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Malthus vs. Boserup

The world and humanity have developed during the past hundred years as never before. The population of humans living on the planet Earth has doubled over the past five decades and it is currently estimated to be 6,9 billion, moreover it is projected to reach at least 9 billion by 2050. Despite the fact that the human race has achieved unbelievable successes, there is still the most important global issue: sustainability of population growth, that remains questionable, even overlooked, out of the interest of so - called western society. In my opinion, the reason why it is so, is quite simple. People let influence their life by the motto: “Let's live for the present” and forget about the responsibility for the next generations which they bear on their shoulders, in addition, they usually focus only on the everyday life instead of paying enough attention to the essential facts and information.

In order to ensure long lasting sustainable growth and survival of human race and to avoid or even warn about the danger of the worst scenario, the humanity has come up with 2 opposing population theories about what happens when there are not enough resources for the population:

1. Malthus's Essay on the Principle of Population - 1798
2. The Conditions of Agricultural Growth: The Economics of Agrarian Change under Population Pressure - 1965

1. Malthus's Essay on the Principle of Population

In 1798 British scholar Thomas Malthus published his pessimistic revolutionary views on the effect of population on food supply. His theory has two basic principles:
- population grows at a geometric rate i.e. 1, 2, 4, 16, 32, etc.,
- food production increases at an arithmetic rate i.e. 1, 2, 3, 4, etc.

The consequence of these two principles is that eventually, population will exceed the capacity of agriculture to support the new population numbers. Population would rise until a limit to growth was reached. Further growth would be limited when:
-positive checks - famine, war, disease (increasing the mortality rate and reducing life expectancy),
-negative checks (decreased birth rate) - postponement of marriage (lowering of fertility rate), proposed only for the working and poor classes.

On the other hand, Malthus's theory has it's minuses as well. His predictions have not proved to be accurate, it is because he did not consider the facts such as: technological improvements (genetically modified crops which means that the efficiency of land has increased), the increased amount of cropland due to irrigation.

The most common example of Malthus's theory (birth control) is generally known as One Child Policy introduced in China in 1979 due to overpopulation, which had been rapidly growing.
According to the policy, a couple is allowed to have only one child. If that child turns out to be a girl, they are allowed to have a second child. After the second child, they are not allowed to have any more children, except of ethnic minorities who are allowed to have three children in some cases. The one - child program is theoretically voluntary, but the government imposes punishments and heavy fines on people who don't follow the rules - when a woman gets pregnant second time, couple has to pay fee, depending on the region, from $370 to $12,800 (many times the average annual income for many ordinary Chinese), otherwise a woman is enforced to undergo abortion.

Although this policy has had a positive impact on the slowdown of population growth, it has caused vast inequalities among the society (benefits provided only for those who cooperated with One Child Policy, the male to female ratio in China lies at 117:100) and what is more, it violates the basic human rights.

2. The Conditions of Agricultural Growth: The Economics of Agrarian Change under Population Pressure

In contrast to Malthus, instead of scarcity of food supply, a Danish economist Esther Boserup emphasized the positive aspects of a large population.

In simple terms, Boserup suggested that agricultural methods and productivity of food depend on the size of the population - the more people there are, the more hands there are to work. Furthermore, she argued that as population increases, more demographic pressure is placed on the existing agricultural system, which stimulates invention and higher efficiency in use of land. It means that the changes in technology allow for improved crop strains and increased yields.

The main disadvantage of this positive theory is that, it is nearly impossible to implement Boserup's ideas into real life because this theory is based on the principle of closed society (migration was not considered).

From my point of view, none of these theories are completely correct and none of them are incorrect. On the one hand, it is likely that the population crash predicted by Thomas Malthus will occur in the future, but on the other hand, it is certain that the world will make enormous effort to develop new technologies and increase the productivity to feed the whole planet.

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