The Dismal Science

Many people know economics is commonly referred to as the “Dismal Science,” but why is this? Thanks to my History of Economic Ideas class, I now know why!

No, it’s not because economics is boring, as many people believe this is the reason. It actually begins in the 19th century with Thomas Malthus’ Essay on Population. In this book he talked about how population grows exponentially, while resources grow linearly. He concluded that because population would always grow more quickly than resources available, people would always be trapped at a subsistence level.

David Ricardo expanded upon this idea in Principles of Political Economy. He wrote that output of resources depends on land, labor and capital. Because land is limited, he came to the same conclusion that people would always be stuck at a subsistence level.

Thanks to these two economists and their grim outlooks of the future, the nickname “Dismal Science” was coined. Feel free to impress your friends with this fun economic fact!

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