Myth Of The 20th Century – Episode 19: Malthus And His Discontents – Population And Policy

Welcome to the Myth of the 20th Century. The podcast airs on Fridays.

— Brought to you by —

Alex Nicholson, Hank Oslo, Adam Smith, Hans Landers, and Nick Mason


In 1798, Thomas Malthus postulated in his essay on population growth that given an abundance of food, population would grow until food supplies collapsed, causing a decline in fertility. He observed that this pattern had held true for the masses of the underclass for centuries in England, keeping average per capita income stagnant. All this changed around 1800, however, as the Industrial Revolution took hold and the British people became wealthier. This wealth allowed them to import food, and advances in agricultural productivity and the spread of industrialization throughout the world saw global population rise into the billions over the next two centuries. However, as environmental degradation and limits on space and water increasingly constrain expansion and birth rates around the world, the theories of Malthus, once regarded as outdated, now serve to remind us that however we may master our surroundings, we will always be bounded by them.


1750-1800 – annual world population growth rate declines from 0.6% to 0.4%, population reaches 0.9 billion
<1800 – Malthusian Trap – average English income per person stagnant
>1800 – Industrial Revolution – average English income per person grows exponentially
>1800 – Industrial Revolution spreads to other parts of the world, starting in Europe, then America, then Asia
1800-1920 – annual world population growth rate rises from 0.4% to 0.6%, population reaches 1.8 billion
1920-1965 – annual world population growth rate rises from 0.6% to 2.1%, population reaches 3 billion
1965-2015 – annual world population growth rate declines from 2.1% to 1.2%, population reaches 7.4 billion


– The Principle of Population, Malthus (1798) –
– Dysgenics, Lynn (1996)
– Idiocracy, Judge (2006)
– A Farewell to Alms, Clark (2009)
– The Son Also Rises, Clark (2014)
– HBD Chick –
– Marian Van Court – Eugenics –
– World population, 1750-2015 and projections until 2100 –

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  1. Maybe it’s just me, but there is nothing really “reactionary” about the “Myth of the 20th Century” podcasts. There are no mentions of de Maistre or Davila or even Moldbug. Can someone let me know the rationale for this?

    1. We’re reactionary curious.

    2. What exactly can we do to make this podcast more reactionary? We’re open to constructive suggestions.

    3. Alex Nicholson May 20, 2017 at 3:20 pm

      You are wrong Juli. There’s nothing more Reactionary than Myth of the 20th Century podcasts.

  2. Eugene of Savoy May 19, 2017 at 8:24 pm

    I’ve been listening to your podcasts for a few months now and this was great.

    I really enjoyed the back and forth starting around 1:00 or so about current day evolutionary pressures and dysgenic processes. I think Alex ‘won’ the exchange. Here are my somewhat random thoughts:

    (1) In the current year, in a western country, one can have any number of children and essentially all of them will survive to adulthood. So from a strictly Darwinian perspective there is no downside to abusing the welfare system and having as many kids as possible.

    (2) The welfare state is a self limiting phenomenon. Unless we reach some sort of technological singularity, population growth will eventually again hit the world’s carrying capacity. At this point the global welfare state will fall apart. The real question is, who will inherit the earth when this finally happens? Under current conditions, it will be the last major population group to undergo a “demographic transition”: Africans, muslims, and to a lesser extent Mormons, Amish, etc. As has been said before, in order to win the future you have to show up.

    (3) The topic about the dysgenic effects of birth control was interesting. Birth control causes problems because the natural desire to reproduce is fragmented- there is no intrinsic desire to replicate oneself. Instead, there is a natural desire to have sex. Then when the baby inevitably shows up the maternal/paternal instinct kicks in and the parents fall in love with their child. Uncoupling sex from reproduction breaks this process.

    looking forward to more podcasts

  3. Alex Nicholson May 20, 2017 at 3:19 pm

    Good to hear this Eugene, not because you said a nice thing about me, but because I was worried I was coming across as insufficiently polite in this bit. I actually suggested Adam cut it, though it’s good he insisted on leaving it. Thanks for your numbered thoughts as well, all good points.

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