Jacob, one member of the class of the loyal, asks:

I have only two questions.
Was Thomas Robert Malthus a classical liberal? What were his major
contributions to classical liberalism?

Of course I turn to my colleague David Levy and his co-author Sandra Peart, here and here.  Levy and Peart read Malthus as defending the ability of poor people to elevate themselves through moral restraint, criticizing the use of paternalistic experts, and rejecting eugenics.  He was neither a pessimist who thought mankind was doomed to subsistence, nor an idiot who failed to grasp technological progress.

I view Malthus as a tempered social revisionist who knocked down myths, thought in terms of social science mechanisms (he had both supply and demand and Keynesian macro in surprisingly sophisticated forms, not to mention an early form of Darwin’s theory of evolution), and was painfully aware of the importance of contingent human choices.  He is one of the five most underrated, and also least understood, economists.  To be sure, he favored small government and opposed the Poor Laws.  But he was skeptical enough about the notion of a voluntary self-regulating order that I would not quite call him a classical liberal.  I read his economics as starting with the Bible, and asking whether any mechanisms might bring us to a less tragic outcome than what is found in the Old Testament.  He was never quite sure of the answer, and his mix of moralizing and skepticism later attracted Keynes.


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