Population and Subsistence

Henry George
The Science of Political Economy

Book III, The Production of Wealth*

Chapter III
Population and Subsistence

Showing That the Theory of a Tendency In Population to Increase Faster Than Subsistence Has Previously Been Examined and Condemned

The Malthusian theory -- Discussed in Progress and Poverty. 01

In proceeding to consider the laws of the production of wealth it would be expedient first to consider any natural law, if such there should be, which would limit the operation of man in production. In the Malthusian theory the scholastic political economy has held that there is a law of nature that produces a tendency in population to increase faster than subsistence. This, coming as it did in the formative period of the institution of the science, was really the bulwark of the long-accepted political economy, which gave to the wealthy a comfortable theory for putting upon the Originating Spirit the responsibility for all the vice, crime and suffering, following from the unjust actions of men, that constitute the black spot of our nineteenth-century civilization. Falling in with the current doctrine that wages are determined by the ratio between capital and labor, deriving support from the principle brought prominently forward in current discussions of the theory of rent, that past a certain point the application of capital and labor to land yields a diminishing return, and harmonizing with the theory of the development of species by selection, it became of the utmost importance, and for a long time imposed even upon well-disposed and fair-minded men a weight of authority of which they could not rid themselves. But in Progress and Poverty I devoted to it an entire Book, consisting of four chapters. In this, with what follows, I so disposed of the theory that it is not necessary to go over the reasoning again, but can refer to my previous work those who may wish to inquire as to the nature, grounds and disproof of that theory.


As the space of that work did not allow me to go over the whole scope of political economy, but only to cover its more salient points, it will be well here to examine, what I did not do thoroughly in that work, the doctrine of the law of diminishing returns in agriculture. Since this doctrine has not yet to my knowledge been questioned, it will be well to do this thoroughly.

* No introduction or motto supplied for Book III in MS. —H.G., Jr.