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Benjamin Franklin on Population: From Policy to Theory

Dennis Hodgson
Population and Development Review
Vol. 17, No. 4 (Dec., 1991), pp. 639-661
Published by: Population Council
DOI: 10.2307/1973600
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1973600
Page Count: 23
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Benjamin Franklin on Population: From Policy to Theory
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Abstract

There is a riddle in Franklin's treatment of population. He maintained that the tendency of populations to expand until checked by the lack of subsistence was a cause of European miseries, yet he advocated rapid population growth for the American colonies. When his population theory is highlighted, he appears as a Malthusian pessimist; when his population values are highlighted, he appears as an ardent expansionist. The contradictory elements in his writings are brought into accord by viewing them as the response of a generation to the distinctive situation it encountered. Franklin is assessed to be an advocate who shaped population theory to further the policy agenda of mid-eighteenth-century Americans. It is suggested that such a policy influence on theory is not unique to Franklin or his contemporaries.

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