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Is Covid19 a limit to our growth? A Neo-Malthusian examination of the crisis


Is Covid19 a limit to our growth? A Neo-Malthusian examination of the crisis


As the developed countries of the world were too engrossed in gaining control over the global economy by exploring every opportunity to gain at the expense of others, a pandemic in the form of COVID-19 struck like thunder and brought everything standing still throughout the globe. Coronavirus disease commonly known as COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered strain of coronavirus. The virus can be spread from person to person through direct contact and can only be diagnosed through a laboratory check. COVID-19 first tested in Wuhan, a city in China in December 2019 and the source was considered to be an illegal seafood market situated in Wuhan. Some people who visited this market were diagnosed with this virus but new studies say that the first person diagnosed with this virus had no visit to the seafood market and hence investigations are still in the process to find the real reason for this deadly disease. This disease first trapped China in its claws followed by a huge loss to human life in Italy, then the USA followed by other countries of the world. Mostly the disease is said to have a more significant impact on the old aged people and people who are already suffering from some diseases like diabetes, cancer, BP etc. And hence are advised to stay indoors. There is an adverse effect of this disease on the world as a situation of complete lockdown is being observed all over the globe along with a situation of global recession and lack of resources available for the survival of humanity. Severe measures have been taken around the globe but because of the lack of medication available, there is yet no cure or stoppage of this disease. People are quarantined inside their houses in order to remain safe.

Is Covid19 a limit to our growth? A Neo-Malthusian examination of the crisis

The Malthusian theory of population is a theory that talks about the exponential population growth and arithmetic growth of food supply. The theory was put forward by Thomas Robert Malthus in 1798 (An essay on the principles of the population) and he believed that it is through positive or neutral checks and preventive checks that the population level can be balanced out with the food supply. According to Malthus, the population grows in geomagnetic progression i.e. 2, 10, 50, 250 etc. where the common ratio is 5 and food production increases in the arithmetic progression I.e. 2, 5, 8, 11 etc. with a common difference of 3. Therefore the results found out from the above calculations were that the population will grow at a faster pace as compared to the food supply and hence the food produced will not be enough to fulfill the needs of the huge population. We can observe that taking any country the cases of coronavirus are multiplying day by day and there is a geometric progression seen if we observe the graph. There is an upward shift in the daily case graph. Further, Malthus argued that if less food is available then many people will die due to this shortage of food and this correction would take place in the form of positive or neutral checks and preventive checks that would lead to Malthusian catastrophe which would bring back the sustainable level of population. The positive or neutral checks talk about the ability of natural forces, like natural disasters in the form of floods, earthquakes, epidemics, etc. or human actions like wars and famines, to correct the imbalance between food supply and population growth. On the other hand, preventive checks talk about measures like family planning, late marriage, and celibacy that would help in controlling the population and hence the demand for food will meet the required supply. These preventive checks can also become the reality of our societies after the end of the pandemic.

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In the Malthusian theory of population, Malthus also talks about the “Malthusian Population Trap”. The basic idea behind this is that food production increases due to the advancement of agricultural techniques which leads to a rise in the population because people have more time to themselves as half of the work is done with the help of technology. The higher population needs more land to live on and hence the land on which crops are grown reduces and therefore the food available for the growing population reduces. Once the growing population crosses the level food supply can support, there is a creation of a Malthusian crisis which brings about widespread famine as well as uncontrollable diseases along with it. With time it has been observed that the technology, as new innovations have paved their way, has evolved which has further added to the outburst in the population of the world. With new and better technology in hand, the cure for deadly diseases like cancer has been discovered by man. This technological growth has definitely added to the ability of mankind to cope up with challenges coming forth in the future like taking the case of coronavirus, the person can be screened, whether he has coronavirus or not, without any physical touch, etc. In the 1950s green revolution was adopted by the world where the old aged agricultural techniques were upgraded by the use of technology and hence there was an increase in food productivity, which served the needs of the growing population.


The history of man and the earth does not proceed trouble-free. Famines, floods, wars, food shortages, bushfires, earthquakes, etc have been recorded from time to time. While in relative terms the human population is declining but it is still growing in absolute terms. With the world’s population increasing from 7.7 to 11 billion by 2100, with human beings in close contact with wildlife in developing countries and with intercontinental passenger air travel has increased by many folds and by the end of the cold war, pandemics will continue to be a natural accompaniment to the neo- Malthusian world. Because the world population has increased nearly five times since 1900, even the slightest of variations in the climate will lead to an ever-larger effect on the lives of people and their property as the population reaches a number of 11 billion. In the past whenever the population has exceeded the food supply, nature has given us the warning to control so by applying the preventive checks suggested by Malthus. Both the world wars that have taken place in the past are considered to be Malthusian events and are examples of positive checks. After the first world war millions perished as a victim of the Spanish flu, as WW1 observed too many unsustainable large families. On the other hand diseases like polio, cholera, mad cow, Ebola, HIV, and SARS epidemics stuck mankind after the end of the second world war where the population fell drastically. This proves that the combined effect of the human actions and natural diseases in the past yet again brought the population back to the sustainable level to meet the required food production which is a positive check. Malthus stated that nature will find its own ways to bring back the population to the sustainable point and the coronavirus outspread can be one of such natural diseases that has trapped the whole world in a glimpse of time. Therefore this question can be raised if coronavirus is is nature’s way to check the population and control it.

East Kolkata Wetlands: the natural sewage treatment plant
In 1970 the club of Rome commissioned the concept of “predicament of mankind” which says that as our economic activities and our population increase, it is putting greater pressure on the carrying capacity of our planet earth, which leads to depletion in the natural resources.

Limit to growth (1972) by Club of Rome is a computer-simulated report which tells us how our economy and population are exponentially increasing and the supply of resources is linearly decreasing. As all resources are limited after some time these resources will run out keeping in mind the consumption did and will not have any remorse available to us for further use. Limit To Growth was Funded by the Volkswagen Foundation and commissioned by the Club of Rome (Neo-Malthusians) report’s authors are Donella H. Meadows, Dennis L. Meadows, Jørgen Randers, and William W. Behrens III

There are 5 concepts that were studied with their interrelation-population, food production, industrialization, pollution, and consumption of non-renewable natural resources.
A key idea in The Limits to Growth is the notion that if the rate of resource use is increasing, the number of reserves cannot be calculated by simply taking the current known holds and partitioning by the present yearly use, as is ordinarily done to get a static record.
As the scholars say, our economy and population are increasing and resources are depleting. There will be a time when the resource will be exhausted completely with this rate of utilization and the economic growth and population will also lead to a sudden decline as we will not have any resources for consumption. So, when there will be no energy resources the industries will shut down as industrialization requires resource utilization. That will lead to economic growth. In relation to the population if there will be no resource left the population will start to decline i.e. there will be an increase in the death rate. Resources and economic growth will come to an end.

East Kolkata Wetlands: the natural sewage treatment plant
The limits to growth try to give the people reasons for using the resources judiciously, three important conclusions can be drawn keeping in view the present times as follows:-

1. Given business as usual, i.e., no changes to historical growth trends, the limits to growth on earth would become evident by 2072, leading to “sudden and uncontrollable decline in both population and industrial capacity”. This includes the following:
a) Global Industrial output per capita reached a peak around 2008, followed by a rapid decline. Which is continuing now as seen during the present date.
b) Global Food per capita reaches a peak around 2020, followed by a rapid decline
c) Global Services per capita reaches a peak around 2020, followed by a rapid decline.
d) Global population reaches a peak in 2030, followed by a rapid decline
2. Growth trends existing in 1972 could be altered so that sustainable ecological and economic stability could be achieved.

3. The sooner the world’s people start striving for the second outcome above, the better the chance of achieving it.

It is ironic that the deadly disease, coronavirus, emerged from China, the country that has taken steps to reduce its population by adapting the one-child policy. A neo- Malthusian influenced Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution as “the survival of the fittest” is being considered true as the people who are suffering from disorders or are old, are showing symptoms and are critical as compared to the young and healthy people. Claims have been made that the guns are falling silent as the world economy faces recession. As the population has exceeded the food production, which can be observed as more than 25000 people die daily due to hunger, Malthus’s view of positive checks is coming forth to be true. Therefore it can be argued that COVID-19 is a Malthusian crisis, the connotation of a positive check. This epidemic in a very short span has covered the entire globe and it is a warning signal for the society to maintain and evolve the necessary preventive checks as suggested by Malthus. Substantial living is a set of choices and these choices require the voice of all humans together. From time to time the natural diseases coming forth are giving us a warning signal to maintain the “sustainable growth level” so that in future no such epidemic hit humanity again.

These are side effects of a world in overshoot, where we are drawing on the world’s assets quicker than they can be re-established, and we are discharging squanders and toxins quicker than the Earth can absorb them. Like In 1998 more than 45 percent of the globe’s people had to live on incomes averaging $2 a day or less, Fifty-four nations experienced declines in per capita GDP for more than a decade during the period 1990–2001 etc. As far as the coronavirus is concerned it surely leads to depletion in population but due to quarantine, the resource utilization has not declined, as people start to do a lot of panic buying and storing their homes with stuff they do not require. That has led to a waste of resources.

As said by Dennis Meadows “The current epidemic does not prove we were right.” The World3 model is a model of continuous interactions between population, resources, and capital over the long term. In the context of 200 years, the COVID-19 pandemic is a short-term, discrete event. There have always been plagues, but increasingly frequent and violent epidemics are consistent with the limits to growth thesis.

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Malthus and the Club of Rome both have the same views. They both throw light on the adverse effect of overpopulation just that Malthus has linked this excess population problem with food supply and the Club of Rome has linked the population explosion with a lack of resources available for the survival of humans. Over the years though the technology has evolved, it has not reached a stage where pandemics like coronavirus outbreak can be controlled as a lack of knowledge regarding this disease is a setback for the humans. Those who have strong immunity and are healthy are generally seen recovering from this disease but these diseases generally affect the people with the low immune system. Since due to preventive measures adopted by nearly all countries to control childbirth, most of the population in the western world is found to be above 50years and hence are more prone to this epidemic and hence the sudden precaution in the form of lockdown was adapted. Talking about correlation, there is a negative correlation between coronavirus disease and population growth. As the coronavirus is spreading around the globe, the population growth is decreasing I.e. there are more deaths as compared to the births.

Therefore, the positive checks of the Malthusian theory of population growth are applying as the epidemic is leading to a decrease in the population bringing back the debate on Malthusian principles. This epidemic is a huge warning signal to humanity to follow the law of nature and adapt the preventive checks as suggested by Malthus and use fewer resources so that we are left for our forthcoming generation as stated by the Limit to growth theory. COVID-19 is teaching us kindness along with empathy and compassion towards other human beings which will give humanity strength to fight during these tough times. As the whole human race is in danger, with the advanced technology and our brilliant minds we will surely overcome this pandemic and soon lead our normal life and as learned by this big crisis lead towards a sustainable way of living. But we must bear on our minds the Malthusian and Limit to Growth warnings to do course-correction and have a sustainable and stable future!

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