Malthusian Catastrophe

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While mass famine is ultimately what Malthusian Crisises boil down to, in the modern age, if supplies can't get through to those that don't farm their own food, gasoline shortages are just as fatal

A Malthusian catastrophe (also called a Malthusian check, crisis, disaster, or nightmare) is a theoretical model of a worst case economic scenario. Quite simply it is when a society reaches a point where it cannot provide enough food, money, or other basic necessities for itself, and therefore, those people without access to sustinence either perish, or resort to violent crime to obtain them (usually both).


Based on the work of political economist Thomas Malthus, Malthusian Theory was originally referencing the possibility to be a forced return to subsistence-level conditions once population growth had outpaced agricultural production. Malthus believed that unless something was done about immigrants and overpopulation of the poor, the nations of 19th century Europe could fall to a radical coup by the starving, teeming masses. Later formulations consider economic growth limits as well. The term is also commonly used in discussions of oil depletion.

Modern Day ApplicationsEdit

While breakthroughs in Agriculture and Chemistry have allowed nations to sustain greater and greater populations, these populations depend on heavy industry (many of which ship their products from overseas), electricity, and most of all, oil. While Malthusian Theory is a global macroeconomic theory, it does dictate that a comparitively small fluctuation in supply can quickly snowball into a much larger problem, as those who cannot receive the supplies they need, will resort to panic and violence that can spread infectiously, and ultimately excessively.

For example, if foreign oil shipments to the United States were to suddenly decrease (obviously well past the point of the 1973 Oil Crisis, and the bottom 5% of working class Americans (per capita) were not able to afford enough oil to work, then the companies they work for would immediately suffer from a lack of productivity. Many of these 5% would resort to other means to make ends meet making it difficult for an additional few percentage points of Americans to sustain themselves. Fear of these neighborhoods would deter otherwise well-off Americans to avoid these areas, both physically, and financially (as the companies here are obviously a poor investment). These, and countless other factors, could keep the vicious cycle going until supplies even themselves out. By then, many times more than the 5% who could not afford to sustain themselves will have had their homes, means of living, and perhaps even lives destroyed.

Outside of the hypothetical, China's Great Leap Forward, and The USSR's Famine of 1932 may be considered examples of this theory in action (though typically, it is referenced in regards to overabundance of demand due to overpopulation, or sudden scarcity of supply).

In Zombie ScenariosEdit

In a full fledged Zombie Apocalypse, some of the same themes can be seen. Scavenging for survival (especially over generations) is a hallmark of a Malthusian Catastrophe. Because the streets aren't safe, no one can produce or provide food, power, maintenance on roads, bridges, or buildings, except in small pockets. Since the dead not only cannot provide labor, but also greatly prohibit it, the problem is quickly compounded.

In Max Brooks' World War Z, the mass migration of Americans to the Canadian Tundra, the Russian Anti-Zombie Campaign, and perhaps even the floating oceanic communities show evidence of this inevitable effect. However, because nations so quickly have less and less people to mobilize and provide for (making scavenger runs more effective), and work to restructure their economies, most governments were generally able to keep this factor under control. Nevertheless, it can be assumed that during and following The Great Panic, neighbors would kill neighbors for their food, shelter, ammunition, medicine, or just out of paranoia or the breakdown of law and order. Likewise, grim mass suicides to avoid the horror of the incoming horde were also plentiful. These are common signs in a Malthusian Crisis.

Another key theme Malthusian Catastrophes have in common with greater Zombie fiction as a whole is the promotion of paranoia and antisocial or phobic behavior in regards to one's neighbors being out to get one's self, or 'consume' them (or what their life depends on). George Romero is often quoted as saying...

"Neighbors are scary, and when they're dead they're a bit scarier. If I did anything, maybe I came up with that guy, that form of it."

In Other Fiction Edit

An impact, volcanic, or nuclear winter provides the ultimate in Malthusian Catastrophes, as diminished sunlight renders the entire planet inhospitable to life, as seen in The Road. The Mad Max films form another more well known, and more ecologically and economically obvious depiction of a Malthusian Crisis

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