An Investigation of the Cause of the Present High Price of Provisions

by T.  Robert Malthus 1800 

By the Author of the Essay on the Principle of Population. 
London, Printed for J. Johnson, in St. Paul's-Church-Yard, by 
Davis, Taylor, and Wilks, Chancery-Lane. 1800. 

High Price of Provisions: An Investigation of the Cause

Among the many causes that have been assigned of the present 
high price of provisions, I am much inclined to suspect, that the 
principal one has hitherto escaped detection; at least, in the 
discussions on the subject, either in print or conversation, 
which have fallen within my knowledge, the cause, which I 
conceive to have operated most strongly towards increasing the 
price of the necessaries of life, has not yet been suggested. 
There are some disorders, which, though they scarcely admit of a 
cure, or even of any considerable mitigation, are still capable 
of being made greatly worse. In such misfortunes it is of great 
importance to know the desperate nature of the disease. The next 
step to the alleviation of pain, is the bearing it with 
composure, and not aggravating it by impatience and irritation. 

It cannot admit of a doubt with persons of sense and 
information, that, during the last year, there was a scarcity, to 
a certain extent, of all sorts of grain; but it must be at the 
same time acknowledged, that the price was higher than the degree 
of that scarcity would at first sight appear to warrant. 

In the summer of 1799, in the course of a northern tour, I 
passed through Sweden. There was at that time a general dearth of 
corn throughout the country, owing to a long drought the 
preceding year. In the province of Värmland, adjoining to Norway, 
it approached almost to a famine, and the lower classes of people 
suffered most severe distress. At the time we were passing 
through that part of the country, which was in July, they were 
reduced to two most miserable substitutes for bread; one, made of 
the inner bark of the fir, and the other, of the common sorrel 
dried, and powdered. These substances, though made into the usual 
shape of their rye bread, had no affinity to it whatever in 
taste, and but very little, I believe, in nourishment, as the 
effects of this miserable food were but too visible in their 
pallid and unhealthy countenances. 

There could be little doubt, that the degree of scarcity then 
prevailing in that part of Sweden, was considerably greater than 
any we have hitherto experienced here; and yet, as far as we 
could learn, the price of rye, which is the grain principally 
used for bread, had not risen above double its usual average; 
whereas in this country last year, in a scarcity, that must be 
acknowledged to be very greatly inferior in degree, wheat rose to 
above three times its former price. 

The continuation of extraordinary high prices, after a 
harvest that was at one time looked forward to as abundant, has 
contributed still more to astonish and perplex the public mind. 
Many men of sense have joined in the universal cry of the common 
people, that there must be roguery somewhere; and the general 
indignation has fallen upon monopolizers, forestallers, and 
regraters - words, that are vented from every mouth with fearful 
execrations, and are applied indiscriminately to all middle men 
whatever, to every kind of trader that goes between the grower of 
the commodity and the consumer. 

This popular clamour, headed by the Lord Chief Justice, and 
enforced throughout the country by the instructions of the grand 
juries, must make every reflecting mind tremble for the future 
supply of our markets. I cannot but think therefore, that I 
should do an acceptable service, if I could succeed in accounting 
for the present high price of the necessaries of life, without 
criminating a class of men, who, I believe, have been accused 
unjustly, and who, every political economist must know, are 
absolutely necessary in the complicated machinery that 
distributes the provisions and other commodities of a large 

I ought first to premise, however, that I am not interested 
in this question, further than as a lover of truth, and a 
well-wisher to my country. I have no sort of connection whatever 
with any of these middle men or great farmers, who are now the 
objects of public indignation: and, as an individual with a small 
fixed income, I am certainly. among that class of persons on whom 
the high price of provisions must fall the heaviest. 

To proceed to the point: I am most strongly inclined to 
suspect, that the attempt in most parts of the kingdom to 
increase the parish allowances in proportion to the price of 
corn, combined with the riches of the country, which have enabled 
it to proceed as far as it has done in this attempt, is, 
comparatively speaking, the sole cause, which has occasioned the 
price of provisions in this country to rise so much higher than 
the degree of scarcity would seem to warrant, so much higher than 
it would do in any other country where this cause did not 

It may appear, perhaps, at first, to the reader, that this 
cause is inadequate to the effect we experience; but, if he will 
kindly allow me a few minutes of patient and candid attention, I 
hope I shall be able to convince him, that it is not only 
adequate to produce the present high price of provisions of which 
we complain; but, admitting a real scarcity, that the attempt to 
carry it actually into execution, might raise the quartern loaf 
before the expiration of a year, to as many shillings as it is 
now pence. 

Adam Smith has most justly stated, that the actual price at 
which a commodity is sold, is compounded of its natural price, 
the price at which it can be brought to market, allowing the 
usual profit in times of moderate plenty, and the proportion of 
the supply to the demand. When any commodity is scarce, its 
natural price is necessarily forgotten, and its actual price is 
regulated by the excess of the demand above the supply. 

Let us suppose a commodity in great request by fifty people, 
but of which, from some failure in its production, there is only 
sufficient to supply forty. If the fortieth man from the top have 
two shillings which he can spend in this commodity, and the 
thirty nine above him, more, in various proportions, and the ten 
below, all less, the actual price of the article, according to 
the genuine principles of trade, will be two shillings. If more 
be asked, the whole will not be sold, because there are only 
forty who have as much as two shillings to spend in the article; 
and there is no reason for asking less, because the whole may be 
disposed of at that sum. 

Let us suppose, now, that somebody gives the ten poor men, 
who were excluded, a shilling apiece. The whole fifty can now 
offer two shillings, the price which was before asked. According 
to every genuine principle of fair trading, the commodity must 
immediately rise. If it do not, I would ask, upon what principle 
are ten, out of the fifty who are all able to offer two 
shillings, to be rejected? For still, according to the 
supposition. there is only enough for forty. The two shillings of 
a poor man are just as good as the two shillings of a rich one; 
and, if we interfere to prevent the commodity from rising out of 
the reach of the poorest ten, whoever they may be, we must toss 
up, draw lots, raffle, or fight, to determine who are to be 
excluded. It would be beyond my present purpose, to enter into 
the question whether any of these modes would be more eligible, 
for the distribution of the commodities of a country, than the 
sordid distinction of money; but certainly, according to the 
customs of all civilized and enlightened nations, and according 
to every acknowledged principle of commercial dealing, the price 
must be allowed to rise to that point which will put it beyond 
the power of ten out of the fifty to purchase. This point will, 
perhaps, be half a crown or more, which will now.become the price 
of the commodity. Let another shilling apiece be given to the 
excluded ten: all will now be able to offer half a crown. The 
price must in consequence immediately rise to three shillings or 
more, and so on toties quoties. 

In the progress of this operation the ten excluded would not 
be always entirely the same. The richest of the ten first 
excluded, would probably be raised above the poorest of the first 
forty. Small changes of this kind must take place. The additional 
allowances to the poorest, and the weight of the high prices on 
those above them, would tend to level the two orders; but, till a 
complete level had taken place, ten must be always excluded, and 
the price would always be fixed, as nearly as possible, at that 
sum which the fortieth man at the top could afford to give. This, 
if the donatives were continued, would raise the commodity to an 
extraordinary price, without the supposition of any combination 
and conspiracy among the vendors, or any kind of unfair dealing 

The rise in the price of corn, and of other provisions, in 
this country, has been effected exactly in the same manner, 
though the operation may be a little more complicated; and I am 
firmly convinced, that it never could have reached its present 
height, but from the system of poor laws and parish allowances, 
which have operated precisely in the same mode as the donatives 
of a shilling in the instance I have just adduced. 

The harvest of 1799 was bad, both in quality and quantity. 
few people could deny that there appeared to be a very 
considerable deficiency of produce: and the price of the load of 
wheat rose in consequence almost immediately to £20. I returned 
from the north in the beginning of November, and found the alarm 
so great and general, and the price of corn so high, that I 
remember thinking that it was probably fully adequate to the 
degree of the deficiency, and, taking into consideration the 
prospect of importation from the very early alarm, that it would 
not rise much higher during the year. In this conjecture, it 
appears that I was much mistaken; but I have very little doubt 
that in any other country equally rich, yet without the system of 
poor laws and parish allowances, the price would never have 
exceeded £25 the load of wheat; and that this sum would have been 
sufficiently high to have excluded such a number of people from 
their usual consumption, as to make the deficient crop, with the 
quantity imported, last throughout the year. 

The system of poor laws, and parish allowances, in this 
country, and I will add, to their honour, the humanity and 
generosity of the higher and middle classes of society, naturally 
and necessarily altered this state of things. The poor complained 
to the justices that their wages would not enable them to supply 
their families in the single article of bread. The justices very 
humanely, and I am far from saying improperly, listened to their 
complaints, inquired what was the smallest sum on which they 
could support their families, at the then price of wheat, and 
gave an order of relief on the parish accordingly. The poor were 
now enabled, for a short time, to purchase nearly their usual 
quantity of flour; but the stock in the country was not 
sufficient, even with the prospect of importation, to allow of 
the usual distribution to all its members. The crop was consuming 
too fast. Every market day the demand exceeded the supply; and 
those whose business it was to judge on these subjects, felt 
convinced, that in a month or two the scarcity would be greater 
than it was at that time. Those who were able, therefore, kept 
back their corn. In so doing, they undoubtedly consulted their 
own interest; but they, as undoubtedly, whether with the 
intention or not is of no consequence, consulted the true 
interest of the state: for, if they had not kept it back, too 
much would have been consumed, and there would have been a famine 
instead of a scarcity at the end of the year. 

The corn, therefore, naturally rose. The poor were again 
distressed. fresh complaints were made to the justices, and a 
further relief granted; but, like the water from the mouth of 
Tantalus, the corn still slipped from the grasp of the poor; and 
rose again so as to disable them from purchasing a sufficiency to 
keep their families in health. The alarm now became still 
greater, and more general.(1*) The justices in their individual 
capacities were not thought competent to determine on the proper 
modes of relief in the present crisis, a general meeting of the 
magistrates was called, aided by the united wisdom of other 
gentlemen of the county; but the result was merely the 
continuation and extension of the former system of relief; and, 
to say the truth, I hardly see what else could have been done. In 
some parishes this relief was given in the shape of flour; in 
others, which was certainly better, in money, accompanied with a 
recommendation not to spend the whole of it in wheaten bread, but 
to adopt some other kind of food. All, however, went upon the 
principle of inquiring what was the usual consumption of flour in 
the different families, and of enabling them to purchase nearly 
the same quantity that they did before the scarcity. With this 
additional command of money in the low er classes, and the 
consequent increased consumption, the number of purchasers at the 
then price would naturally exceed the supply. The corn would in 
consequence continue rising. The poor's rates in many parishes 
increased from 4 shillings in the pound to 14; the price of wheat 
necessarily kept pace with them; and before the end of the year 
was at near £40 a load; when probably without the operation of 
this cause it would not have exceeded £20 or £25. 

Some of the poor would naturally make use of their additional 
command of money to purchase butter, cheese, bacon, pickled pork, 
rice, potatoes, etc. These commodities are all more limited in 
quantity than corn; and would, therefore, more suddenly feel the 
increased demand. If butter, cheese, bacon, pickled pork, and the 
coarser parts of meat, had continued at their usual price, they 
would have been purchased by so many, to come in aid of an 
inferior kind of bread, or to give a relish and additional 
nourishment to their potatoes and rice, that the supply would not 
have been half adequate to the quantity of these articles that 
was wanted. These commodities, therefore, rose as naturally and 
as necessarily as the corn; and, according to the genuine 
principles of fair trade, their price was fixed at that sum which 
only such a number could afford to give, as would enable the 
supply to answer the demand. 

To fix upon this sum is the great object of every dealer and 
speculator in every commodity whatever, and about which he must, 
of course, exercise his private judgement. A reflecting mind, far 
from being astonished that there are now and then errors in 
speculation, must feel much greater astonishment that there are 
so few; and that the supplies of a large nation, whether 
plentiful or scanty, should be distributed so equally throughout 
the year. Most happily for society, individual interest is, in 
these cases, so closely and intimately interwoven with the public 
interest, that one cannot gain or lose without a gain or loss to 
the other. The man who refuses to send his corn to market when it 
is at £20 a load, because he thinks that in two months time it 
will be at £30, if he be right in his judgement, and succeed in 
his speculation, is a positive and decided benefactor to the 
state; because he keeps his supply to that period when the state 
is much more in want of it; and if he and some others did not 
keep it back in that manner, instead of its being £30 in two 
months, it would be £40 or £50. 

If he be wrong in his speculation, he loses perhaps very 
considerably himself, and the state suffers a little; because, 
had he brought his corn to market at £20, the price would have 
fallen sooner, and the event showed that there was corn enough in 
the country to allow of it: but the slight evil that the state 
suffers in this case is almost wholly compensated by the glut in 
the market, when the corn is brought out, which makes the price 
fall below what it would have been otherwise. 

I am far from saying that there can be no such thing as 
monopoly, and the other hard words that have been so much talked 
of. In a commodity of a confined nature, within the purchase of 
two or three large capitals, or of a company of merchants, we all 
know that it has often existed; and, in a very few instances, the 
article may have been in part destroyed, to enhance the price, as 
the Dutch Company destroyed the nutmeg trees in their spice 
islands: but in an article which is in so many hands as corn is, 
in this country, monopoly, to any pernicious extent, may safely 
be pronounced impossible. Where are the capitals, or where is the 
company of merchants, rich enough to buy such a quantity of corn, 
as would make it answer to them to destroy, or, which is the same 
thing, not to sell a great part of it? As they could not, by the 
greatest of exertions, purchase one fourth of all the corn in the 
country, it is evident that, if any considerable part of their 
stock remained unsold, they would have enriched all the other 
dealers in corn at their own expense; and would not have gained 
half so much in proportion to their capital as the rest of the 
farmers and cornfactors. If on the contrary all their stock sold, 
it would be a proof that the speculation had been just, and that 
the country had really benefited by it. 

It seems now to be universally agreed, that the stock of old 
corn remaining on hand at the beginning of the harvest this year 
was unusually small, notwithstanding that the harvest came on 
nearly a month soOner than could have been expected in the 
beginning of June. This is a clear, decided, and unanswerable
proof that there had been no speculations in corn that were 
prejudicial to the country. All that the large farmers and 
cornfactors had done, was to raise the corn to that price which 
excluded a sufficient number from their usual consumption, to 
enable the supply to last throughout the year. This price, 
however, has been most essentially and powerfully affected by the 
ability that has been given to the labouring poor, by means of 
parish allowances, of continuing to purchase wheat 
notwithstanding its extraordinary rise: and this ability must 
necessarily prevent the price of corn from falling very 
materially, till there is an actual glut in the market; for, 
while the whole stock will go off at £30 a load, it cannot, on 
any regular principle of trade, sink lower. I was in very great 
hopes, just before the harvest, that such a glut was about to 
take place; but it is now to be feared, from the nature of the 
present crop, that no such happy event can be hoped for during 
the year. 

I do not know whether I have convinced my reader that the 
cause which I have assigned of the present extraordinary price of 
provisions is adequate to the effect; but I certainly feel most 
strongly convinced of it myself; and I cannot but believe that, 
if he differ from me, it can only be in degree, and from thinking 
that the principle of parish allowances has not yet been carried 
far enough to produce any material effect. With regard to the 
principle itself, if it were really carried into execution, it 
appears to me capable almost of mathematical demonstration, that, 
granting a real scarcity of one fourth, which could not be 
remedied by importation, it is adequate to the effecting any 
height of price that the proportion of the circulating medium to 
the quantity of corn daily consumed would admit. 

It has often been proposed, and more than once I believe, in 
the House of Commons, to proportion the price of labour exactly 
to the price of provisions. This, though it would be always a bad 
plan, might pass tolerably in years of moderate plenty, or in a 
country that was in the habit of a considerable exportation of 
grain. But let us see what would be its operation in a real 
scarcity. We suppose, for the sake of the argument, that by law 
every kind of labour is to be paid accurately in proportion to 
the price of corn, and that the rich are to be assessed to the 
utmost to support those in the same manner who are thrown out of 
employment, and fall upon the parish. We allow the scarcity to be 
an irremediable deficiency of one fourth of all the provisions of 
the country. It is evident that, notwithstanding this deficiency, 
there would be no reason for economy in the labouring classes. 
The rise of their wages, or the parish allowances that they would 
receive, would enable them to purchase exactly the same quantity 
of corn, Or other provisions, that they did before, whatever 
their price might be. The same quantity would of course be 
consumed; and, according to the regular principles of trade, as 
the stock continued diminishing, the price of all the necessaries 
of life would continue rising, in the most rapid and unexampled 
manner. The middle classes of society would very soon be blended 
with the poor; and the largest fortunes could not stand against 
the accumulated pressure of the extraordinary price of 
provisions, on the one hand, and the still more extraordinary 
assessments for allowances to those who had no other means of 
support, On the other. The cornfactors and farmers would 
undoubtedly be the last that suffered, but, at the expiration of 
the three quarters of a year, what they received with one hand, 
they must give away with the other; and a most complete levelling 
of all property would take place. All would have the same 
quantity of money. All the provisions of the country would be 
consumed: and all the people would starve together. 

There is no kind of fear, that any such tragical event should 
ever happen in any country; but I allowed myself to make the 
supposition; because, it appears to me, that, in the complicated 
machinery of human society, the effect of any particular 
principle frequently escapes from the view, even of an attentive 
observer, if it be not magnified by pushing it to extremity. 

I do not, however, by any means, intend to infer, from what I 
have said, that the parish allowances have been prejudicial to 
the state; or that, as far as the system has been hitherto 
pursued, or is likely to be pursued, in this country, that it is 
not one of the best modes of relief that the circumstances of the 
case will admit. The system of the poor laws, in general, I 
certainly do most heartily condemn, as I have expressed in 
another place, but I am inclined to think that their operation in 
the present scarcity has been advantageous to the country. The 
principal benefit which they have produced, is exactly that which 
is most bitterly complained of - the high price of all the 
necessaries of life. The poor cry out loudly at this price; but, 
in so doing, they are very little aware of what they are about; 
for it has undoubtedly been owing to this price that a much 
greater number of them has not been starved. 

It was calculated that there were only two thirds of an 
average crop last year. Probably, even with the aid of all that 
we imported, the deficiency still remained a fifth or sixth. 
Supposing ten millions of people in the island; the whole of this 
deficiency, had things been left to their natural course, would 
have fallen almost exclusively on two, or perhaps three millions 
of the poorest inhabitants, a very considerable number of whom 
must in consequence have starved. The operation of the parish 
allowances, by raising the price of provisions so high, caused 
the distress to be divided among five or six millions, perhaps, 
instead of two or three, and to be by no means unfelt even by the 
remainder of the population. 

The high price, therefore, which is so much complained of by 
the poor, has essentially mitigated their distress by bringing 
down to their level two or three millions more, and making them 
almost equal sharers in the pressure of the scarcity. 

The further effects of the high price have been to enforce a 
strict economy in all ranks of life; to encourage an 
extraordinary importation, and to animate the farmer by the 
powerful motive of self interest to make every exertion to obtain 
as great a crop as possible the next year. 

If economy, importation, and every possible encouragement to 
future production, have not the fairest chance of putting an end 
to the scarcity, I confess myself at a loss to say what better 
means can be substituted. I may undoubtedly on this subject be 
much mistaken; but to me, I own, they appear more calculated to 
answer the purpose intended, than the hanging any number of 
farmers and cornfactors that could be named. 

No inference, therefore, is meant to be drawn against what 
has been done for the relief of the poor in the present scarcity, 
though it has without doubt greatly raised the price of 
provisions. All that I contend for is, that we should be aware of 
the effect of what we ourselves have done, and not lay the blame 
on the wrong persons. 

If the cause, which I have detailed, be sufficient to account 
for the present high price of provisions, without the supposition 
of any unfair dealing among the farmers and cornfactors, we ought 
surely to bear the present pressure like men labouring under a 
disorder that must have its course, and not throw obstacles in 
the way of returning plenty, and endanger the future supplies of 
our markets, by encouraging the popular clamour, and keeping the 
farmers and corn dealers in perpetual fear for their lives and 

To suppose that a year of scarcity can pass without 
distressing severely a large part of the inhabitants of a 
country, is to suppose a contradiction in the nature of things. I 
know of no other definition of a scarcity than the failure of the 
usual quantity of provisions; and if a great part of the people 
Had but just enough before, they must undoubtedly have less than 
enough at such a period. With regard to the scarcity being 
artificial, it appears to me so impossible, that, till it has 
been proved that some man Or set of men, with a capital of twenty 
or thirty millions sterling, has bought up half the corn in the 
country, I own I must still disbelieve it. On this subject, 
however, I know that I differ from some very respectable friends 
of mine, among the common people, who say that it is quite 
impossible that there can be a real scarcity, because you may get 
what quantity of corn you please, if you have but money enough; 
and to say the truth, many persons, who ought to be better 
informed, argue exactly in the same way. I have often talked with 
labouring men on this subject, and endeavoured to show them, that 
if they, or I, had a great deal of money, and other people had 
but little, we could undoubtedly buy what quantity of corn we 
liked, by taking away the shares of those who were less rich; but 
that if all the people had the same sum, and that there was not 
enough corn in the country to supply all, we could not get what 
we wanted for money, though we possessed millions. I never found, 
however, that my rhetoric produced much impression. 

The cry at present is in favour of small farms, and against 
middle men. No two clamours can well be more inconsistent with 
each other, as the destruction of the middle men would, I 
conceive, necessarily involve with it the destruction of small 
farmers. The small farmer requires a quick return of his scanty 
capital to enable him to pay his rent and his workmen; and must 
therefore send his corn to market almost immediately after 
harvest. If he were required to perform the office of corn 
dealer, as well as farmer, and wait to regulate his supplies to 
the demands of the markets, a double capital would be absolutely 
necessary to him, and not having that, he would be ruined.

Many men of sense and information have attributed the 
dearness of provisions to the quantity of paper in circulation. 
There was undoubtedly great reason for apprehension, that when, 
by the stoppage of the Bank to pay in specie, the emission of 
paper ceased to have its natural check, the circulation would be 
overloaded with this currency; but this certainly could not have 
taken place to any considerable extent without a sensible 
depreciation of bank notes in comparison with specie. As this 
depreciation did not happen, the progress of the evil must have 
been slow and gradual, and never could have produced the sudden 
and extraordinary rise in the price of provisions which was so 
sensibly felt last year, after a season of moderate cheapness, 
subsequent to the stoppage of the Bank. 

There is one circumstance, however, that ought to be attended 
to. To circulate the same, or nearly the same,(2*) quantity of 
commodities through a country, when they bear a much higher 
price, must require a greater quantity of the medium, whatever 
that may be. The circulation naturally takes up more. It is 
probable, therefore, that the Bank has found it necessary to 
issue a greater number of its notes on this account. Or, if it 
has not, this deficiency has been supplied by the country 
bankers, who have found that their notes now stay out longer, and 
in greater quantity, than they did before the scarcity, which may 
tempt many to overtrade their capitals. If the quantity of paper, 
therefore, in circulation has greatly increased during the last 
year, I should be inclined to consider it rather as the effect 
than the cause of the high price of provisions. This fullness of 
circulating medium, however, will be one of the obstacles in the 
way to returning cheapness. 

The public attention is now fixed with anxiety towards the 
meeting of Parliament, which is to relieve us from our present 
difficulties; but the more considerate do not feel very sanguine 
on this subject, knowing how little is to be done in this species 
of distress by legislative interference. We interfere to fix the 
assize of bread. Perhaps one of the best interferences of the 
legislature, in the present instance, would be to abolish that 
assize. I have certainly no tendency to believe in combinations 
and conspiracies; but the great interval that elapses between the 
fall of wheat and the fall of flour, compared with the quick 
succession of the rise of flour to the rise of wheat, would 
almost tempt one to suppose, that there might be some little 
management in the return of the meal weighers to the Lord Mayor. 
If the public suffer in this instance, it is evidently owing to 
the assize, without which, the opportunity of any such management 
would not exist. And what occasion can there be for an assize in 
a city like London, in which there are so many bakers? if such a 
regulation were ever necessary, it would appear to be most so in 
a country village or small town, where perhaps there is but one 
person in the trade, and who might, therefore, for a time, have 
an opportunity of imposing on his customers; but this could not 
take place where there was such room for competition as in 
London. If there were no assize, more attention would be 
constantly paid to the weight and quality of the bread bought; 
and the bakers who sold the best in these two respects would have 
the most custom. The removal of this regulation would remove, in 
a great measure, the difficulty about brown bread, and a much 
greater quantity of it would probably be consumed. 

The soup shops, and every attempt to make a nourishing and 
palatable food of what was before not in use among the common 
people, must evidently be of great service in the present 

It is a fact now generally acknowledged, and it has lately 
received an official sanction in a letter of the Duke of Portland 
to the Lord Lieutenant of the county of Oxford, that of late 
years, even in the best seasons, we have not grown corn 
sufficient for our own consumption; whereas, twenty years ago, we 
were in the constant habit of exporting grain to a very 
considerable amount. Though we may suppose that the agriculture 
of the country has not been increasing, as it ought to have done, 
during this period; yet we cannot well imagine that it has gone 
backwards. To what then can we attribute the present inability in 
the country to support its inhabitants, but to the increase of 
population? I own that I cannot but consider the late severe 
pressures of distress on every deficiency in Our crops, as a very 
strong exemplification of a principle which I endeavoured to 
explain in an essay published about two years ago, entitled, An 
essay on the principle of population, as it affects the future 
improvement of society. It was considered by many who read it, 
merely as a specious argument, inapplicable to the present state 
of society; because it contradicted some preconceived opinions on 
these subjects. Two years' reflection have, however, served 
strongly to convince me of the truth of the principle there 
advanced, and of its being the real cause of the continued 
depression and poverty of the lower classes of society, of the 
total inadequacy of all the present establishments in their 
favour to relieve them, and of the periodical returns of such 
seasons of distress as we have of late experienced. 

The essay has now been out of print above a year; but I have 
deferred giving another edition of it in the hope of being able 
to make it more worthy of the public attention, by applying the 
principle directly and exclusively to the existing state of 
society, and endeavouring to illustrate the power and 
universality of its operation from the best authenticated 
accounts that we have of the state of other countries. Particular 
engagements in the former part of the time, and some most 
unforeseen and unfortunate interruptions latterly, have hitherto 
prevented me from turning my attention, with any effect, towards 
this subject. I still, however, have it in view. In the meantime 
I hope that this hasty attempt to add my mite to the public stock 
of information, in the present emergency, will be received with 


1. I am describing what took place in the neighbourhood where I 
then lived, and I have reason to believe that something nearly 
similar took place in most counties of the kingdom. 

2. In a scarcity the quantity of commodities in circulation is probably not so great as in years of plenty.