Malthus and Classical Economics
Thomas Robert Malthus is known to economists primarily as the author of the Essay on … Population as well as the Principles of Political Economy, first published in 1820. In addition, Malthus wrote some pamphlets and contributed articles to established periodicals. His first pamphlet was on the high price of provisions and contains an explicit, if rudimentary, construction of a market demand curve. Although later scholars have found much curious matter in it, the pamphlet died unnoticed. Malthus wrote some articles on monetary economics for the Edinburgh Review which are chiefly notable for their moderation in espousing a middle ground between the Bullionists and their opponents. His pamphlets on the Corn Laws have gained him fame as a co-discoverer of the differential fertility theory of rent. However, not only was the theory of differential rent clearly expounded by James Anderson in 1777, but also Malthus did not formulate the theory with the clarity of either David Ricardo or Edward West. Malthus’s contributions to the Quarterly Review (1823–4) consist largely of sharper formulations of the differences between himself and the Ricardians, points which had already been raised in the Principles. For these reasons, my focus will be primarily upon the Principles. The shadow of controversy lay over almost everything Malthus wrote and Malthus’s contributions will be set in sharpest focus by occasionally using Ricardo’s critical comments on the first edition of Malthus’s Principles, the Notes on Malthus. As both editions of Malthus’s Principles will be quoted, the first and second editions will be referred to as Principles I and II respectively.
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