The Malthusian Trap

Just imagine the situation…
You’re living in a village raising some corn and along comes a new fertilizer that doubles your production. All of a sudden you can afford to have a few more kids. And then the people down the way find out your land is producing bumper crops of corn and so they move in next door. And then they have a few more kids. Eventually the population will outgrow the food source, either through a natural disaster or other weather related effects on the crop, or from the sheer numbers of the population.  That’s the Malthusian Trap.

“The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man”—Robert Malthus, An Essay On The Principle Of Population.

The working idea that we ought to take away from the Malthusian Trap is that no matter how much “extra” we have in our lives, we’re gonna use it all. And then some.

I came to this realization while mowing the yard at our church building. I had skipped breakfast to have time to run up there and mow before I had to leave for work. And I was rushing around wishing for just one more hour in the day. I mean, why hadn’t God put 25 hours in the day? He sure could’ve if he’d’ve wanted to and it sure would’ve made my life a lot easier.

How arrogant is that? Eric, in all of his wisdom is cruising around on a riding lawnmower and assuming that he could’ve created the world just a liiiiiiittle bit better than God. And I realized that if God had wanted there to be 25 hours in a day, he would’ve just done it. God wants me to have 24 hours in a day, and that’s what he’s given me.

My problem wasn’t that I didn’t have enough hours in the day. My problem was that I’d fallen victim to the Malthusian Trap. I’d used up everything God had given me (24 hours in a day) and a little bit more.

I (we) don’t need more.  I (we) need to make better use of what we have.

And we live in a culture where we fall into this trap all the time. Not just with our time, but our money too. We are a country that lives on credit—because we always want to spend just a little more than what we have. A recent study suggests that Americans have over $880 billion (with a B) dollars in credit card debt. That’s around $15,000 per household. And those numbers don’t include mortgages, car notes or student loans. Just credit cards. Some of that debt is no doubt a result of emergency spending on the unexpected stuff that life can throw at you. But it’s also no doubt the result of Americans falling into the Malthusian Trap and spending more than they can produce.

We might not be starving to death from a potato blight anymore, but there’s no doubt in my mind that I’m (we’re) still victims of the Malthusian Trap.  And it’s our own fault.