So I’ve received a fair bit of correspondence denouncing me for saying that we have to do something about climate change. Among the various insults is the claim that I’m just another Malthus — which is interesting.


Here’s a chart from Brad DeLong, showing population versus real wages in Britain. It was only in the late 17th century that Britain began to diverge from a simple population-wages curve; other parts of the world stayed Malthusian much longer.

malthus

Leave aside the climate science issues. What very few people realize is that Malthus was right about most of human history — indeed, he was right about roughly 58 out of 60 centuries of civilization: living standards basically did not improve from the era of the first Pharaohs to the age of Louis XIV, because any technological gains were swallowed up by population pressure. We only think Malthus got it wrong because the two centuries he was wrong about were the two centuries that followed the publication of his work.