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Spring 1998 THE SOCIAL CONTRACT 182 Throughout this era invective was

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Spring 1998 T S CONTRACT The Feast of Malthus

Spring 1998 THE SOCIAL CONTRACT 182 Throughout this era invective was the preferred weapon of the literati because they encouraged population growth

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	 Spring 1998
OCIAL 
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(because they encouraged population growth).
The shocking Feast was spread before the
public in 1803, in the second edition of the 
Essay
Malthus could hardly have chosen a worse time: a
sort of 
compassion revolution
 was then well under
way. During the 19th century the English-speaking
world made great progress in the humane
 Spring 1998
OCIAL 
ONTRACT
million or a billion
another: Injustice is the primary enemy. It is
doubtful if any major reform of the past two hundred
years has succeeded without a calculated reference
to injustice. (For Darwinians, extinction is more
disturbing than simple injustice.)
By Henry George
s day,
Science was a powerful god,
so the author goes on to
explain how he thought this
new god had obliterated the
dangers of overpopulation:
I assert that the new
mouths which an
increasing population
calls into existence
require no more food
than the old ones, while
the hands they bring with them can in the natural
order of things produce more. I assert that, other
things being equal, the greater the population, the
greater the comfort which an equitable distribution
would give to each individual. I assert that in a
state of equality the natural increase of population
would constantly tend to make every individual
richer instead of poorer.
A skeptical Darwinian might well respond, "Ah,
now I see why it is that the lemmings jump off the
cliff: they can
t tolerate the luxury produced by their
overpopulation!" Anti-Georgians can sarcastically
offer the following advice to every one of the fifty
million species of animals 
and plants:
"Overpopulation is GOOD for you!" 
Though not considered great, George was an
economist of sorts. Sadly, his message is still
repeated in our own time by many poorly trained
economists. These 
odd-men-out make a good living
 Spring 1998
OCIAL 
ONTRACT
a single prey animal; but the predators of a
population are not, in the final analysis, enemies of
the species. Without some sort of external control
a species can eat itself out of house and home.
One might expect this truth to be generally
recognized among laymen, but the zoologist W. T.
Edmonson tells of a sociologist friend who
found difficulty in believing that the
multiplication of 
Daphnia 
(water-fleas) is
inhibited by lack of food.
 Familiar with
the correlation of human poverty with
large family size in the "Third World," the
sociologist expected starved water-fleas to
be more fertile than well-fed ones. He did
not realize that the behavior of human populations
is anomalous and requires special explanation. He
regarded the reproductive behavior of 
Daphnia
 as
a surprising exception to what he thought was a
general rule of biology. Small wonder that
Malthusianism is so often rejected! 
Many implicit assumptions are involved in
Malthus
s Feast. Among these are the following:
 Spring 1998
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military medicine under the title of "triage."
The "conservation of a favorable self-image"
seems to be a rule of psychology. A self-image of
great kindliness is devoutly to be desired, so the
terms "feast," "lifeboat," and "triage" have been
given the cold shoulder, despite the fact that all
three offer us recipes for the conservation of goods
in a limited physical world subject to limitless
demands. 
 Spring 1998
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"some".) With 
either 
 Spring 1998
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ONTRACT
revolution inspired by earlier ideals does not make
the achievement of it any easier. It is difficult for
TSC
[Dr. Hardin
s e-mail address is: [email protected]]
NOTES
 Abraham Pais: 
A Tale of Two Continents
. Princeton,