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Malthus' revenge

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UNU MERIT
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Disciplines
  • Economics

Abstract

1 #2009-030 Malthus’ Revenge Luc Soete Working Paper Series United Nations University - Maastricht Economic and social Research and training centre on Innovation and Technology Keizer Karelplein 19, 6211 TC Maastricht, The Netherlands Tel: (31) (43) 388 4400, Fax: (31) (43) 388 4499, e-mail: [email protected], URL: http://www.merit.unu.edu 2 3 Malthus’ Revenge1 Luc Soete2 UNU-MERIT University Maastricht July 2008 Abstract: In this paper, we take inspiration from Thomas Malthus' hypothesis that food shortage and hunger would remain "nature's last most dreadful resource" and that "the power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race". We revise and reinterprete it into a modern and thus global version and we elaborate on such a possible new interpretation and what its policy implications might be. In a first section, and somewhat as a parenthesis, we briefly comment on the financial crisis as it has unfolded over the last four months of 2008 and impacted gradually the real economy. In the second section of the paper we review the different policy responses to past Malthusian challenges: how food production succeeded particularly over the second half of the 20th Century to keep pace with rapid population growth. In a third section, we replace the word "population" in the above cited Malthus' quote with "consumption" and illustrate what this 1 This paper has been prepared as part of a foresight exercise about “The World in 2025” on the request of the European Commission, Directorate for Science, Economy and Society in close collaboration with the Bureau of Economic Policy Advisors. I’m grateful to comments received from colleagues during presentation before the expert g

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