735. Harrod to Joan Robinson , 12 January 1938 [a]

[Answered by 738 ]

Christ Church, Oxford [b]

12 January 1938

My dear Joan

I didnt think my letter went beyond demanding information. [1] It made the further point that if remedial measures were proposed, it was desirable that the discussion about them should be well-informed. I did not say that remedial measures should be adopted.

But I cannot help taking the point up with you all the same. I cannot think you have paused for thought when you say you favour e ncouraging the decline of population. It hardly needs encouraging! Even if people started having enormous families now--which they wont--a very considerable decline would take place all the same. But in reality there seems hardly any chance of saving the British race from more or less complete extinction. [2]

Do you welcome the extinction of the human race? On that point it is of course impossible to argue. For me I confess that a happy posterity has rather taken the place of heaven as a prop to one's idealism.

But I dont think the human race will be extinguished. What is much more likely in my view is that natural selection will get to work again and cause the survival of those races whose ideals and social institutions are adapted to large families. And in that process of survival I foresee a return of a dark age, the persecution of women, purdah rigidly enforced, violent intolerance, a recrudescence of crude religious superstition and probably a glorification of war. [3] It is to save our posterity from this kind of transition that I advocate the adoption by the British & other peoples our own ideals of rational methods of stimulating survival. If we fail to do the thing rationally, others will do it by superstition & barbarism.

I am writing an article for the Political Quarterly on this subject which might interest you. [4]



  1. 1. Harrod refers to the collective letter later published in The Times on "The Population Bill. A Proposal for its Amendment" ( 1938:2 , here as press item 19 ), for which he seems to have asked Joan Robinson's signature.

    2. Harrod had already expounded this viewpoint in a number of writings: see "We Must Have Larger Families" ( 1936:10 , here reproduced as press item 11 , [jump to page] ), "The Problem of the British Birth Rate" ( 1937:10 , p. 32), and "Figures of the Birth-Rate" ( 1937:17 , press item 17 , [jump to page] ). After this exchange, he took it up again in "Population and the Future" ( 1938:7 , p. 195) and in "Modern Population Trends" ( 1939:18 , pp. 1 and 8).

    3. For a discussion in print of this point see "The Population Problem" (Harrod 1937:1 , here as press item 12 , [jump to page] ). This perspective is further expounded later in the correspondence with Joan Robinson.

    4. Harrod, "Population and the Future" ( 1938:7 ).

    1. a. ALS, three pages on two leaves, with envelope postmarked Lincoln 12 January 1938, addressed to Ms Robinson, 3 Trumpington St., Cambridge, in JVR vii/191/12-19.

      b. The letter is written on paper headed "White Hart Family Hotel, Lincoln"; Harrod, however, crossed the heading out and substituted it with his Christ Church address.

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