Is Food Self-Sufficiency Conducive to Long-Term Growth? An Assessment of Malthus (1803) on the International Corn Trade

Rodolfo Signorino, Rodolfo Signorino, Neri Salvadori

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2 Citations (Scopus)


In this article, we have reconstructed Malthus’s views on growth and international corn trade in the second edition of his An Essay on the Principle of Population (1803) and shown their theoretical consistency with Malthus’s food self-sufficiency policy proposal advanced in Grounds of an Opinion on the Policy of Restricting the Importation of Foreign Corn ([1815] 1986b), the protectionist pamphlet that elicited Ricardo’s vehement reaction in “Essay on Profits.” Malthus’s (1803) main thesis was that the contemporary British unbalanced growth pattern was not viable. In order to avoid premature stagnation, he thought that Great Britain should both follow a pattern of balanced growth and pursue a policy of food self-sufficiency. To achieve such a goal, the British Parliament should provide adequate protection to British agriculture against foreign competition. We have shown how Malthus (1803) made recourse to three arguments to support his food self-sufficiency policy proposal, the large country argument, the national security argument, and the (international trade-induced) structural change argument. For each argument, we have exposed the implicit or ad hoc assumptions underlying Malthus’s chain of reasoning, and we have hinted at James Mill’s and David Ricardo’s rejections of Malthus’s arguments. Moreover, we have analyzed Malthus’s sources of theoretical inspiration, the French physiocrats and Adam Smith. In particular, we have shown how Malthus echoed a few theoretical arguments present in the Wealth of Nations that were in tune with his physiocratic leanings and consonant with his analysis of the long-term expediency of a food self-sufficiency policy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)113-136
Number of pages24
JournalHistory of Political Economy
Publication statusPublished - 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History
  • Economics and Econometrics

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