Malthusian regime: Introduction

This paper examines the evolution of the relationship between population growth, technological change, and the standard of living. It develops a unified model that enconv passes three distinct regimes that have characterized the process of economic development. We call these regimes “Malthusian,” “Post-Malthusian,” and “Modern Growth.” The analysis focuses on two differences between these regimes: first, in the behavior of income per capita, and second, in the relationship between the level of income per capita and the growth rate of population.

The modern growth regime is characterized by steady growth in both income per capita and the level of technology. In this regime there is a negative relationship between the level of output and the growth rate of population: the highest rates of population growth are found in the poorest countries, and many rich countries have population growth rates near zero.

At the other end of the spectrum is the Malthusian regime. Technological progress and population growth were glacial by modern standards, and income per capita was roughly constant. Further, the relationship between income per capita and population growth was the opposite of that which exists today: “The most decisive mark of the prosperity of any country,” observed Smith (1776), “is the increase in the number of its inhabitants.”

The Post Malthusian regime, which fell between the two just described, shared one characteristic with each of them. Income per capita grew during this period, although not as rapidly as it would during the Modern Growth regime. At the same time, the Malthusian relationship between income per capita and population growth was still in place. Rising income was reflected in rising population growth rates. The key event that separates the Malthusian and Post-Malthusian regimes is the acceleration in the pace of technological progress, while the event that separates the Post-Malthusian and Modern

Growth eras is the demographic transition.

The most basic description of the relation between population growth and income was proposed by Malthus (1798). The Malthusian model has two key components. The first is the existence of some factor of production, such as land, which is in fixed supply, implying decreasing returns to scale for all other factors. The second is a positive effect of the standard of living on the growth rate of population. According to Malthus when population size is small, the standard of living will be high, and population will grow as a natural result of passion between the sexes. When population size is large, the standard of living will be low, and population will be reduced by either the “preventive check” (intentional reduction of fertility) or by the “positive check” (malnutrition, disease, and famine). cheap payday loans