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Journal Article

Synthesizing the Malthusian and Senian Approaches on Scarcity: A Realist Account


Daoud,  Adel
Projekte von Gastwissenschaftlern und Postdoc-Stipendiaten, MPI for the Study of Societies, Max Planck Society;
Department of Sociology and Work Science, University of Gothenburg, Sweden;

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Daoud, A. (2018). Synthesizing the Malthusian and Senian Approaches on Scarcity: A Realist Account. Cambridge Journal of Economics, 42(2), 453-476. doi:10.1093/cje/bew071.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-002D-386A-9
Food entitlement decline (FED) and food availability decline (FAD) are two approaches to explaining famines that have different policy implications. One focuses on the systemic level, whereas the other is concerned with the individual level. They therefore analyse relatively distinct causal mechanisms. Thus, an important question is whether these approaches can be reconciled. Another related question is how FAD- and FED-based explanations relate to classical Malthusian views about rapid food requirement increase (FRI). This paper analyses these questions and argues that these three approaches can indeed be reconciled within a single framework by outlining the causal sources of FAD, FED and FRI. This task requires, among other things, the separation of ontological categories and empirical measures. As a consequence of this argument, the paper suggests that there are only seven possible ontological combinations of how a famine situation can arise as a direct cause. Simultaneously, it maintains that there are virtually an infinite number of ways in which these combinations may act as indirect causes (rooted in economic, political and social conditions). The analysis is exemplified by the Bengal famine of 1943 because that famine is a well-known case. The wider research and policy applicability of this general account are discussed but have yet to be tested in relation to other scarcity cases (water, land, fish). This synthesis is made possible by the incorporation of critical realist interventions into economic theory.