In the latest issue:

Real Men Go to Tehran

Adam Shatz

What Trump doesn’t know about Iran

Patrick Cockburn

Kaiser Karl V

Thomas Penn

The Hostile Environment

Catherine Hall

Social Mobilities

Adam Swift

Short Cuts: So much for England

Tariq Ali

What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud

Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade

C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill

At the British Museum: ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’

James Davidson

Poem: ‘The Lion Tree’

Jamie McKendrick

SurrogacyTM

Jenny Turner

Boys in Motion

Nicholas Penny

‘Trick Mirror’

Lauren Oyler

Diary: What really happened in Yancheng?

Long Ling

Foremost EconomistRosalind Mitchison
Close

Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website (www.lrb.co.uk — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.


  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.
Close
Population Malthus 
by Patricia James.
Routledge, 524 pp., £17.50
Show More
Show More

Three names​ dominate the debates on the social policy of 19th-century Britain: Bentham, Malthus and Chalmers. The first two were original thinkers whose ideas often contradict the system popularly ascribed to them. We have been forced over the last few years to recognise that Bentham’s idea of government was far more sophisticated than the particular pieces of legislation usually labelled Benthamite. Now a remarkably thorough investigation of his life and writings emphasises and develops what Keynes pointed out forty years ago: that there was much more to Malthus than Malthusianism.

Some years ago Patricia James did much to give humanity to the image of Malthus by publishing his travel diaries. He came alive, particularly on his Norwegian journey of 1799, being overcharged for horse hire, tactfully refusing to eat dirty Lapp food, inquiring always about prices, land tenure and the system of military service. He also showed his limitations as an economist in the failure to relate recent improvements in Norwegian agriculture to a rise in population. Here the same careful and sympathetic work lets us see the Malthus family, part of the middling ranks of 18th-century society, the education of the young Thomas Robert, his friends and the development of his ideas till in 1805 he was an established figure, the author of the famous Essay on Population (by then in the sophisticated form of the later editions), a rector of the Church of England, professor at the new East India College of Haileybury, a husband and a parent: ‘the country’s foremost living political economist’.

This is a thorough, useful and sympathetic book. Occasionally, sympathy, either with the figures of the past or with the ignorance of the present, leads to minor weaknesses. There are rather too many hypothetical intrusions of the ‘perhaps she thought’ type, and too much time devoted to explaining basic differences in attitudes to property, servants, office-holding, between the 18th century and today. On the other hand, the book is informed by the realisation that we still have not got all the answers in economics. The crude monetarist thinking of some writers in the bullion controversy of 1810-1 brings to mind some almost equally crude modern monetarising. Miss James does not explicitly point this out, but she allows the arguments to show their own weaknesses.

Malthus’s life was a genuine search for truth, and he was not easily satisfied. He lived through a succession of major debates on economic and social policy – in particular, those on the poor law, protection for agriculture, the nature and role of money, and the relationship between labour supply and wages. On all these, he put out ideas and then changed his mind. A critic was to say of him in 1815, ‘Mr Malthus scarcely ever embraced a principle which he did not subsequently abandon,’ but also to add that his works ‘may always be advantageously referred to as furnishing materials for speculation’. His readiness to change his mind was, in his lifetime, his weakness and is in retrospect his strength. It is the justification of a major biography.

The initial Essay on Population not only posed a problem which, at least in world terms, has validity today, but was a body-blow to the easy assumption that the Almighty could not bring more people into the world than could be fed. The simplistic confidence that he destroyed may seem ludicrous today. Still, it is more engaging than the determination of later Malthusians such as Thomas Chalmers to praise God for this imbalance in provision. As Malthus developed his theory, it became more chilling in social terms. Miss James rightly stresses the vast gulf between his first and second editions, as great as if they had been written by different men. Also Malthus’s language became more subtle as he acquired more knowledge. His most devastating and well-known sentence came in the second edition: ‘A man who is born into a world already possessed, if he cannot get subsistence from his parents on whom he has a just demand, and if the society do not want his labour, has no claim of right to the smallest portion of food.’ The author stresses that this was withdrawn from the later editions, but Malthus never recanted. At the end of his life, he could write a sentence which historians would accept unreservedly and which is not complimentary to God the provider: ‘The pressure arising from the difficulty of procuring subsistence is not to be considered as a remote one … but as one which not only actually exists at present over the greatest part of the globe, but, with few exceptions, has been almost constantly acting upon all countries of which we have any account.’

The handling here of his population theory is adequate but not particularly profound. The stress that it arose from his deep concern over the standard of living of the poor is interesting. His belief that the poor law encouraged labour to increase and so to lower wages explains his hostility to that institution. The author does not point out his disapproval of other forms of social aid, such as foundling hospitals, nor does she show the impossibility of expecting the labouring population to control its breeding so as to fit in with the business cycle. She ignores his opinion that the passion between the sexes is always of the same strength, a view which would not stand up to modern psychology, and the ambiguities of his use of the word ‘vice’, and she appears to believe that contraceptives, barely in existence in his day, were necessary for contraception. The strength of the book lies in her handling of his economics. In the controversy with Ricardo, of whom Malthus said, ‘I never loved any body out of my own family so much,’ she shows that Ricardo was clearer, but largely because he was more rigid. Time and again Malthus showed himself open, in a confused way, to the complexities of the situation. She is good, too, on his weaknesses, such as his perverse refusal to consider that wealth could lie in anything but material objects. In her view, accidents had much to do with the Ricardian victory: for personal reasons, Malthus was not acceptable to McCulloch and so was deprived of the use of the Edinburgh Review except on peripheral subjects. Ricardian thought was crudely simplified and expounded by the popularisers, who could explain why there was ‘a perfect coincidence between the wants of the public and the interest of the capitalist’, and, as Keynes said, it ‘constrained political economy for a full hundred years in an artificial groove’.

Malthus’s life was remarkably similar to that of a modern academic. Research had to be carried on in the intervals of his teaching, and was further disturbed by student riots caused by the expectation of the East India Company, parents and public that the College could discipline young men without either treating them as school children or calling in the law. Through interruptions, bereavements and controversies Malthus continued to open up new topics till, at the end of his life, he was engaged in helping to launch the London Statistical Society. In demography, he recognised from the first the importance of mathematical technique, and used the most sophisticated available. In one way, it is a pity that what was available was so limited. But then, if he had been able to go further in demographic analysis, his readiness to open up other topics would have been restricted. This book reminds us that we should salute him, not only as one of the founders of economics, but as someone who saw the subject as a field not for certainty but for speculation.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Letters

Vol. 1 No. 2 · 8 November 1979

SIR: It appears from Rosalind Mitchison’s account in your last issue of Patricia James’s new biography of Malthus that one of the book’s strengths is its portrayal of Malthus’s ability to change his mind (LRB, 25 October). We are asked to see the producer of a ‘chilling’ social theory as being prepared to alter his positions with ease, as ‘someone who saw the subject as a field not for certainty but for speculation’. But as Mrs Mitchison also suggests, some of Malthus’s views were put forward as being unalterable, and this aspect of the man is important, as it is the essence of his claims to be a ‘scientist’.

Stressing Malthus’s humanity and open-mindedness can obscure the fact that his theory was not offered as speculation but as law. Malthus certainly appears to have been engaging in many personal ways, and also to have had a vibrant and realistic sense of the power of sexuality in life. This forms a strong contrast to the deliberate sexlessness envisaged in the utopia of William Godwin, one of the writers whose work Malthus sought to contest in his Essay. But the point about the principle of population was not that it was a proposition that might be socially contingent, or one that in some liberal way people might accept or reject as they chose. It was a law of nature. Malthus’s Wrangler training led him to hunt for Newtonian certainty in the field of demographic studies; and the claim that he had uncovered a natural law is the foundation of the original Essay. Later editions develop the argument, but do not alter the basic theory. His life may indeed have been a ‘genuine search for truth’ (whatever that may be): he certainly felt that he had uncovered the true relationship between population and resources. This was non-negotiable.

Mrs Mitchison further clouds the issue by overstressing ‘the determination of later Malthusians such as Thomas Chalmers to praise God for this imbalance in provision’. Malthus was not as morally harsh as Chalmers and may not have gone as far as him in the praising: but his Essay undoubtedly argues for the providential designedness of the awsome formula that he uncovered. As Mrs Mitchison hints but does not bring out clearly enough, it is precisely this powerful juncture of the (purportedly) providential and the scientific that makes the Essay so gloomy. The essence of Malthus’s achievement rests on the claim to certainty, not speculation. He may have been a good companion but he was the author of a theory that undermined companionship.

Michael Neve
London NW1

send letters to

The Editor
London Review of Books
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address and a telephone number

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.