Mosher’s Population Research Institute’s Malthus madness

For over a year now, I have been trying to get Stephen Mosher’s Population Research Institute to correct a significant mischaracterization of Thomas Malthus’s words in their video, Overpopulation: The Making of a Myth. (Some of my efforts are chronicled here; several weeks after that post I mailed paper copies of my argument directly to Stephen Mosher at PRI, still with no response or visible change on the site.)

I returned to the site a couple of weeks ago and, though the error remains, I was pleased to see that comments are now enabled on the site, so I posted this comment on September 21, 2012 at about 10:30am EST:

Dear PRI,
Thanks for these videos. It has helped me be able to explain to someone that China’s problem is not “too many people” but a government that suppresses the innovations that that many people together would normally be able to make with the increase of wealth they would normally have. (Imagine the tax base for good transportation in Beijing, for instance!) Keep up the good work.

I have a big problem with your representation of Malthus’s arguments in this video, though. You are quoting Malthus out of context.

The Principle of Population Book IV Chapter III is titled, “Of the only effectual mode of improving the condition of the poor”. In this chapter Malthus argues that the only “effectual mode” is by the workers controlling the size of the labor pool by the number of children that they have, which by supply and demand would drive labor cost up and get them out of poverty.

Then in Chapter IV (“Objections to this mode considered”) Malthus considers objections to his “only effectual mode”. In the last section of the chapter, he says, look, if you don’t think the mode I propose is good enough, I’ll show you the horrible alternative:

“If after all, however, these arguments should appear insufficient; ***if we reprobate the idea of endeavouring to encourage the virtue of moral restraint among the poor*** [his “only effectual mode”], from a fear of producing vice; and if we think, that to facilitate marriage by all possible means is a point of the first consequence to the morality and happiness of the people; let us act consistently, and before we proceed, endeavour to make ourselves acquainted with the mode by which alone we can effect our object.”

Chapter V’s title is “Of the consequences of pursuing the opposite mode”, and it has all those horrible things about killing off the poor by courting the return of the plague and not treating illness and encouraging them to live near marshy areas. He is saying, “See how much better my plan is than this?”

More details here:

Please correct the video and the information about Malthus. It is a blot on an otherwise stellar job you guys are doing.

Thank you,
Daniel Meyer

When I posted this, a message said that the comment was waiting to be moderated… but thirteen days later it still has not been posted to the site.

No comments have been posted since about September 13, so maybe it’s simply that no one’s manning the moderation queue. Still…this lie/slander/misinformation is a blot on PRI’s work. May they fix it soon.

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