The Law of Increasing Returns

Malthus had things exactly backward. So do his heirs. In both cases, the mistake is to ignore the role of ideas.

Issue: Spring 2000

TWO HUNDRED years after Thomas Robert Malthus published An Essay on the Principle of Population, demographers, ecologists, economists, biologists and policymakers still debate his theory of population.1 Leading foundations spend scores of millions of dollars on population programs, while the United Nations holds international conferences on the topic and even has a specialized agency, the United Nations Population Fund, devoted to the issue. Last year the Fund portentously declared that the world's population reached six billion on October 12. Every year, hundreds of weighty studies and books pour from the universities and think tanks discussing what is to be done.

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