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Malthus by Donald Winch

Author:Donald Winch [Winch, Donald]

Language: eng

Format: epub

Tags: Language Arts & Disciplines, Linguistics, General

ISBN: 9780192876539

Google: GfXrAAAAMAAJ

Amazon: B00Y2QT2T8

Publisher: Oxford University Press, Incorporated

Published: 1987-08-14T22:00:00+00:00

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Malthus by Donald Winch

Agriculture versus manufacturing

In the first Essay Malthus employed the self-interest principle and Smith’s system of natural liberty to counter Godwin’s utopian ideas, but he was not prepared to endorse Smith’s optimistic views on the consequences of economic growth. Indeed, his initial foray into this territory consisted of a major attack on one of Smith’s main conclusions—the idea that capital accumulation, in itself, could always be presumed to confer material benefits on society at large. According to Smith, these would accrue chiefly in the form of an expanding demand for labour, higher money wages, increased per capita output, and lower prices of those goods on which wages were mostly spent. Malthus questioned this essentially smooth account of the growth process by taking a polar case in which capital accumulation was applied solely to the employment of labour in manufacturing. While this might raise wages and be counted, on Smith’s definition, as an increase in annual riches, the output of agricultural products would remain static. In such circumstances the rise of wages would be accompanied by an increase in the price of food, the main wage good, thereby depriving the labouring classes of any improvement in real living standards.

Malthus was also casting doubt on Smith’s interpretation of the historical record, his assessment that economic growth in Britain since the revolution of 1688 had bettered the condition of the mass of society. According to Malthus, the concentration of investment in trade and manufacturing had meant that wealth had been increasing faster than ‘the effectual funds for the maintenance of labour’. Wealth was not, therefore, increasing the happiness of the mass by improving their condition. ‘They have not, I believe, a greater command of the necessaries and conveniences of life; and a much greater proportion of them, than at the period of the revolution, is employed in manufactures, and crowded together in close and unwholesome rooms.’ Hence his belief, in 1798, that population had been increasing very slowly throughout the 18th century due to the equally slow increase in domestic food production. The rise in money wages had preceded the rise in the price of food, thereby raising costs ahead of revenues and impairing the ability of domestic agriculture to respond to the price rise. Enclosure and other improvements in agricultural technology had mostly been concentrated on grazing rather than arable wheat production, and fewer people were now employed on the land. In short, population would have increased faster if manufacturing and commerce had not expanded so rapidly at the expense of agriculture.

 

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Malthus by Donald Winch

Author:Donald Winch [Winch, Donald] , Date: July 11, 2019

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Author:Donald Winch [Winch, Donald]

Language: eng

Format: epub

Tags: Language Arts & Disciplines, Linguistics, General

ISBN: 9780192876539

Google: GfXrAAAAMAAJ

Amazon: B00Y2QT2T8

Publisher: Oxford University Press, Incorporated

Published: 1987-08-14T22:00:00+00:00
Agriculture versus manufacturing

In the first Essay Malthus employed the self-interest principle and Smith’s system of natural liberty to counter Godwin’s utopian ideas, but he was not prepared to endorse Smith’s optimistic views on the consequences of economic growth. Indeed, his initial foray into this territory consisted of a major attack on one of Smith’s main conclusions—the idea that capital accumulation, in itself, could always be presumed to confer material benefits on society at large. According to Smith, these would accrue chiefly in the form of an expanding demand for labour, higher money wages, increased per capita output, and lower prices of those goods on which wages were mostly spent. Malthus questioned this essentially smooth account of the growth process by taking a polar case in which capital accumulation was applied solely to the employment of labour in manufacturing. While this might raise wages and be counted, on Smith’s definition, as an increase in annual riches, the output of agricultural products would remain static. In such circumstances the rise of wages would be accompanied by an increase in the price of food, the main wage good, thereby depriving the labouring classes of any improvement in real living standards.

Malthus was also casting doubt on Smith’s interpretation of the historical record, his assessment that economic growth in Britain since the revolution of 1688 had bettered the condition of the mass of society. According to Malthus, the concentration of investment in trade and manufacturing had meant that wealth had been increasing faster than ‘the effectual funds for the maintenance of labour’. Wealth was not, therefore, increasing the happiness of the mass by improving their condition. ‘They have not, I believe, a greater command of the necessaries and conveniences of life; and a much greater proportion of them, than at the period of the revolution, is employed in manufactures, and crowded together in close and unwholesome rooms.’ Hence his belief, in 1798, that population had been increasing very slowly throughout the 18th century due to the equally slow increase in domestic food production. The rise in money wages had preceded the rise in the price of food, thereby raising costs ahead of revenues and impairing the ability of domestic agriculture to respond to the price rise. Enclosure and other improvements in agricultural technology had mostly been concentrated on grazing rather than arable wheat production, and fewer people were now employed on the land. In short, population would have increased faster if manufacturing and commerce had not expanded so rapidly at the expense of agriculture.

By means of such arguments Malthus sought to emphasize the possibilities of conflict between economic growth and the ‘happiness and comfort of the lower orders of society’. Real wages might not increase and many wage-earners might suffer in the process of exchanging a stable and healthy form of life in agriculture for an ‘unwholesome’ existence in manufacturing occupations and towns, where they were exposed to the risks of vice and unhealthy surroundings as well as to greater uncertainties ‘arising from the capricious taste of man, the accidents of war, and other causes’.

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