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Taking Stock of Malthus: Modeling the Collapse of Historical Civilizations


  • Rafael Reuveny

    () (School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana 47405)


The collapse of historical civilizations has received much attention in archeology and anthropology. The findings are in line with the ideas of the classical economist Thomas Malthus, who envisioned a society in which environmental limits crucial for livelihood bind, leading to a Malthusian trap for the society. It is easy to dismiss Malthus as painting an unrealistic global future or to say that his forecast has so far not materialized, but the evolving problem of global warming provides reasons for concern. If our biosphere were to decline drastically due to global warming, no substitute could soon take our biosphere's place. If only to be prudent, it is incumbent upon us to take stock of Malthus. We can gain insight by considering the modeling literature on collapse in resource economics. The literature explains the evolution of the historical societies and attempts to solve their problem. This literature offers a gloomy outlook, although the situation is not hopeless. There are things we can do to avoid a Malthusian outcome for the global society.

Suggested Citation

  • Rafael Reuveny, 2012. "Taking Stock of Malthus: Modeling the Collapse of Historical Civilizations," Annual Review of Resource Economics, Annual Reviews, vol. 4(1), pages 303-329, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:anr:reseco:v:4:y:2012:p:303-329

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    Cited by:

    1. Roman, Sabin & Bullock, Seth & Brede, Markus, 2017. "Coupled Societies are More Robust Against Collapse: A Hypothetical Look at Easter Island," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 132(C), pages 264-278.


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