The Age of Malthusian Industrialism

Anatoly Karlin’s idea of The Age of Malthusian Industrialism (hereafter, AoMI) is the hypothetical future which will emerge given no dramatic, world-changing technological breakthroughs: no artificial intelligence comparable with that of humans, no anti-aging tech, no or minimal genetic engineering of humans. There will no doubt be further technological advances, solar panels will get marginally more efficient, crop yields will increase, but nothing so dramatic as to shock anyone alive today, or even a decade or two ago. The world continues as it does and future generations live as most humans have throughout history: with minimal technological change during their lifetimes. In this scenario, natural selection goes to work to bring fertility back above replacement-level, and continues to act in this way until the world reaches it’s true carrying capacity, this assumes there is no population control measures sufficient to prevent it. The world becomes “Malthusian,” as it was throughout most of human history.

There has been little effort put into investigating the AoMI, in either academia or science fiction. The most detailed investigation is Anatoly Karlin’s AoMI series. While visions of an overcrowded, Malthusian world are common in science fiction, they generally assumed that it is imminent at the time the works were written, often a generation away. Usually, they assumed that population growth was “natural” unless prevented by governments, and thus the inhabitants of these crowded worlds were no different than their ancestors. The AoMI, in contrast, recognizes that the natural state of industrial humans is fertility close to or below 2.0. Natural selection will be required to change humans to want more children, which will change them in other ways as well. The inhabitants of the age of Malthusian industrialism,(“Malthdustrials”) will differ psychologically from their ancestors, in ways which will affect their world. This post attempts to describe this world in some detail, its origin, characteristics, and eventual end.

How, When, and How Many?

The true ecological carrying capacity of the Earth for humans, with current technology, is far higher than the 7.53 billion people alive today. By “true ecological carrying capacity” I mean the possible human population the Earth can support with current technology, period. I don’t mean the population the Earth can support without ecological damage to other species or at first-world living standards. Karlin estimates the population of the AoMI at around 100 billion. This assumes continued progress in crop yields but no dramatic technological breakthroughs.

Once we establish this limit, the next question is how quickly will we get to it, which requires calculating how fast fertility should be expected to rise due to natural selection. This requires an estimate for heritability of fertility. For fertility, h^2 is around .30. The breeder’s equation allows us to calculate the expected fertility of the children from the fertility of the parents. Since fertility for individuals is always an integer, we only need to take the groups of parents with an integer number of children. Thus, with a mean fertility of 1.8 and a narrow-sense heritability of .3, the expected fertility of the next generation is as follows:

Individuals with 0 kids: 1.8 + (0-1.8)*.3 = 1.26
Individuals with 1 kid: 1.8 + (1-1.8)*.3 = 1.56
Individuals with 2 kids: 1.8 + (2-1.8)*.3 = 1.86
Individuals with 3 kids: 1.8 + (3-1.8)*.3 = 2.16

The “individuals with 0 kids” data point is of course hypothetical, as there will be no “second generation.” As you can see, all groups regress toward the mean. But to determine the population movement, one must have estimates of how many people in a population have integer numbers of kids. Modelling this using a poisson distribution, which has been shown to be reasonably accurate and has been cited in past studies with the fertility rate of the parental generation as the average, one can get how many out of the original population will be expected to have how many kids. To see it more clearly, take a number of women in the first generation(1,000,000) and put it in the equation(as you’ll see, we can later take it out):

Number of people whose mother had 0 kids = 1,000,000 * poisson(0, 1.8) * 0 = 0

Number of people whose mother had 1 kid = 1,000,000 * poisson(1, 1.8) * 1 = 297,540

Number of people whose mother had 2 kids = 1,000,000 * poisson(2, 1.8) * 2 = 535,560

Number of people whose mother had 3 kids  = 1,000,000 * poisson(3, 1.8) * 3 = 482,010

Add all of these up and we eventually get 1,800,000 children, returning us the ratio of 1.8 children per woman. To calculate the fertility rat of the new generation, take the fertility numbers provided by the breeder’s equation, multiply them by the number of children, then divide them by the total number of children. Thus you get:

CodeCogsEqn (2)

As you can see, the population size can be taken out of the equation, replaced with:

CodeCogsEqn (15)

Where x is the starting average fertility and h is the narrow-sense heritability. Continue with re-arranging the the equation:

CodeCogsEqn (6)

CodeCogsEqn (7)

CodeCogsEqn (9)

CodeCogsEqn (10)

CodeCogsEqn (12)

CodeCogsEqn (13)

CodeCogsEqn (14).gif

Thus, with heritability h, the fertility rate should increase by h children per generation. In theory. It doesn’t seem to have predicted the past very well. This kind of heritability calculation works only when environmental conditions are constant, which they haven’t been in the past 100 years. It is not just that environmental conditions are continually repressing fertility, but that traits that affect fertility in a positive manner in one generation may affect it in a negative manner in the following generation. For instance, Peter Frost has pointed out that the lifetime number of sexual partners men had had a negative influence on reproductive success for men born before 1920, a positive affect for men born from 1920 to 1939, and a negative effect for men born after 1939. The pendulum swung back and forth, due to social and technological changes.

A more stable world will make adaption easier, and we should expect a more stable world during the lead-up to the AoMI, as technological change slows and with it, so does social change. Throughout most of human history, social change was rare and gradual. Every once in a while there’d be a social revolution, but for the average farmer before 1800 it was most likely that his grandchildren would work the same kind of work his grandparents did, would practice the same religion, and live in the same place.

Supposing the world reaches “stability” of this kind around 2070 with a population of 9 billion, a fertility rate of 1.8 and the narrow-sense heritability in this environment being .3, it will take around 8 generations to crash into the Malthusian limit of 100 billion people, doing so at a fertility rate of 4.2. At this point, each generation will be twice the size of the previous one, and the crash may be relatively sudden and violent. Change the narrow-sense heritability to .15 and it will take 12 generations with a fertility rate of 3.6 for the crashing generation. With a heritability of .1, it will take 15 generations at 3.3.

If the world population crashes into the carrying capacity with a high birth-rate, the crash will be sudden, and may take whole societies by surprise. Most harmed will be those who reached their own Malthusian limit a generation or two before the world as a whole did and now rely on imported food, the price of which would skyrocket. The food-exporting countries, assuming they have sufficient economic power to sustain their agricultural sectors without trade and military power to resist foreign aggression, will do great, forming islands of relative wealth. However, if they do not control their own population growth rate, they will regress to the planetary average.

The Psychological Profile of Malthdustrials

In lead-up to the AoMI in the Western world, civilization will still be fairly advanced, the average person relatively wealthy, then, as now, the main selection pressure will be on fertility, not the ability to survive. In modern societies, there are two different reproductive strategies proving to be successful:

(1) a strategy associated with socially conservative values, including a high commitment to the bearing of children within marriage; and
(2) a strategy associated with antisocial behavior, early sexual experimentation, a variety of sexual partners, low educational attainment, low commitment to marriage, haphazard pregnancies, and indifference to politics. 

While the strategies are unique, the groups will not be fully separate, rather, these groups will see their children leave the milieus they grew up in, mixing with mainstream society and one another. In some cases, as in their attitude to extra-marital childbearing, the attitudes of these groups will be opposed, while in other cases they will converge in viewpoint, if only for different reasons, such as a disdain for the lifestyle and beliefs of the urban SWPL. If the primary reason fertility is low despite an abundance of resources is because people are trying to climb the latter of social status, trying to get more money and live in a better neighborhood, trying to attract the highest quality of mate, (or quantity of mates) then natural selection will act against those who play this game, promoting the genes of those who do not care about it or those too incompetent to play it well. Though the particularities of “the game” differ by culture, it can be recognizably found in many different cultures, and accounts for the fact that the correlation between fertility and intelligence is negative everywhere.

All else being equal, Malthdustrials in the beginning of their era will be less materialistic and careerist and will have a greater aversion to urban living.(As their planet will be crowded and they will be poor, they will not be able to put this preference into practice.) Just as they will be adapted to resist mainstream society’s status game, they will also resist counter-cultural status games that lead to a lack of reproductive success, such as obsession with art, literature, extreme politics, chess, video-games, or whatever else gets in the way of family formation. They will be less intelligent, one can crudely calculate this based on an extrapolation of the number of generations in the lead-up to the AoMI and the number of IQ points lost to dysgenics in each generation. An Icelandic study estimated the decline in intelligence per 30-year generation at .9, with 12 generations until the age of Malthusian industrialism, this equates to an IQ decline of 11 points. A decline that is this high will be easily noticeable by any modern time-traveler, and will reduce the quality of institutions significantly.

Economic Conditions

In the AoMI, more effort will be directed into agriculture and food processing, as agriculture will be more intense. However, even if the percentage of the population needed to work on the now more labor-intense farms doubles, it will still be a fraction of the total population, as advanced countries require very little of their labor force to be engaged directly in agriculture. Of the non-agricultural tasks, more effort will be directed into supporting agriculture such as by maintaining irrigation pipes, manufacturing farm equipment, etc. As society will be poorer, there will be much less economic effort directed into leisure and signalling and more into manufacturing, construction, and essential services such as public health.

Malthdustrials will still live better than their pre-industrial ancestors. They will suffer minimally from infectious diseases, globalization of trade will assure that famine deaths, except in the poorest countries, will be minimal. Malthdustrials will eat a mostly vegetarian diet, but nutritionists will act to make sure it is a healthy vegetarian diet. Transportation will be more expensive for them than for us, but still much cheaper than for their farmer ancestors, allowing them to escape local natural disasters or political tyrant. Their work will be safer and less physically straining, though they might have to work longer hours as electrification will allow working time to expand into the evening.

During the world wars in advanced countries, most implemented rationing, which implies that rationing ought to be expected during the AoMI. Rationing will prevent the iron law of wages from lowering wages completely to subsistence, as if a group of workers is currently making more than subsistence wages, they will not be able to use the extra money to buy more food and birth more workers, though excess rationing may end up causing so much economic distortion as to make the situation worse. Rationing will be connected to population control, with nations that do not impose a clear limit simply giving people a share of ration-cards that, beyond a point, does not grow with the number of children in the family. Rationing, and the black markets which will grow to evade it, will be a ubiquitous theme in Malthdustrial culture.

Politics, Conflict, and Inequality

Democracy in the pre-industrial era was rare, and it’s tempting to think that, with the backsliding in wealth, it should become just as rare during the AoMI. However, there are factors which make democracy easier today that will still exist during the AoMI, such as cheap communication and travel over distances, widespread literacy,(which will be needed for most jobs) cheap-record keeping to assure fair elections, and labor unions which demand expanded suffrage. On the other hand, the decline in IQ due to dysgenics will make the maintenance of democratic institutions harder. All told, we should expect less democracy during the AoMI than during our own time, but more than during the farming era. What democracy exists will be more corrupt and clientistic.

Whether or not inequality in dollar terms will be higher or lower during the AoMI, the practical outcome of equality in access to food, healthcare, and leisure time will be much greater. This indicates that more social conflict should be expected, but not necessarily a permanently revolutionary atmosphere. The poor will see no point in rebelling if they expect the result to be several years of violence and disruption followed by the institution of a regime that is every bit as exploitative as the one they overthrew.

Making war for economic reasons will be more attractive in a poorer world, so we on this fact alone it should be expected to be more common than it is now, just as it was more common in the farming era. However, wars in the farming era were not as destructive of economic potential as wars are today, providing a greater incentive to avoid them. For the latter reason, I think the Malthdustrial equilibrium will be a series of great powers with client states arranged against one another, with nuclear and other WMDs in order to provide deterrence. This deterrence will not be foolproof, brinkmanship, accidents, and civil wars spilling over borders may turn the cold wars hot.

Jobs during the AoMI will require higher IQ floors than farming-era jobs, which will enforce some level of meritocracy which was absent during the farming era. Whereas the Kennedy clan can find a political role for all but the dumbest dynast, attempting to fill an engineering firm with Kennedy’s would lead to disaster. Then, as now, the labor of an engineer will be more valuable than the labor of a manual laborer, and in a natural market his wage would be higher. Because of this, we should expect efforts to suppress the wages for these kinds of jobs, justified by egalitarian rhetoric. We can see a similar phenomenon in the United States today, where political elites have organized the immigration of foreign engineers to drive down wages, while there has been no similar attempt to import foreign doctors, lawyers, or highly-paid managers.


A poorer society will care less for abstract political principles like liberty, privacy, diversity, tolerance, abstract forms of equality,(as opposed to clear-cut economic equality) respect, and empathy. More value will be put on economic prosperity and safety. Malthdustrials, thus, will be more open to policies which would offend moderns due to actual or perceived violations of these abstract principles. Although a poorer society cannot afford 1984-style surveillance, it will have less concern about the surveillance that does exist. Some Malthdustrial governments might force everyone to wear an identity badge on their clothing, similar to how we force cars to have license plates. Others might force auto-manufacturers to make cars which cannot exceed the speed limit; the fact that automobiles will be used less for personal transportation will also reduce their resistance to such a measure. Some countries might force everyone to provide a DNA sample to the government. Others might ban physical cash transactions to better collect taxes and prevent black-market trading. Punishment for crimes will be harsher, and prisoners will be used for forced labor.

It should be obvious that a poorer society will spend less on decoration and fashion. Clothing and architecture will be more functional and less decorative. We recognize these as stylistic choices, but what about the things we spend money on that we say we do for practicality, but in reality we do for style? These things should be expected to come under greater scrutiny during the AoMI. Less money will go to subsidize education and what subsidies it receives will be steered to teaching “practical” subjects. More of it will occur through the internet and less in-person. There will be movements to shorten the hours of primary and secondary education. Summer vacation may come under attack, with proposals to replace it with year-long education and then, taking advantage of the newly available instruction time, shorten the number of years of education.

Exit Strategies

The obvious exit strategy for the AoMI is population control through a one-child policy or similar. Less obvious exit strategies are the development of advanced technology such as artificial intelligence, though if this didn’t happen before the AoMI, it’s unlikely to happen during it unless it lasts for a far-longer period of time.

Though Malthdustrials will have a greater fertility preference than moderns, it will not be so great as to render them unable to resist whatever population control measures are imposed. Malthdustrials, remember, were selected against modernity and not against the pressures of population control as enforced by governments. Population control will be most effective in those countries with a high degree of social cohesion, where the people are supportive of the policy and believe the governments will enforce it fairly. Where societies are fractured and fear of government is more common, population control will be less effective, it will similarly be less effective where people believe for ideological reasons that it will not work. However, the countries which succeed in doing it will be a powerful argument against those which don’t. The AoMI, thus, will be unlikely to last more than a few generations.


In arguing about long-term future scenarios, about genetic engineering or artificial intelligence, about communist revolution or world government, the AoMI ought to be the “null hypothesis.” It is what will happen if nothing much changes technologically or politically, the only mental “leap” you must accept to conceive of it is to realize that natural selection applies to humans and their behaviors, a leap that should not be hard for any scientifically-minded person to take. Unfortunately, it is hard, another difficulty is the fact that no one alive today will live to see the AoMI. While people are very interested in the lives their children will lead, they are much less interested in their distant descendants. Still, if the AoMI does come to pass, Malthdustrials will be very interested in anyone who managed to successfully predict characteristics of their world.


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