Reply To: malthusian trap


The great American “Austrian school” economist, Frank Fetter (who was chairman of the economics department at Princeton in the first half of the 20th century) wrote his dissertation on Malthusian population theory. In his presidential address to the American Economic Association in 1913, he was pessimistic on the likelihood of continuing increases in standards of living under the strain of population growth:

But, like those of Malthus himself, such pessimistic predictions have so far proven unwarranted. The main causes of standards of living continuing to rise are technological advance and capital accumulation. As long as these factors continue to progress, even population growth that would put human population beyond the point of covering the entire surface of the earth with productive activity, would not necessary reduce standards of living. Fortunately, you and I are unlikely to personally experience such a state of affairs to witness the results firsthand.

Ludwig von Mises analyzes this point of “over-population” in his discussion of the Law of Association in his book Human Action. There he points out that any population growth beyond the point at which the entire surface of the earth is filled with productive activity will result in unemployment of the least-productive people. They could be kept alive only by the charity of the producers.

His discussion is in chapter 8.