Population and Technology in Preindustrial Europe

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Citation: Ester Boserup (1987) Population and Technology in Preindustrial Europe. Population and Development Review (RSS)




Tagged: uw-madison (RSS), wisconsin (RSS), sociology (RSS), demography (RSS), prelim (RSS), qual (RSS), WisconsinDemographyPrelimAugust2009 (RSS), population (RSS), history of technology (RSS)


Summary:

From ancient times, growth of population and increase of urbanization have provided incentives to technological improvements in agriculture, either by transfer of technology from one region to another, or by inventions in response to urgent demand for increase of output, either of land, or labor, or both. 1983. There was an escape from the Malthusian population trap. Technological improvement in agriculture could raise the productivity of land and labor, thus making it possible to feed a larger population. But, unless technological change in agriculture was rapid, as it is in industrialized societies, the escape was assumed to be only temporary, because the surplus created by technological progress would be "eaten up" by further population increase, due to improved nutrition. This neo-Malthusian theory is unrealistic for these reasons: 1. Technological progress in agriculture would not result in further pop growth in cases where factors other than insufficient food supply were the effective restraints on pop. 2. The malnourished were always the poor, and they would sometimes lose more than they gained by changes in agricultural technology, at least in the short run. 3. The Malthusian theory overlooks the effect of population increase on technological change. Such technological change is often a result of research promoted by fear of rapid population growth. Population increase has 2 different effects on systems of production: 1. diminishing returns; 2. possibility to build, finance physical and human infrastructure.