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Item 199 - Thomas Robert Malthus Catalog 448 (Mar 2015)

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English scholar influential in the fields of political economy and demography (1766–1834). ALS signed “T. B. Malthus,” four pages on two adjoining sheets, 7.25 x 9, March 17, 1828. Letter written from East India College to Nassau William Senior, reads, in part: “I think there is much truth as well as ingenuity in the passage you have sent me; and I quite agree with you in the distinction you make between e?e??e?a and e????; but if you still mean to include e?e??e?a in your definition of wealth, I am not sure whether it would be of any use to make the distinction you propose between services and commodities. I am very decidedly of opinion that in an inquiry into the causes of wealth, it is the most consistent and useful application of the term productive labour to make it mean that labour which is directly productive of wealth; If wealth however be not the material e???? which can be brought to market and estimated separate from the producer, but the e?e??e?a itself, or some immaterial result of it, which adjusts of no estimation when separated from the producer it does not seem necessary to distinguish personal services from the labour which produces a material e???? or commodity. Both are equally productive of wealth according to your definition.

You know however that I consider it of the utmost importance that the progress of the science of Political Economy and to its useful practical applications to confine the term wealth to those objects the increase or decrease of which we can form some estimate of. There is no person more fully aware of the important effects derived from some personal service, and of the great duration of some of their results than I am; but how am I to estimate the e?e??e?a that is susceptible of exchange, but has not yet been exchanged; or how am I to appreciate the wealth derived from the Legislation of Moses, the laws of Menic, or our Revolution of 1685. Feeling the utter impossibilities of making any approaches to an estimate of such kinds of wealth, I think it infinitely preferable to confine the term wealth as Adam Smith does to the material manageable e???? or commodity, and to place personal services in a different category. In my lectures in the East India College I have very long been in the habit of stating in reference to Adam Smith’s terms ‘That productive and unproductive labour resemble each other in the end they endeavor to attain namely the gratification of some want or wish of mankind, but they accomplish it by different means.’” Last page also bears an address for Nassau Senior, as well as two columns of numbers. In very good condition, with two areas of paper loss to second page affecting several words of text, intersecting folds, one through a single letter of signature, and some scattered light soiling.

In Malthus’s 1798 Essay on the Principle of Population, focused on the unsustainability of a steadily increasing population, he argued that when the population grows faster than the production of food, the cost of living increases, thereby reducing the standard of living for all and causing economic instability. He presented two controversial ‘checks’ that hold the population within resource limits, and encouraged the latter: ‘positive checks,’ such as hunger and disease, raise the death rate, and ‘preventive checks,’ such as abortion, birth control, and postponement of marriage, lower the birth rate. Completely out of sync with the popular 18th-century European view that society was steadily improving and, continuing the trend, was in principle perfectible, Malthus became instantly controversial. Spearheading the revolt against the Malthusian theory was Nassau Senior, a highly regarded classical economist and Professor of Political Economy at Oxford. Senior argued that the current combination of rising living standards and population growth offered strong evidence against Malthus’s pessimistic theory, and the two wrote back and forth on their disagreements regarding these and many more related economic issues, including wealth and productive labor, as seen in this letter. Several pieces of their correspondence were published in Senior’s Two Lectures on Population in 1829, and though this letter is not included in those, it certainly falls within the timeline of their heated debates. An incredible letter hashing out the specifics of his controversial theory—the first we have offered from Malthus, one of the most important economists since Adam Smith. Pre-certified John Reznikoff/PSA/DNA.

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