I am instictively sceptical of any Malthusian doomsaying about the future, given that such arguments are inherently anti-human and have been proven wrong repeatedly in the past. Still, I was struck by this passage in an old Krugman essay, in which His Paulness mounts a defence of Malthus:

For fifty-five out of the last fifty-seven centuries Malthus was right. What I mean is that for almost all of the history of civilisation technology did not lead to sustained increases in living standards; instead, the gains were dissipated by rising populations, with pressure on resources eventually driving the condition of the masses back to roughly its previous level…

It was Malthus’ great misfortune that the power of his theory to explain what happened in most of human history has been obscured by the fact that the only two centuries of that history for which it does not work happen to be the two centuries that followed its publication.

Could Malthus ever be right again? It’s a terrifying thought.

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