This section is from the "The Science Of Wealth" book, by Amasa Walker.
Indeed, contemplating certain positive unquestionable facts in history, great instances of depopulation, ages of decline, the slow advances of reviving production, we may • fairly begin to doubt whether propagation is a permanent force irrespective of conditions. We may not unreasonably inquire whether it ever appears without a special reason in the case; whether the rule is not the other way; viz., not that population does not proceed in spite of adverse influences, but that it is never called out except by physical circumstances, which, in all their contradiction and bewilderment to us, really form the condition precedent of human reproduction. Why not? We do not say, that individual growth, either vegetable or animal, is a constantly operating force, irrespective of circumstances. We recognize the necessity of heat, moisture, and special properties of soil to educe the latent powers of expansion. Similar, though more remote and perplexed, are the influences which bring out reproduction in the animal or vegetable. It is therefore more correct to say, that population, instead of being limited by adverse, is only developed by favorable, conditions. We are deceived in this matter, because propagation acts almost universally. That happens simply because the favorable conditions are almost universal.
This argument is not affected by exhibiting a great deal of misery, the result of want. The laws of reproduction are not responsible for subsequent mismanagement and abuse. Nor does this obstruction to propagation, coming out of circumstances, operate to the degree of preventing deformity or suffering. But it does apply its check before the limits of destruction are reached. Speaking generally, nothing is born where it cannot live.
In reference to general use, however, we shall speak of adverse circumstances limiting population.
This whole matter may be perfectly exhibited by an illustration from vegetable life. The forests have a constant tendency to enlarge their bounds, and thicken their growth. The rate of individual increase is prodigious in the family of trees. And so forests may, when there is no opposing force, spread over all adjacent country, and may grow closer and closer till the perfectness and beauty of the solitary oak are lost in the maze of interlacing boughs. But just as it would be absurd to suppose that the trees would ever grow so thickly as to require the woodman's axe or a vegetable pestilence, so it is unphilosophical to anticipate an increase of population which will require war or plague to reduce it to the limits of food. The shoots of human life will no more crowd their soil than will the children of the forest. As well might a benevolent botanist, lamenting the natural logical increase of the trees, predict internecine arborial war or sylvan infanticide, as Malthus, from abstract principles of human increase, possible in individual cases, forecast his dreadful tables of starvation and crime. The spread of the human race, as of the sylvan, limits itself by the chemical resources of the soil, the fostering influences of the air, the superficial capacities of the ground. The agencies of animal as of floral propagation are possessed of a delicate discrimination, a prudent forecast, and a virtuous continence, which shame the most cautious calculations of the reason. They may err somewhat, and that, too, within limits which allow much deterioration of the species, and much local misery; but their conditions restrict them within the bounds of life.
What these circumstances are which control the increase of population, we shall not discuss at this point.
3d, The third fallacy we detect is, that, granted the two postulates of stationary subsistence and advancing population in any country, there is any necessary relation of distress and deterioration between them. Such a view puts commerce out of the question. In the present state of the world, the only matter of interest to determine in regard to the supply of any people is, whether they are able to produce values sufficient to command in exchange the commodities they must consume. It is of no consequence whether Manchester or Birmingham can raise their own breadstuffs within their corporate limits, if they can create values which will lay all the markets of the world under contribution. Labor, if law does not hinder, is self-supporting. The powers of industry are commensurate with their wants. But, if legal and social institutions interrupt or burden exchanges, in one way or another, distress will result. There is no fault in human propagation, but in what is subsequent. To illustrate: thirty years ago, there was great suffering among the poor of England. This gave rise to the very theory of population we are considering. It became a matter of common belief, that starvation was inevitable in human society.
Now it used to be a generally accepted principle of physics, that "nature abhors a vacuum; " and much machinery was constructed on that principle. On one occasion, an experimenter happened to apply it to a tube longer than usual, when it failed to work. Rushing in great excitement to the office of a distinguished philosopher, he announced the catastrophe. "Perhaps," was the quiet response,—" perhaps nature does not abhor a vacuum higher than thirty-four feet."
Just such a discovery was made at this time in England. The corn-laws were repealed, and half the misery of the laboring class sank out of sight for ever. This it was which first led men to suspect that "nature did not abhor a vacuum higher than thirty-four feet;" that is, to drop the anecdote, that nature creates no human labor to be starved out of existence, but that whatever misery and suffering there is, comes of man's folly and sin.