The Malthusian Formula, Doomsday Predictions, Global Hysteria and other silly and fashionable things

by Jason

There are no shortages of grim predictions about the world coming to a halt. We are obsessively told economic growth will cease one day because of food shortages and depletion of our natural resources, pollution, wars and other manmade disasters. Additionally, the equilibrium between sustainment and birthrate will be so out of whack the human race will implode and tumble in on top of itself. We hear of this daily, accompanied by the usual buzz words like global warming, climate change, and outbreaks. To make it even more believable, Hollywood comes along and produces movies about them that makes us all fashionably aware. However, none of these predictions are a recent phenomenon. People as far back as time can tell have been predicting the end of the world in horrid detail. But the details that we have come used to really got started by a man that wrote warnings about future destruction in the eighteenth-century. His name was Reverend Thomas Malthus. Consider him the Victorian Age Al Gore, but only much smarter. 

Malthus argued that economic growth would be unobtainable becauses food production would fall behind population growth. To explain his theory he used England as a model and came up with what is now known as the Malthusian Formula for Destruction. At the time of his warnings England had about 9 million people. Annual production of food was adequate and with some imports better than satisfactory. But, Malthus argued that starvation was not far off. He pointed out that population growth if gone “unchecked” doubles every 25 years. So, England’s population by 1900 would be at 144 million and more than 1 billion by 1975. Obviously, Malthus concluded that there would be a scarcity of food. England had only so much land for cultivation and with the strains of a growing population even land would eventually become scarce. The rate of production couldn’t possibly keep up with the rate of population growth under these circumstances. So according to Malthus’s predictions, England faced starvation and died off about 100 years ago. 

The logic seems plausible. As long as England’s population doubled every 25 years increasing at a geometric rate while output increased at a far less arithmetic rate, than England’s doomsday was certain. The error, however, was in Malthus’ empirical assumptions. He could not have possibly known how technology and ingenuity would eventually lead to increased output. He based his estimates on his own experiences at the beginning of the industrial revolution. Thankfully for England he grossly underestimated the rate in which production would increase and overestimated the rate of population growth. 

The Malthusian Formula for Destruction is a stubborn theory. It has proven to have great shelf life as most of us are painfully aware. It has only been renamed as the Inconvenient Truth and such. At any rate, many now argue that maybe Malthus’ predictions aren’t wrong, only premature. Of course, growth has to stop when man runs out of arable land, water, oil, and other vital resources that keeps productivity and growth moving forward. Modern doomsday prophets have only upgraded the theory and added to the list of if/thens. All predictions like these (as listed below) usually lead to embarrassment because those who make them underappreciate the role of the market and human creativity in finding ways for better use of scarce resources and finding substitutes in place of them. 

That point is wonderfully illustrated between two professors who engaged in what has been called the Doomsday Bet. The was made between Julian Simon and Paul Ehrlich in 1980. Ehrlich identified five metals that he predicted would become so scarce in just a decade that the loss of them would end economic growth as they knew it. Simon disagreed, and predicted that the price of those medals would actually decline because by then better efficiency and substitutes would increase. When 1990 rolled around, the prices of those medals had fallen and Ehrlich had to pay up. Unfortunately, Ehrlich never lost his enthusiasm for predictions. 

This is a free site so I will freely give. Enjoy

Doomsday predictions from Earth Day 1970.

“We have about five more years at the outside to do something.”

• Kenneth Watt, ecologist

“Civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind.”
• George Wald, Harvard Biologist

“We are in an environmental crisis which threatens the survival of this nation, and of the world as a suitable place of human habitation.”
• Barry Commoner, Washington University biologist

“Man must stop pollution and conserve his resources, not merely to enhance existence but to save the race from intolerable deterioration and possible extinction.”
• New York Times editorial, the day after the first Earth Day

“Population will inevitably and completely outstrip whatever small increases in food supplies we make. The death rate will increase until at least 100-200 million people per year will be starving to death during the next ten years.”
• Paul Ehrlich, Stanford University biologist

“By…[1975] some experts feel that food shortages will have escalated the present level of world hunger and starvation into famines of unbelievable proportions. Other experts, more optimistic, think the ultimate food-population collision will not occur until the decade of the 1980s.”
• Paul Ehrlich, Stanford University biologist

“It is already too late to avoid mass starvation.”
• Denis Hayes, chief organizer for Earth Day

“Demographers agree almost unanimously on the following grim timetable: by 1975 widespread famines will begin in India; these will spread by 1990 to include all of India, Pakistan, China and the Near East, Africa. By the year 2000, or conceivably sooner, South and Central America will exist under famine conditions….By the year 2000, thirty years from now, the entire world, with the exception of Western Europe, North America, and Australia, will be in famine.”
• Peter Gunter, professor, North Texas State University

“Scientists have solid experimental and theoretical evidence to support…the following predictions: In a decade, urban dwellers will have to wear gas masks to survive air pollution…by 1985 air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching earth by one half….”
• Life Magazine, January 1970

“At the present rate of nitrogen buildup, it’s only a matter of time before light will be filtered out of the atmosphere and none of our land will be usable.”
• Kenneth Watt, Ecologist

Stanford’s Paul Ehrlich announces that the sky is falling.
“Air pollution…is certainly going to take hundreds of thousands of lives in the next few years alone.”
• Paul Ehrlich, Stanford University biologist

“We are prospecting for the very last of our resources and using up the nonrenewable things many times faster than we are finding new ones.”
• Martin Litton, Sierra Club director

“By the year 2000, if present trends continue, we will be using up crude oil at such a rate…that there won’t be any more crude oil. You’ll drive up to the pump and say, `Fill ‘er up, buddy,’ and he’ll say, `I am very sorry, there isn’t any.’”
• Kenneth Watt, Ecologist

“Dr. S. Dillon Ripley, secretary of the Smithsonian Institute, believes that in 25 years, somewhere between 75 and 80 percent of all the species of living animals will be extinct.”
• Sen. Gaylord Nelson

“The world has been chilling sharply for about twenty years. If present trends continue, the world will be about four degrees colder for the global mean temperature in 1990, but eleven degrees colder in the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us into an ice age.”
• Kenneth Watt, Ecologist

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About Jason Bradley

Is a former military member with experience in Iraq and time in Europe. He lives in the Washington DC area with his wife and two young children. His background is in national security and has remained in the field since separating from the military. He is a political science major with strong interests in American politics, history, economics, and foreign policy. This blog is a way to express his interests. He also contributes at -- Big Peace and Big Government. Email him at
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19 Responses to The Malthusian Formula, Doomsday Predictions, Global Hysteria and other silly and fashionable things

  1. Pingback: Here’s a real “Inconvenient Truth”: The sky wasn’t falling in 1970, either. « Sanity Injection

  2. Sean says:

    Jason, I think you broke a whole lot of hearts with one single post.

    Excellent post and stories.

  3. Jason says:

    Sean, it was too easy.

  4. Jason says:

    and a pleasure…

  5. Red Spy says:

    I let out a chilling and evil laugh after I read this.

  6. Sean says:

    It was pretty good I have to say. I hadn’t heard of some of the stuff he mentioned. It would be nice to have on hand during one of those uncomfortable global warming discussions.

  7. Pingback: The Malthusian Formula, Doomsday Predictions, Global Hysteria and other silly and fashionable things | Gadget Look

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  10. Pingback: MUST-READ: The Western Experience debunks the doomsday predictions of the left « Wintery Knight Blog

  11. Mike says:

    Sorry to chime in so late.

    Dude, this one takes the cake, EXCELLENT POST!

  12. Pingback: Ironies of the Day « The Western Experience

  13. Pingback: MeanBearPig strikes again: Climate change turns to climategate « The Western Experience

  14. Pingback: 10 Global Warming Doomsday Predictions | Lux Libertas - Light and Liberty

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  16. Patrick H. says:

    I hate to be a doom and gloomer but one third of all species on the planet are in serious threat of extinction. Even with this news I have faith in mans ability to work through this and emerge a better place for humanity to live in. It is time to stop getting rich for the sake of being rich. Where would the average American be today if the founding fathers only cared about amassing wealth for themselves? We need to look at our way of life and find ways to improve the standard of living for us all. Necessity is the mother of invention. We Need to Clean up our Act. Let us be the leaders of the world and not the rulers.

  17. Mike Elliot says:

    Patrick you are absolutely correct when you say, We Need to Clean up our Act. The context of your reply is extremely thoughtful and and your sentiment noble and correct. My problem with anything environmental is the solutions to our problems presented by our so-called thinkers. Cap and trade, carbon credits, mercury laced light bulbs? These are our fixes? This fall directly in line with Malthus thinking and even worse they are politically and financially motivated. At least Thomas was simply empirically incorrect, not malevolent or corrupt.

    Sound scientific ideas to make the world a better place, at least to me, are ideas like enviromental economics or industrial ecology.

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  19. Verna says:

    Hi! Do you know if they make any plugins to safeguard against hackers?

    I’m kinda paranoid about losing everything I’ve worked hard on.
    Any suggestions?

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