What is a Boserup model



One of Thomas Robert Malthus published theory was that there is a direct relationship between supply or agricultural productivity and population growth [Malthus 1798].

The thesis of Ester Boserup, on the other hand, was that, on the contrary, productivity and development tend to be based on the factor of a high population and that population growth is an autonomous process [Boserup 1965].
The population explosion in post-war Asia was not due to higher agricultural yields, but rather despite their stagnation.

Is it really such an "important question" whether high population density is the result or the cause of agricultural intensification?

Malthus would be right if he described social upheaval as a result of technological labor savings.

But his pamphlet "On the principle of population" appeared as early as 1798 as a counter-argument to social reform efforts and the French Revolution, and above all at a time when there was still no trace of technological work facilitation.

The fact that a more advanced infrastructure leads to a denser population can only be confirmed using the example of urbanization or the example of cultural 'melting pots'.
However, these examples lag a little, because these agglomerations represent only a limited part of the anthropogenic ecosystem.

As an opposite effect, the temporary population decline in the Islamic Middle Ages in the regions of the early advanced civilizations would also support the Malthusian theorem. Social productivity declined due to long-term overuse.

Since the intensification of agriculture requires an increased input of labor, it is in all probability not the cause of the increase in the originally sparse population.

Intensification reduces the return on the hours worked. Population growth would therefore be microeconomically unprofitable.

However, the total income increases. Population growth would therefore be macroeconomically profitable.

There are also secondary effects:
1. the compulsion to work permanently,
2. The compulsion for new inventions like that of the modern machine world, which has increased the labor yield immensely compared to the initial phase of intensification.

Unfortunately, this epochal transformation of social productivity through technological work performance is not taken into account in Ms. Boserup's analysis. It is likely to be the real cause of an exponential population increase and thus confirm Malthus.


Population dynamics and population explosion

Malthus and Kenneth Boulding made the pessimistic prognosis that a population explosion can only be stopped by hunger, disease or violence [Glantz 1994].

The population explosion problem is still being euphemized rather than threatened. Many children are a means of retirement provision and to make work easier in agricultural societies.
Even this consideration is implausible, since these societies are already shortage societies that can actually neither feed the children nor the parents.

In some societies having children was a social necessity to overcome interpersonal competition.

The actually relevant aspect of having a large number of children is mostly covered up, namely that it is an act of political ideology: having large numbers of children becomes a status symbol that is intended to signal that there is a strong people or a successful clan here; - and above all, this people and this clan will prevail against others!

Since it is not just a question of demotic population increases, but also an increase in the number of clans, having a large number of children is also the tool of a hidden matriarchy.

It is possible that the political ideologues of large societies are fueling the hope that, with the help of children, control over societies with fewer children could ultimately be achieved - and this option has indeed played a role in history, albeit to the disadvantage of culture and the environment.


The productivity of the population

A growing population creates the need to increase the productivity of the spaces it uses.

Conversely, increased productivity also feeds a denser population; Their demographic pressure is causing the traditional, poorly populated subsistence groups to be displaced. [Diamond 1998]
In New Guinea, the tribes with contact with the outside world and its resources expanded at the expense of the other tribes.

Ester Boserup's analysis of the sustainability of pre-industrial agricultural societies from 1965 comes to the conclusion that technological change is causally linked to population growth. (Which suggests a certain haste in technical innovation under the pressure of population growth.)

But if population growth in near-natural societies was not already low within the group, then it was curbed by hunger, disease and violence. In such populations there was no need for technical progress.

One could derive from this the idea that only populous countries can be technologically and culturally innovative. Apparently, however, it may be the other way around. Even the most innovative new developments are wiped out by excessive population growth - the most benevolent technical-cultural invention would simply be to restrict population growth.

With very rapid population growth, the exploitation of nature is also accelerated, which was observed in the agricultural revolution of the 18th century in Western Europe [Boserup 1965]. It doesn't make much difference whether this is done solely through intensifying work or through the use of technology.

There are deviations from the certainly plausible Boserup model of intensification through demographic growth.

The environmental conditions are just as important as the productivity of the population.

1. The development of large areas of the earth by European settlers is an obvious counter-model to the need for intensification of use in the overpopulated Old World. And this expansive-extensive situation has also brought about great technological innovations!

2. The most intensive methods of cultivation were naturally only used to a limited extent in terms of area, while much larger areas continued to be used only sporadically or by slash and burn. In Sweden, slash and burn is said to have been common in sparsely populated landscapes until the beginning of the 20th century [Boserup 1965].

3. In general, intensification potentials, as they are listed below, have not been present everywhere in agricultural history:
- the possibility of slash and burn in fertile forest ecosystems,
- the possibility of irrigation and fertilization with river sediments,
- the possibility of cultivating the soil with a plow pulled by domesticated animals (with positive feedback from animal manure),
- the possibility of technical transformation with the help of fossil energy and the chemical industry.


Concentration of productivity

Just as populous areas are forced to invest, poorly populated areas are not able to invest at all [Boserup 1965].

In her endeavor to support the thesis of the economic benefits of population growth, Ester Boserup, however, withheld a simple investment tool: the concentration of the population in otherwise sparsely populated areas.
The archaeological findings of the Middle East show that urbanization accompanied the earliest stages of agriculture, and technical advances were achieved through local population concentrations as early as the early Stone Age.

The available land resources are probably large enough to take advantage of the lower per capita investment in labor due to strong population growth [Boserup 1965].

However, it is also about the quality of these areas - neither agricultural landscapes that have been degraded to deserts nor a destroyed technological landscape can feed dense populations.

The benefits of "social aggregations" of populous areas have often been achieved through the enslavement of certain populations who have been forced to take on the burdens of the "division of labor" [Boserup 1965, Ch.8].

Such enslavement can be enforced by the fact that certain elites prevent the general population from exercising self-determined activities while exercising traditional land rights.

Women in the polygamous societies of Africa are actually slaves who have to do the work both in the house and in the farm [Boserup 1965]. On the other hand, Africa is one of the few areas of the world where women have been and will be given the responsibility of royalty.

A high or accelerated by the tribal ideology population growth could be used by certain tribes to abuse others as slaves to maintain their dominant social community; one even claims to have seen a show of inaction (and inability) of the warring tribes ...

The slave robbery created a concentration of populations at the expense of the slash and burn cultures, which were weakened militarily in this way.
In Africa, slave robbery has also led to the accessible regions becoming more and more deserted - and uncultivated.
[Boserup 1965, Ch.8]

Ester Boserup explains here that the forced population increase through slavery was the preliminary stage of technology and civilization.
On the other hand, progress is more likely to come from moderate population growth and a peaceful exchange of technologies.


Feudalism and Growth

Feudal lords have the greatest interest in a dense working population because it increases their income.

The author advocates the theory that the feudal household with its soldiers, servants and artisan producers of luxury goods weakened agricultural labor productivity by depriving people of the harvest in addition to the harvest; this created poverty. [Boserup 1965, Ch.11]

If, moreover, one can trace feudalism back to the deliberate military expansion and enslavement through the growth of one's own population group, then one has named the cause of misery and hunger at the same time.

Feudal rule can only prosper if there is a continuously growing population that takes care of taxes, soldiers and the court. This feudal model of economic activity still forms the basis of the economic theory of the necessity of economic growth today.

The feudal lord and economic functionary hope to benefit from a concentration of the population and an intensification of productivity.

The simulation of statehood by an overlord and local governors will lead to an exploitative centralism and, through its local representatives, to the abuse of their position. [Boserup 1965, Ch.11]

The exploitative claim to power can go so far that the necessary investments in agricultural production are neglected. For this reason, compulsory labor for the construction and maintenance of irrigation systems in the Middle East was one of the more sensible investments.

The business conduct of the early Scandinavians was particularly interesting from a social and pathological point of view, whose hostile takeover of all valuables and trade flows that were within reach of their ships amounted to a negative invasion - negative because they were not really demographically present. Unfortunately, this business practice has largely been adopted by the so-called Anglo-Saxon world.

The colonial powers were only interested in very specific economic areas and left the rest of society to local feudal lords.

The politically desired technification is, of course, to a certain extent a virtual concentration of the population or workers.

It could thus give rise to a deliberate slowdown in population growth.

Obviously, on the contrary, technology creates an incentive to increase one's own gender to unprecedented dimensions with the help of the newly acquired power over a machine park willing to serve ...
Another new aspect is the profit prospects for the technologies willing to serve, which meet the numerous people with feudal tendencies.



Thomas Robert Malthus: The Population Law; ed. and transl. by Christian M. Barth (London original edition, 1798). Munich, 1977.

Ester Boserup: The conditions of agricultural growth - The economics of agrarian change under population pressure. London, 1965 (reprinted 1993).

M.H. Glantz (ed.): Drought follows the plow - cultivating marginal areas. Cambridge Univ. Press, New York, 1994.

Jared Diamond: Rich and poor - The fate of human societies. Frankfurt, 1998.