Food Crises and the Ghost of Malthus


  • Micheal O'Flynn Open University; University of Limerick


Malthus, Population, Food-Insecurity, Capital


The ongoing international food crisis has provoked a number of social scientists, politicians and pundits to predict that the ideas of Malthus may yet be vindicated. Corresponding to this expectation is a tendency to confuse the principle of population with truisms relating to continuous population growth in a finite environment. The precise assumptions upon which Malthus's principle of population actually rests are seldom emphasised or set against real relations and conditions of human societies. To remedy this the present article supplies a brief historical survey of the development, expression and practical employment of such ideas. It thereafter highlights the inability of the Malthus doctrine to account for food insecurity past and present. The doctrine is not analytically useful because populations must be pressed against the limits of capitalism ever before actual numbers and absolute limits of the social organisation of production can become a factor.

Author Biography

Micheal O'Flynn, Open University; University of Limerick

Associate lecturer (social science) with Open University; lecture part-time in politics and sociology with the department of politics, department of sociology and the Kemmy business school at the University of Limerick