Schumpeter versus Darwin: In re Malthus

Jones, Lamar B.
October 1989
Southern Economic Journal;Oct89, Vol. 56 Issue 2, p409
Academic Journal
This paper seeks to explore the impact of Thomas Robert Malthus upon the research conducted by Charles Robert Darwin. The justification for the undertaking stems from the perceived void in the pages of histories of economic analysis concerning the Malthus-Darwin linkage. For example, in the recently published four volume critical assessments of Thomas Robert Malthus [44] not one of the one hundred articles contains anything meaningful about the relationship of Malthus's work to Darwin's creation of evolutionary biology. Yet, among present-day historians of science, and among scientists concerned with Darwin's work, "The relationship between Darwin and Malthus is perhaps the issue in Darwin studies on which there has been most discussion and disagreement [27, 953]." Is Darwinism the product of Malthusianism? Or is it more prudent to view Malthus's contribution as a very specific one, the proportional arithmetic and nothing else? Was Malthus's role, as Mayr ultimately concluded, merely ". . . that of a crystal tossed into a saturated fluid [31, 492]?" No doubt the debate about the Malthus-Darwin linkage will continue, and remain controversial. The question, at this point, to ask is what, if anything, has been resolved? It seems certain that Schumpeter understated the importance of Malthus to Darwin, but in all fairness Schumpeter did not have available the various and important notebooks, though he did have access to everything else Darwin had written, from 1842 on. Why did he not take Darwin at his word, for certainly the references to Malthus were strong, continuous, and never out of Darwin's frame of reference about his own work? Is it as Schweber suggests, that we put our own proclivities into the issues and simply attribute to Malthus what best suits us? Schumpeter may have done just that, for his references to Malthus are quite caustic, in both the History of Economic Analysis [36, 446, 578, 581-2] and in Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy [35, 115].


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