Thursday, September 23, 2010

Exhuming Malthus

Here we go again.

Slate has a good article on the forever-interest in the ideas of 18th century economist Thomas Malthus, particularly in the realm of fiction, specifically with regard to Jonathan Franzen's Freedom. To describe Malthus' central idea on one foot: human population grows exponentially, while natural resources grow arithmetically. The former will eventually outstrip the latter, leading to a population bomb that will detonate and obliterate us all.

No matter how many times Malthus is refuted, his ideas linger. Ultimately, Malthusians of all stripes are defined by their suspicion, if not hatred, for civilization. Malthus was in the news recently, thanks to the Neo-Malthusian nut who took hostages at the Discovery Channel earlier this month. His inspiration? A novel: My Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn.

It almost makes you miss the influence of Karl Marx.