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It was, as various writers have noted since, a “tract for the times”—a pamphlet published anonymously in 1798 by a young and unknown pastor, challenging the Enlightenment giants and taking a harsh stand on welfare policy in Britain. Its central point was that the prime driver of societal ill is population's tendency to outgrow food production. Its strengths, as its later adherents saw it, were unflinching honesty and scientific legwork; the result, as economist Alfred Marshall later put it, was “one of the most crushing answers that patient and hardworking science has ever given to the reckless assertions of its adversaries.” By its second edition it was no longer anonymous: the name Thomas Robert Malthus was attached to the work, and this name has ever ...

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