Malthus's Macroeconomic and Methodological Thought

Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 1983


Taylor & Francis Group


Although Thomas Robert Malthus achieved his most lasting notoriety for one rather controversial idea – his so-called principle of population, he was also the author of an important general treatise on economic theory and policy, Principles of Political Economy, Considered With a View to their Practical Association. Published in 1820, three years after the first edition of David Ricardo’s magnum opus, Malthus’ contributions to economics have not been universally acclaimed. Put on the defensive by many of his colleague’s arguments, Malthus spent much of his Principles trying to refute them. The at times defensive and querulous tone contrasts unfavourably with Ricardo’s confident assertive style in a way that surely contributed to the latter’s reputational eclipse of the former. The low repute in which Malthus is held even today by many economists is also probably in no small part due to the disdain that Marx exhibited toward him. The recognition accorded him by Keynes not only for anticipating a concern with the adequacy of aggregate demand but also, more generally, for his inductive, empirical method has served only partially to counterbalance this negative evaluation.