Karl Marx’s Theory of Population
Karl Marx (1818-1893) was a German philosopher and founder of modern communism. His theory of population was christened as theory of surplus population. Karl Marx completely rejected Malthusian theory.
Karl Marx (1818-1883) is regarded as the Father of Communism. He did not separately propose any theory of population, but his surplus population theory has been deduced from his theory of communism. Marx opposed and criticized the Malthusian theory of population.
According to Marx, population increase must be interpreted in the context of the capitalistic economic system. A capitalist gives to labor as wage a small share of labor’s productivity, and the capitalist himself takes the lion’s share. The capitalist introduces more and more machinery and thus increases the surplus value of labor’s productivity, which is pocketed by the capitalist. The surplus is the difference between labor’s productivity and the wage level. A worker is paid less than the value of his productivity. When machinery is introduced, unemployment increases and, consequently, a reserve army of labor is created. Under these situations, the wage level goes down further, the poor parents cannot properly rear their children and a large part of the population becomes virtually surplus. Poverty, hunger and other social ills are the result of socially unjust practices associated with capitalism.
Population growth, according to Marx, is therefore not related to the alleged ignorance or moral inferiority of the poor, but is a consequence of the capitalist economic system. Marx points out that landlordism, unfavorable and high man-land ratio, uncertainty regarding land tenure system and the like are responsible for low food production in a country. Only in places where the production of food is not adequate does population growth become a problem.
Karl Marx’s Theories on Population
The impact of the writings of Karl Marx (1818-1883) on political and economic developments in this century is well known. But Marx also wrote about population. Not only was he one of Malthus’s main nineteenth-century critics, but his own “law of population” is interesting in its own right.
Marx did not believe that the growth of human population was controlled by any natural law, as Malthus’s theories suggested. His ideas are complex, and since they are related to nineteenth-century capitalism they don’t fit today’s circumstances very well. Briefly, Marx believed that the creation of a surplus population of unemployed “is a necessary product of accumulation or of the development of wealth on a capitalist basis, this surplus population also becomes, conversely, the lever of capitalist accumulation, indeed it becomes a condition for the existence of the capitalist mode of production. It forms a disposable industrial reserve army, which belongs to capital just as absolutely as if the latter had bred it at its own cost.” Within the working class, the capitalist system, according to Marx, requires a pool or army of unemployed. This reserve puts pressure on those who are employed by making them submit to over work and a low level of wages. The numbers in this reserve army fluctuate with business or trade cycles. During times when business is depressed, workers are laid off and eventually profits begin to rise again. Thus business (capitalism) benefits by exploiting labour. While wages are kept low everywhere, the members in this surplus labour army are destined to have the lowest wages. Thus the working class produces wealth (capital), but because there is a constant oversupply of labour, it will never share in much of the wealth it produces. Since this means that most working people are kept poor, their birth rates will remain high and the labour surplus will continue to grow.
Thus for Marx, high levels of population growth were not the cause of poverty (as Malthus believed). Rather, it was the other way around. Marx believed that capitalism was an unjust economic system that profited at the expense of those who laboured in it, and by keeping its workers poor also caused high rates of population growth. His answer was revolution, replacing capital- ism with what he believed was a more just economic system.