Friday, February 13, 2009

Population, Resources, and the Ideology of Science

Malthus advocates the method of empiricism. From what I gathered Malthus believes that as long as something can be thoroughly explained then he can believe it. His example is of somebody arguing that man is becoming an ostrich. In order for him to go along with this idea the man must explain that “necks of mankind have been gradually elongating, that the lips have grown harder and more prominent, that the legs and feet and altering their shape, and that the hair is beginning to change into stubs of feathers.” Empiricism is a method which tests the existing order of things against the realities of the world. I guess I can follow along with this method. It seems to make sense that if somebody can show you that people are becoming more ostrich like than there is merit to that argument, no matter how ridiculous it sounds.
Malthus believes that over-population is a direct result of the class system; at least that’s what I believe he is getting at. He claims that people in the lower class are miserable and they can only survive on welfare. It is safe to say that they have a pretty low standard of living. When people have such low standards of living they lack “positive checks” which then results in “expansion of their numbers.” So according to Malthus the poor people are the problem when it comes to overpopulation. I don’t know if I agree that it’s because they are provided welfare but I think I do agree that they do have more kids. I could be completely wrong but it seems like rich people don’t have as many kids and it’s the poor people who can’t afford it that do have children. So it seems to me that Malthus is right about that. Malthus believes that the rich don’t have as many kids because they are afraid of “a decline in their station of life.” I don’t really know why the poor are the ones having the children and the rich aren’t so I don’t know if I can agree with that reason. I guess I would say that Malthus would have to explain these ideas a little more, like why rich people believe that having a lot of kids will lower their class.
Ricardo was a normative. Normative isn’t really explained though. So according to Wikipedia normative has “specialized meanings in several academic disciplines. It means relating to an ideal standard or model.” From what I gathered Ricardo focuses more on social harmony.
According to Ricardo, it is the demand for labor which is the principle of population. If the demand is high then the laborers will “automatically increase their numbers.” In an ideal world “the rate of accumulation of capital could exceed that of the power of population to reproduce, and during such periods wages would be well above their natural price.” Ricardo is saying that wages and happiness of the community depend on a balance of capital and population. Ricardo believes that population regulates itself. This statement really had me thinking wait a minute. I don’t know if Ricardo could make such an assumption without really explaining that. Is he saying that somehow conception depends on this balance? So if that were the case women wouldn’t get pregnant unless there was a need for that baby in the labor force in 16 years when the child could work, right? I don’t think that makes much sense at all.
Marx’s method is known as dialectical materialism. I’m not exactly sure what that means, and that doesn’t surprise me because when I think of Marx I automatically go “aahhh!”
In order to explain population Marx used the theory of surplus value. “Surplus value, he argued, originated out of surplus labor, which is that part of the laborer’s working time that is rendered gratis to the capitalist.” This is when a laborer works a ten hour day when he only needs six hours to make enough to live off of. The capitalists make the laborer work a longer shift but only pay him for those six hours so in the end the capitalists are getting four free hours of work from that laborer. He uses this theory to explain population by looking at this surplus value and seeing that “more money has to be laid out on wages and the purchase of raw materials and means of production. If the wage rate and productivity remain constant, then accumulation requires a concomitant numerical expansion in the labor force.” I’m not sure how this is much different from Ricardo’s theory on population. In that case I have the same argument for that.


  1. I think the whole point the author was trying to make with Malthus's empirical data was to show it's ethical invalidity and surface value (which is not very valuable). The "natural law" of population vs resources (rather than distribution of those resources) and that the poor are naturally exploited so as the rich can be comfy is empirical and illogical.

    I think "normative" relates more to the normal, as in what most cases (could) look like (depending on the angle viewed). As in the normative definition of "standard of living" seems to be "stuff" rather than "community relations", but I think it depends on who you ask. However, stuff like clean drinking water is a good indicator of living standards.

    Dialectal materialism refers to things as interrelated (a resource is a resource becasue of its "relationship to the mode of production" (vs Aristotle's 'it's a resourse in it's essence'). I think Marx was saying the poor have kids (labor power) because that is the only capitol they can accumulate because of their exploited relationship with capitalist accumulation.

    But the whole point (I think) was to say these big thinkers exploit science to say what they want it to say, which then it does.

  2. I do agree with some of the comments posted above. The item about how the rich have all of the resources is true, along with all of the money, technology, and power. It is not the poor people's fault they have to live in harsh conditions, it's what they were born into; it could have happened to any one of us. Poor have to have a lot of kids because it is like a retirement fund for themselves.
    It is kind of foolish to blame the poor for off of the "world pollution" because they don't have the resources that all of the super power countries have. To put an end to our social/living "world problems" it is time for the people who have the money and power to start standing up for humanity. It sounds like an easy thing to do, but activly participating is hard to ask of some people.