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How Relevant Is Malthus for Economic Development Today?

  • 2009
  • Journal Article
Weil, David N. & Wilde, Joshua

Publication Title: American Economic Review

Pages: 255-260

Abstract: The Malthusian model of population and economic growth has two key components. First, there is a positive effect of the standard of living on the growth rate of population, resulting either from a purely biological effect of consumption on birth and death rates, or a behavioral response on the part of potential parents to their economic circumstances. Second, because of the existence of some fixed resource such as land, there is a negative feedback from the size of population to the standard of living. These two components generate a number of predictions. Specifically, in the absence of technological change or expansion in the stock of the fixed resource, population will be stable around a constant level. Second, without changes in the function generating population growth, technological improvements or increases in the stock of resources will eventually result in more people but not a higher standard of living. As a description of population-income interactions, the Malthusian model had a long period of success, covering most of human history in most of the world until the beginning of the industrial revolution. In this paper we ask whether the model has any relevance to the world today.

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