Knut Wicksell on Poverty: No Place Is Too Exalted

By Mats Lundahl | Go to book overview

5

Overpopulation, specialization, and trade

Overpopulation in Sweden

Knut Wicksell was strongly convinced that Sweden was severely overpopulated. The overpopulation concept he used was that of relative overpopulation (see below), and he argued that Sweden was a case in point. He had good reasons. Already during the eighteenth century, the Swedish population had begun to grow more rapidly than before. In 1800, the total population was 32 percent larger than fifty years earlier. This trend would continue during the nineteenth century. After 1810, the number of births increased by about 30 percent to the mid-1820s (1806-10 to 1821-5). At the same time the death rate declined, especially among children. Between 1825 and 1840, the size of the group aged fifteen to nineteen years increased by 50 percent, which in turn resulted in mass emigration and colonization of northern Sweden in the 1860s (Hofsten, 1986:164-75). Between 1858 and 1867, the number of births had increased considerably in Sweden, and the children born during that period had begun to enter the labor market toward the end of the 1870s-a period characterized by severe recession. The average number of births per family was presumably around four. At the same time, the mortality figure had declined, so that the number of surviving children per family had increased (Kock, 1944:76-7). From 1850 to 1900, the total population increased from less than 3.5 million to over 5.1 (Hofsten and Lundström, 1976:13).

Karin Kock (1944:81) summarizes the social situation that prevailed around the time when Wicksell began to take an interest in the population issue:

…a strong natural rate of population growth that was notable especially for the young who were entering the labor market, an out-migration of young people from agriculture to cities and industrial districts as well as abroad, increasing numbers of surviving children per family and a strongly increasing extramarital fertility, a low standard of living

-39-

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Knut Wicksell on Poverty: No Place Is Too Exalted
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page ix
  • Contents xiii
  • Preface xv
  • 1 - Introduction 1
  • 2 - Tumultuous Beginnings 8
  • 3 - The Causes of Population Growth 23
  • 4 - The Centerpiece of Wicksell's Theory 30
  • 5 - Overpopulation, Specialization, and Trade 39
  • 6 - Emigration 50
  • 7 - The Optimum Population 59
  • 8 - Wicksell's Views 69
  • 9 - Why Was Wicksell Accused of Lack of Originality? 86
  • Notes 105
  • References 109
  • Index 117
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