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Why Was Malthus a Reverend?

Nov 1, 2010 • Economic History, Economic Thinkers, Innovation • 106 Views    No Comments

Have you ever wondered why Malthus was a reverend?

The surprising answer is in Bill Bryson’s wonderful new book, At Home A Short History of Private Life (which I just started reading). 18th and 19th century rectors and vicars tended to be affluent and bored. As Bryson explains, rather generous rents and tithes, during good times and bad, funded their pay. Their preparation typically was a university degree in any area. With little training in human sustenance and a book of sermons to refer to each week, they had considerable time on their hands.

What to do? The Reverend Malthus thought and wrote about economics and the future of the world. Other clergy with similar inclinations include Edmund Cartwright, the inventor of the power loom; George Garrett, who invented the submarine; William Buckland, an expert on fossilized feces; and Jack Russell, a terrier breeder. (The Jack Russell terrier is today’s picture.)

The Economic Lesson

Perhaps one of the first environmentalists, Reverend Thomas Malthus told us in 1798 that population grows geometrically while resource production expands arithmetically. Consequently, resource prices will rise and supply will become increasingly inadequate.

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