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Is Thanos's Prediction About Overpopulation Inevitable? Thomas Malthus Says Yes, But Reality Says No

Who’s your favorite supervillian? One of my favorites is Thanos. I think he’s a very round character with a pretty unique motivation that sets him apart from other supervillians. The fact that he’s also super smart as well as super strong only serves to make him even cooler, at least for me. And if, by some small chance, you have no idea what I am talking about, then you’re definitely missing out.

But how is Thanos related to economics? Thanos’s ultimate goal — wiping out half of the universe’s population to stop overpopulation and its destructive effects — is actually pretty similar to the ideas that Thomas Malthus, an 18th century economist, wrote about during his time.

But first, a little refresher on Thanos. Thanos’s homeworld and civilization were destroyed by overpopulation. Too many people on his planet led to too few resources to go around, ultimately causing death, destruction, and the annihilation of Thanos’s people and home. As a result, Thanos wanted to wipe out half of the universe’s population to prevent other worlds from suffering the same fate. In economic terms, Thanos attempts to solve the problem of allocating resources evenly and efficiently, a classic economic problem and one of the main effects of scarcity (see previous post).

Thanos's homeworld, Titan. The effects of overpopulation were not pretty

Believe it or not, Thomas Malthus dealt with the same problem, but he didn’t really offer a solution. Instead, he offered a grim prediction. Malthus argued that the food supply would not be able to keep up with our population growth. In other words, he predicted that our population would eventually outnumber our food supply, ultimately leading to starvation, disease, famine, and the destruction of our world as we know it. Malthus and Thanos must have been pretty depressing guys to be around!

The allocation of resources—also known as the problem that Malthus and Thanos both struggled to solve

Unfortunately for Thanos and Malthus, both of them failed to account for something that would put an end to their ideas. While Thanos failed to see the one losing outcome that was predicted by Dr. Strange, Malthus failed to see something far more important: the growth of technology.

In the years following Malthus, huge technological advancements in agriculture were made as a result of the Industrial Revolution, some examples being the more widespread use of machinery and fertilizers. These advancements exponentially increased our food production, allowing us to continue to feed ourselves despite extreme population growth. So, Malthus’s theory was ultimately disproved by our own technological advancements. Too bad Malthus didn’t live long enough to see Thanos on the big screen — I’m sure he would have loved him.


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