This section is from the "The Science Of Wealth" book, by Amasa Walker.
In England, bad laws, passed by class legislation; oppressive institutions, the relics of feudalism; onerous taxation, incurred by the senseless war system; and unjust monopolies, created for selfish purposes, — have combined to cause the ignorance, poverty, and degradation of the people, and to make the beneficent agencies of reproduction a partial curse. The laborers of England suffer for the commonest necessaries of life, while England is the richest nation on the face of the globe. Unquestionably, the value of the total production of English industry amounts to five times the value of the simple necessaries of life for her whole population. Now, if labor starves, is it the fault of nature? The density of population has nothing to do with it. It is because the common people have so little influence on the government; because the land is held for the pleasures and dignity of the lordly few; and because the national majority is borne down by a powerful, selfish, and grasping aristocracy. Though the people suffer, it is because of nothing in the extent or fertility of their soil. But for a complicated, legalized system of robbery and wrong, every man, woman, and child in the United Kingdom might be as well fed, clothed, and educated, as are the inhabitants of the United States, and as much more so as England is to-day richer. Any man and any people that can create value can command subsistence in God's way.
If now we extend our inquiry from England to the whole industrial world, we shall bring another element into the calculation, not to increase the chances of distress by overpopulation, but to diminish them. Whatever may be true of individual peoples at any particular time, the general advance of population all over the earth has not been very clearly proved. But, whether it has taken place from century to century or not, it certainly has not progressed in the last five centuries at so rapid a rate as the means of subsistence; nor is there any ground for believing, that the present advance will, the world over, continue when the means of subsistence shall become stationary. There never has occurred a case of starvation in the history of the world which resulted solely from a deficiency in the natural means of procuring food; and there is no reason to believe that there ever will be one. There have been countless millions of deaths from hunger occasioned by the destructiveness, envy, or heedlessness of man, through war, commercial restrictions, or personal neglect.
We have spoken of the forces which limit population. We shall not assume to express them all, or to give an exact measurement of them; yet we shall be able to state enough to show what is the course of nature in this matter.
1st, Subsistence.—We do not mean any thing so commonplace as that there can be no more population than there is subsistence to maintain in life. That, of course, could not be. But it might be avoided in two ways,—by death operating on population, or prevention operating on propagation. We mean that the ultimate bounds of food are the bounds also of reproduction. At the last resort, and after its own extreme limit has been reached, subsistence limits growth. This, however, is only because to the impulse of the latter is opposed an unyielding prohibition in the former; and even this may only be effected (so far as the operation of this principle is concerned), the springs of population may only finally be dried, after a long and painful process: after the comfort and health of the laboring classes have been greatly, it may be permanently, reduced by continuous privation and hardship. So long as population can, so to speak, induce subsistence to increase, so long it may itself increase; and it is only when the latter returns a positive refusal that the former begins to check itself. In the interval of adapting itself, i.e. before it can hold up, there may result much misery and crime. So long as the increase of capital, i.e. food, clothes, and shelter, for the laboring class, is possible, the natural advance in the wants of the community, coming out of growing numbers, will determine a still larger share to reproductive consumption; will call off more and more from play to work. The causes that increase population, all other things being propitious, are positive and powerful, and will not yield to any feeble or distant objection from subsistence. So long as more capital can be taken up, they will continue to operate, and wealth must conform itself accordingly. But, when capital can go no further, propagation must stop, or population will starve. The former will be found to occur. It does not matter by what degrees of cold, hunger, feebleness, overwork, this is effected. Nature secures the result. We are no more bound to show how it is brought about than how it is that lions and elephants are not found on islands. Nature has discrimination and proportion in her work, and it takes all the recklessness and folly of man to bring about the least degree of distortion.
Destitution is, of course, a relative term. Perhaps, as a general condition, it is found mainly among savage tribes, which subsist on spontaneous productions or the captures of the chase. This is the limited state, and here the increase of population is very slow. Such has been the case with the North-American Indians, who, as we are told by Dr. Robertson and others, rear seldom more than two children to a family, and often none. We must not confound individual with general destitution. It is not claimed, that the former, when abruptly occasioned, is sufficient to check propagation. That would be against nature and reason. Such is the first gross cause which limits population.
It only applies to peoples in the lowest condition of life and of the least moral endowment. Upon those of a higher scale of being other influences will be found to operate.
2d, The second cause which we shall cite is directly the reverse of the first. It is luxury. How any one could ever have held the view that the forces of propagation are constantly operative, in the face of the experience of the Roman state, extending over many generations, destroying even the name of nearly all its great families, calling for the earnest remonstrances of its rulers, censors and emperors alike, and forming the subject of repeated legislation both in premiums and penalties, we cannot understand.