the influenza, and the cholera of modern times—are examples of one class of these agencies; the security, and freedom, which England has latterly enjoyed, are examples of the beneficent effect of another class of influences, not only on the happiness of the people, but also on the numbers which the country can sustain at home, and can send abroad to cultivate, possess, and inherit other lands.

All these causes affecting the increase of the population of Great Britain, and the precise extent to which each operates, will ultimately be known by means of a continuous series of such observations as have been commenced at this Census.

2. "The Principle of Population."

Criticism of the policy of progress

The policy which England, since 1751, has pursued in respect to population, was directly condemned and opposed by an acute and diligent critic; who endeavoured to establish a new doctrine, and to deduce, from what he designated "the principle of population," the most adverse inferences. His doctrine has held such sway for some years in the works of political economists, and has such a direct reference to practice, that we shall notice two or three of its fundamental propositions.


Thomas Robert Malthus was born in 1766 at the Rookery in Surrey, amidst a poor and healthy but not a very intelligent agricultural population. His father, an accomplished speculative man, was one of the executors of Jean Jacques Rousseau; and placed young Malthus under the tuition of Mr. Graves, the author of the Spiritual Quixote, and of Gilbert Wakefield. After proceeding to Cambridge in 1784, Malthus became a Fellow of Jesus College in 1797, under the conditions of celibacy which still linger as traces of the monastic system in our universities.2 In consequence, apparently, of a friendly controversy with his father, he wrote and published the first edition of his "Essay on Population," in 1798; chiefly with a view to combat the doctrines of Condorcet and Godwin, who held that the human race was perfectible, and was advancing towards an ideal standard of excellency. His paradox was at direct issue with theirs, as the "principle of population" rendered vice and misery, he contended, inevitable in all ages.

Population, we know, cannot increase indefinitely; its limit is as absolute as the limits of the world, or of the matter of which the world is composed; and in Great Britain the rate of increase is retarded by the premature mortality, the vice, the postponement of marriages, and the celibacy of the inhabitants. But Malthus went further in his doctrine; he insisted that the increase of mankind is the chief source of misery, and that extensive abstinence from marriage, or the repression of population, is to be regarded as the fundamental condition of human happiness. Population, he argued, is necessarily limited by the means of subsistence; but population increases naturally in a geometrical progression, or as 1, 2, 4, 8,... while subsistence cannot increase at a faster ratio in the same time than is expressed by the arithmetical progression 1, 2, 3, 4,.,.; consequently population is checked, and the checks which repress the superior power of population, and keep it on a level with the means of subsistence, are all resolvable into moral restraint [celibacy], vice [licentiousness], and misery [famines, plagues, disease]. Such was in short his doctrine. The ranks of this army—the population of every country—are full; the supply of the commissariat is limited; therefore, the number of annual recruits remaining invariable, any decrease of the deaths in battle must be followed by an equivalent increase in the deaths by famine and fever; or if the deaths from all causes are to decrease, the number of annual recruits must be diminished. Jenner had recently discovered an antidote to the poison of small-pox. It was declared immediately to be no benefit to mankind. "I feel not the slightest doubt," says Malthus,

"that if the introduction of the cow-pox should extirpate the small-pox, and yet the NUMBER OF MARRIAGES CONTINUE THE SAME, we shall find a very perceptible difference in the increased mortality of some other diseases"

And again:

"The operation of the preventive check—warsthe silent though certain destruction of life in large towns and manufactoriesand the close habitations and insufficient food of many of the poor —prevent population from outrunning the means of subsistence; and, if I may use an expression which certainly at first appears strange, supersede the NECESSITY of GREAT and RAVAGING EPIDEMICS to DESTROY WHAT IS REDUNDANT. If a WASTING PLAGUE WERE TO SWEEP OFF TWO MILLIONS in ENGLAND, and six MILLIONS in FRANCE, it cannot be doubted that, after the inhabitants had recovered from the dreadful shock, the proportion of BIRTHS to DEATHS would rise much above the usual average in either country during the last century."3

"What prevents the population of hares and rabbits from overstocking the earth?" demands a distinguished disciple, in a chapter on the increase of mankind.4

One of the corollaries from the doctrine was a plan for the gradual abolition of the poor laws, by declaring that no child born from any marriage taking place after a given date should ever be entitled to parish assistance."

Sir James Steuart

All that is peculiar in this doctrine, all that is erroneous, and all that has shocked the public opinion of the country, ever since its enunciation, flows from a flagrant oversight; which might be pardoned in a young, hasty controversialist, but should assuredly have been at once taken into account when it was discovered in the light of Sir James Steuart's original analytical work that had been first published in. 1767.5 Malthusianism had, however, become a sect; had been persecuted; and was modified and softened, but still upheld by its disciples.

Sir James Steuart, who wrote before Adam Smith, lays down the fundamental principle of Mai thus, but limits it by a preceding overruling proposition. (1.) We find, he says, the productions of nil countries, generally speaking, in proportion to the number of their inhabitants; and (2.), on the other hand [as Malthus asserts], the inhabitants are most commonly in proportion to the food.

Analysis of subsistence

Steuart then shows that the food of the world may be divided into two portions: (A.) the natural produce of the earth; and (B.) the portion which is created by human industry. (A.) corresponds to the food of animals, and is the limit to the number of savages. (B.) is the product of industry, and increases (all other things being equal) in proportion to the numbers of civilized men. The whole of the chapter on Population in Steuart's work should be consulted. Malthus, it will be observed, loses sight of this analysis, and throughout his work confounds the yield of the untilled earth with the produce of human industry; which increases at least as rapidly as the numbers of civilized men, and will increase until the resources of science are exhausted and the world is peopled.

Subsistence is produced, and varies in amount with the character of the producers

The population that a country sustains does not depend exclusively on the amount of subsistence existing at any one time. The produce of a country is limited chiefly by the character of the inhabitants. For if, as an example, twenty-three millions of men from any part of Europe were put in the place of the people of Great Britain after harvest,' the various produce would not be maintained in succeeding years; and in the hands of Caffres, of American Indians, or of the wretched inhabitants of Terra del Fuego, however great the stock of subsistence may be at the beginning of a ten years' occupation of these fertile islands, it is evident that, at the end, both the subsistence and the people would vary with their industry, but would decline, and be, comparatively to the actual produce, inconsiderable in amount. Future generations of Britons, if they have genius, science, skill, and industry—and if they are more numerous—will necessarily produce more than the country now yields.

It does not follow, as the theory of Malthus assumes, that a diminution of the number of the people in 1800 or in any other year would have, had for its result the division of a larger share of subsistence among the survivors; for in that year a failure of the crops was followed by a severe famine, although the number of families to be fed was not by one-half so many as the number at present in these islands. And, conversely, the share of each person's produce is not diminished as the population increases; for the share of the produce of every land that falls to a family in the most populous state of America is incomparably greater than the share of the Indian hunter's family when there was not one person to every square mile of territory.

Real limits of the population

In the rudest state, where men live on fish, or fruit, or game, the population is rarely limited by the amount of subsistence existing, but directly by the skill, industry, and courage of the savage; for any improvement in the use of the net, hook, bow, spear, or weapon is followed by an increase of the tribe; while any diminution of its courage or industry is followed by extermination or decay. In the pastoral or in the civilized state, the same causes, operating on a larger scale, produce.effects still more striking.

The character of every race of men is the real limit to its numbers in the world, if allowance be made for accidents of position and time.

Population not redundant

Population is often out of the place where it is wanted, or could be most productive; but the population of the world is not, as Malthus assumes, redundant; and not only is there a paucity of men of transcendent genius in all countries, but few persons, who have occasion to undertake or who accomplish great industrial, political, warlike, or other operations, ever find that the men of skill, industry, and entire trustworthiness—of whom they can dispose, either in the highest or the lowest departments—are superabundant. Every master knows that good men—and every man that good masters—are scarce.

The idle, unskilful and criminal

The idle who will not work, the unskilful who cannot work, and the criminal classes who cannot be trusted, are, however, it may be admitted, whether numerous or few, always redundant. But as the disciples of Malthus, if there were "two millions of such people in Great Britain," would not hear the public executioner invoked for their destruction, neither can we admit the validity of the argument of that writer when he attempts to reconcile us to the loss of lives by shipwrecks, explosions, small-pox, close habitations on low sites—by the ignorance of men, the fevers of towns, or the blind fury of pestilences,—which are fatal to all classes of the nation, New births may repair the numbers, but never till the places of the dead.

The assumption that subsistence increases at a rate corresponding to any arithmetical progression rests on no authentic observations. The produce of this country has never been valued at stated intervals. Capital, however, increases, it is always assumed, when terms of years are considered, in a geometrical progression; and at compound interest the increase is much more rapid than the increase of population in any European state.

The geometrical and arithmetical progressions

The interest of money, indicating the annual increase of value, is the produce of property, and bears a rather close analogy to the increase "of the means of subsistence." At 3 per cent. per annum compound interest the value of capital is doubled in 24 years; and a population increasing at 3 per cent., which is near the natural rate, doubles in the same time; while actually the British population has increased at the rate of 1.329 per cent. annually for the fifty years 1801-51; and has doubled in 53 years. Thus—if we take this indication—the means of subsistence have increased faster than the numbers of the people; for while the population has doubled the value of capital under investment at 3 per cent. compound interest has quadrupled.6 The PRODUCE of Great Britain, which in the present state of commerce is always convertible into the "means of subsistence," has probably not increased at a lower ratio; and no one can pretend, in the absence of the exact facts, that the ratio has been arithmetical.

The assertion falls to the ground, that the disappearance of small-pox, of cholera, or of other epidemics, must be followed immediately by famine, or by an increase of other diseases. The principle may hold of "rabbits," and of animals that have no power of creating subsistence; but its application to civilized men is absurd.

Possible consequences of adopting the theory of Malthus

If the reasoning of Malthus had been just, and the people of Great Britain had acquiesced in its conclusions, the ravages of disease might have gone on undisturbed, and such numbers have remained in a state of celibacy or of libertinage that the population of Great Britain would not now have exceeded seven millions. Such a course might indeed have been pursued without the sanction of his doctrine. To secure a fuller share of the means of subsistence and luxury, every man might have converted his property into a life annuity, and have expended his income on personal enjoyments. The life of licentiousness, selfishness, and extravagance which was introduced into England by Charles II. was lived by the court and nobles of France down to the outbreak of the first French revolution. Such a course was pursued on a grand scale by the Romans under Augustus, and ever afterwards until the destruction of the empire,—as prevailed in what was once called the Augustan age of England.6

Happier consequences of the policy actually pursued

Happily the people of Great Britain after 1751 embraced totally different principles. The United Kingdom is now covered by twenty-nine millions of people; and has thrown out towards the west a long line of colonies and independent states that speak her language, that preserve the purity of the English family, that have lost none of the courage or industry of their race —but furnish this country with supplies of food, as well as with the materials of manufactures, in exchange for wrought produce. And now it is no subject of regret that, instead of counting on the strength of seven or of nine millions of people or of having- to resort, under a threat of invasion, to Holland, Hesse- Cassel, or any foreign state for troops —the Queen of this kingdom, —who embodies the virtues on which the strength of her people is founded, —could send mighty fleets and armies to the seas and shores of her enemies, for the defence of civilization against the enterprising Power that has, during the same century, organized and placed arms in the hands of sixty millions, including nearly all the barbarians that wander over the north of Asia and of Europe.

There is nothing, therefore, in the past or in the present conjugal condition of the population to inspire any apprehension of a redundancy or a scarcity of population in England; but a great deal to encourage the policy of further improvement in this condition —in the training of the young, in the circumstances in which children are born and families live; so that the English race, growing better and greater, may increase in numbers at home, and continue to send out every year thousands of new families to the colonies.

1 This number includes about 9 per cent. of foreigners who.sailed from our ports; but it is probable that there is no record of many emigrants.

2 Socios collegiorum maritos esse non permittimus , sed statim postquam quis uxorem duxerit, socios collegii desinat esse.— Report of Cambridge University Commission, p. 172. The Commissioners do not propose to abolish the condition of celibacy; but suggest a competing body of professors who are permitted to marry.

3 Malthus on Population, B. II. chap. xiii.; see also B. I. chapters i. and ii., and the work, passim.

4 The works of Sir James Steuart of Coltness, Bart., published by his son, General Sir James Steuart, 1806, vol. 1.

5 John S. Mill, Political Economy, i. 10. 2.

6 While 100 people in Great Britain became 200 in 53 years, 100l . invested, and allowed to accumulate, at 3 per cent. interest, became 47 9l .

7 See the speech which Augustus addressed to the Equites, in Dion. Hist. Romance, A.U.C. 762. Lib. 56. 1-10; sec also Tacitus, Suetonius, and the other historians; and Juvenal's terrible picture of the Roman women, Satire 6. The Romans who were soldiers expressed a general disinclination to marriage after the eastern conquests. Q. Metellus, in one of his orations, has the following curious passage:

"Si sine uxore, Quirites, possemus esse, omnes ea molestia careremus: sed quouiam ita natura tradidit, ut nec cum illis satis commode, nee sine illis ullo modo vivi possit, saluti perpeture potius, quam brevi voluptati consulendum."—(Aul. Gellius, 1-6.)

No purely military caste, or army in active service, can keep up its own number; and the Roman state was now an organized army.

Horace ascribes the degeneracy of the Roman people to its true cause. See the whole of the Ode, 3, G. Ad Romanos, commencing:


Delicta majorum immeritus lues

*    *    *    *

Fecunda culpae saecula nuptias
Primum inquinavere et genus et domos:
Hoc fonte derivata clades
   In patriam populumque fluxit.

Ode 4, 4, lines commencing:  
  Fortes creantur fortibus et bonis
Ode 4, 5, see the lines ending:  
  Laudantur simili prole puerperae.

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