Jerry Bowyer wrote the article “Malthus and Scrooge: How Charles Dickens Put A Holly Branch Through The Heart Of The Worst Economics Ever” which examined Malthusian economic theory of Victorian England as seen through the lens of A Christmas Carol. While everything Bowyer mentions is true, we feel it is also important to recognize the religious aspects of Malthus’ theory and how these coincide with his views on population control.
Malthus theorizes that God created poverty so that people will not succumb to greed and help each other out. He thought that starvation was God’s test to see if you were a good moral person: if you are strong enough you will survive, and if not, society should not interfere with God’s will. On the flip side of the coin, it was thought that the upper class’s personal wealth and luxuries reflected their strong religious and moral standing.
An obvious connection of Malthus’ theory is to Darwin’s idea of “survival of the fittest.” Darwin’s Origin of Species was heavily influenced by Malthus’ An Essay on the Principle of Population. The irony of this lies in the Church’s later denunciation of Darwin’s work, despite the fact that its inspiration was drawn from the writings of a reverend.
Looking at his theory objectively, we feel that Malthus’ ideology was derived from the need of a religious explanation for the poor economic conditions of the time. This method not only provided an explanation for the aforementioned social issues, but also absolved the upper class of any responsibility for maintaining the health and safety of the lower classes. For this reason, the upper class was Malthus’ primary source of support. However it is worth noting that Malthus was heavily critical of the Poor Laws, claiming that they limited mobility of labor and provided lower classes with too much comfort. According to Malthus, workhouses were not harsh enough to galvanize the poor to rise above their situation.
Despite Malthus’ generally assoholic nature, he was willing to financially support children of the lower class by means of small allowances. In addition, he also showed great interest in what we now call the Industrial Revolution, however he feared that any technological advancements could not keep up with the increasing population.
Discussion Question: Malthusian economic theory is mentioned and criticized by Dickens in A Christmas Carol through Scrooge’s initial disregard for the fate of the “surplus population.” How does the religious aspect of Malthus’ views (that God created tough situations to test one’s morality) relate to and contrast with Dickens’ views on religion and its role during the Christmas season?
Discussion Question: In A Christmas Carol, Dickens creates a narrator who has a certain stance towards or outlook on the world, whose narration projects certain values and a certain disposition towards humanity. The narrator’s purpose in telling the story, one might say, is to promote that stance or outlook, those values, that disposition — and to discredit the very different outlook, values, disposition embodied in Scrooge. What words best characterize these opposing outlooks, values, and dispositions? How are the narrator’s outlook-values-disposition embodied in his narration? How are Scrooge’s embodied in his words and actions?