17 April, 2024


Population Growth & Prosperity 

By Upatissa Pethiyagoda

Dr. Upatissa Pethiyagoda

An English clergyman, Thomas. Robert Malthus (  1766 – 1834 ) in a book Titled “The theory of population growth” argued that while population increase was exponential, resources (mainly food) grew only linearly. In his 1796 book titled “The Theory of Population” he argued that the growth of population will in time, outstrip the production (or availability) of resources, (in particular food). Opponents of his proposition, held that improving Technology should be the way to redress the imbalance. Malthus’s Theory suggested that a “Malthusian Trap” was inevitable and “backward” societies (or the poorly educated) would suffer the most. Opponents (mostly of Socialist types) argued that this was a sinister move to deny improved technologies (mainly industrial) to the poorer countries and social groups. Since the poor tended to produce more children, the impact would be most on the poor. This was more palatable to Socialists. However, technological advances alone would only postpone catastrophe.

It was improved technology that fueled the “Industrial Revolution” that catapulted the Western States to their economically robust societies. The per capita productivity permitted higher wages for the employed. 

In our context, the Malthusian view is very relevant. Ideologies seem precariously defunct. The models held up, (mainly the USSR and China) have either become “capitalistic” or proved perishable. The adulation of “globalization” has suffered a major setback by the “Covid-19 pandemic” and has illustrated that “internationalism” by easing travel and promoting interaction, have also helped in rapid spread of the virus. Almost every country has suffered. Recovery of economies would be slowed by the fact that major sources of Aid to recipients will dry up as their own needs will get priority.    

Our population is around 21 million and is said to grows at about 2% (Births minus deaths) per annum. His means an addition of about 400,000 per year or 1,200 per day. One may calculate the load that this means. To provide education for this extra number, one would need a Royal College every four days, a University every week, 600 houses per day etc. etc. etc. Please remember that this is only per day. Once we finish the additional requirements for today, similar numbers will arise for tomorrow! Makes these grand promises of a “million jobs per year, 10,000 houses, etc. etc. per year or a five year Parliament, look rather puny, does it not ?. 

How many “Policy Documents” take this into account? I am no demographer, and perhaps my calculations are not infallible. The more knowledgeable among us may see the stupidity of these deductions.

I must record this. When Gamini Dissanayake decided to contest the Presidency, he chose to address the TCKOBA, In particular, he wished for guidance in highlighting truly relevant issues during his campaign. When I painted the picture that without reference to the population increase (which was set at 800 per day), no plausible indices were meaningful.  He was amazed that none of our high-level “Planners” had not highlighted the relevance of this issue. Every livestock farmer (chickens to cows) was aware of the concept of “Carrying capacity”. It is not possible that “Homo sapiens” alone defy this universal truth. He was (thankfully) proposing to use this as the pivotal point of his campaign. A few weeks after, the demonic LTTE blew this promise sky high. GD and dozens of others perished. So ended as promising and virile Presidency.

There can be no sustainable development programme until this reality is recognized.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 2

    Though they are endowed with an analytical mind and clearly see the future Humans do not take any practical step to solve a problem until the problem chokes them.
    Someday when the population shoots beyond 10 billion and mass starvation and intestine wars become the norm everywhere UN will step in to legislate one child per family policy as it was done in China.
    Until then my dear L.P. we have some breathing space.
    Relax. Live for the day.


  • 1

    As a scholar and an expert Upatissa Pethiyagoda is comparing two models, – Capitalist and Socialist. It is hard for me to debate him, since I am neither a scholar nor an expert.
    I can only say that neither model has helped us in forging as humans. Let us be humans first.

  • 2

    Dear Dr Pethiyagoda

    Thank you for the article. I totally agree we have been out of focus on how to manage the Nation/Resources/National planning for the limited space in which we all have to live/develop/improve quality of life for each being been born etc due to the political blunders and wasted our energy on all things wrong.

    Born 1963 and I remember GOSL vehicle used to come and play ‘family planning’ videos to each and every villages in Jaffna and sure was the case through out the Nation.

    To add to your topic and the critical highlight I share the following links quite interesting

    DON’T PANIC — Hans Rosling showing the facts about world population growth and his respective analysis thought your readers might be interested to have this bigger picture to bear in mind too when evaluating your points.


    We do not have politicians/ministers discussing these parameters in the parliament is a very big concern for me.

    • 0

      Thanks a lot for the most interesting video which I shared with my friends.
      FURTHER increase of the TOTAL may come to a halt at 11.1 B.
      But the COMPOSITION of that 11.1 B gives me goosebumps.
      In fact I got really panicked after seeing this video.
      Two few young to support too many olds!
      I cannot imagine a more unpleasant society even if robots will do the washing and lifting.
      Where is time for the young to enjoy their life?
      I fear to think of what immoral practices that society will eventually adopt.
      I hope the same guy produce another video on panicking on climate change and the resulting environmental calamity. For that is where the 11.1 B will have to panic.


Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 200 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically disabled after 5 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.