One of the most influential books of its era, An Essay on the Principle of Population inspired both Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace, fueled a debate on the size of Britain's population, and helped along the passage of the Census Act of 1800. With his rich, round tones, narrator Gareth Armstrong's performance precisely articulates Thomas Malthus' theory that rising population rates would lead to an increasing supply of labor that would inevitably lower wages. Malthus' concern that continued population growth would lead to poverty led him to argue for instituting positive and preventive checks on society - ideas which are still debated to this day.
While millions face hunger, malnutrition, and starvation, the world's population is increasing by over 225,000 people per day, 80 million per year. In many countries, supplies of food and water are inadequate to support the population, so the world falls deeper and deeper into what economists call the "Malthusian trap".
Here, Malthus examines the tendency of human numbers to outstrip their resources, and argues that poverty, disease, and starvation are necessary to keep societies from moving beyond their means of subsistence.
What did you like best about An Essay on the Principle of Population? What did you like least?
It is a wonderful window into the colonial mind of the late eighteenth century. Many of his viewpoints are so screamingly politically incorrect as to have me laughing out loud, yet there was a strong argument that ran through the essay that I found myself unable to refute. I loved his somewhat archaic yet delightful use of the English language. My criticism is that he had one central argument which whilst well made, he did not really develop any further, rather just kept illustrating repeatedly by way of different examples.
What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?
Hey, I think the guy is essentially correct, and we are seeing the truth of his predictions being lived out around us every day. That was very interesting. I'm not sure if Godwin stole his girlfriend in adolescence or something, but his grinding an axe on Godwin's eralier work became tedious.
Have you listened to any of Gareth Armstrong’s other performances? How does this one compare?
I don't believe I have. I enjoyed his performance very much.
Do you think An Essay on the Principle of Population needs a follow-up book? Why or why not?
It would be tricky, 200 years after the fact, but of course this essay is a milestone in societal discourse. It is so frequently referred to that to all intents and purposes, much has been built on this work.