Classical economists: Engels on Malthus

Known chiefly as Karl Marx’ sidekick, Friedrich Engels was the other pioneer of post-Enlightenment communist philosophy. Engels and Marx worked together on nearly everything either of them produced – history had room to give only one of them the luxury of an ideological ‘-ism’, however. A work Engels did research and publish entirely on his own is The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844. The Condition is a truly extraordinary text in its historical scope, detail and theoretical grounding. For Engels trawled and traversed through the city of Manchester, trying to understanding and grasp a sense of how the industrial revolution had crystalised capitalism into a specific type of modern society. He analysed factories, districts and living conditions in which factory workers lived, the wages paid out by the factory-owners or as Engels called them, the bourgeoisie, and fundamentally, the relationship between these owners and the workers employed by them. One chapter, ‘Competition’, from the book deserves particular attention in light of the previous blogpost on Malthus’ conception of excess population. Engels (p. 87) firstly describes how competition created industrial capitalism. The productive powers of industrial factories rendered the economies of agriculture obsolete, centralising capital in the hands of factory-owners and fostering innumerable ranks of inner-city factory workers, the proletariat, vying alongside each other for jobs inside the factories. Higher wages and higher profits ushered both worker and owner away from the farms in unison, towards the inner-city. We get a sense of capitalism’s revolutionary mobility here: the capacity to dissolve entire worlds into sands, forging new ones apace and without hesitation. Under capitalism, as Marshall Berman once described: all that is solid...
Classical economists: Malthusian myths and truths

Classical economists: Malthusian myths and truths

Malthus is a thinker who’s ideas are often talked about in jest these days. His projections of human misery and starvation on the back of a population boom are used to justify his ridicule. Yet as this piece over at Grant McDermott’s blog describes, there is much more than what often meets the eye, when it comes to Malthus. For while Malthus did worry about humanity’s capacity to feed itself, this fear was not drawn up out of thin air, yet from Matlhus’ recorded, empirical observations at the time. Furthermore and contrary to popular opinion, Malthus was not blindly committed to the notion that population growth would exponentially outstrip food supplies. As Malthus himself wrote: “in no state that we have yet known has the power of population been left to exert itself with perfect freedom.” For more, check the original piece...