The collapse of civilization due to lack of food will encompass every person indiscriminate of class or economic standing, if not, civilization has not collapsed. Thomas Malthus’ theory about the exponential growth of the population draining the food supply is a sort of pre-Darwinian survival of the fittest postulate, which has been proven wrong empirically. During most food shortages, it has been discovered that there is always an abundance of food, but that the economic and social circumstances of society prevent the poor from obtaining sustenance from the supply. Malthus argued vehemently against any social welfare, and used the exponential population growth versus linear food production model as a basis to discourage any sort of social welfare. The problem is that it was based on mere conjecture, which, as I said before, has been proven empirically wrong.
Malthus was part of a growing movement of Classical Liberals who were against any interference in the market from government- essentially, the rise of free market capitalism. While the vehement Classical Liberals often viewed social welfare as hindering a free business market, there was also a nasty streak to their thinking as well. Sure, they were against any form of government intrusion, and to sustain people on welfare would require state redistribution of wealth, but if you read the words of even the less fierce detractors of welfare, for instance David Ricardo (who was more preoccupied with bare-bones economics), there is an underlying sentiment that they are lazy freeloaders. I find this quite arrogant, especially during the times of Malthus, when class determined one’s level of education, and thus his opportunity as well. Malthus argued to create a welfare system of hellish proportions, where those aided were treated like children at military school.
The argument is more astute when one phrases it: if the population grows, the state must expand. If you look at the welfare states that arose in the wake of European Fascism in the 1930’s and 1940’s, you will see that the main reason they were initially successful was due to expanding economies. The common example I have been accustomed to is a circle that must expand to make more wealth available. If the circle is static, and the population grows, then less wealth is available (i.e. one circle outgrows another). It is interesting that today Europe’s birth rates are decreasing, and seem to be reaching a homeostasis, and I want to see how the welfare state endures a static birth rate.
Of course, we also have to take into account that rarely a state is completely independent from other states. Russia was decimated by high tariffs on grain by the German Nationalism of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The United States is currently on the verge of an economic catastrophe, as China holds two trillion dollars in securities to finance the trade deficit. The U.S. has been vigorous in pushing CAFTA and eventually hopes to set up the FTA (Free Trade of the Americas) in order to offset this imbalance, and expand business investment into the poorer regions of Latin America in order to make-up for its sloppy devolution into spiraling trade deficits with China. This is the work of the Eastern Elite, as they believe in such subjective theorems as Comparative Advantage.
I suppose what I am trying to say, in a long winded and tangential fashion, is that the vicissitudes of contemporary economic systems have become so intertwined, complex and subtle that they no longer hold to a simple philosophical explanation, especially considering that the motivations of the elite have a large and possibly “artificial” impact on economies. For instance, in the 19th century, factory owners wanted cheap labor and conspired to control government through voting rights and even social manipulation of voters; colonies in Africa were all the rage in Europe not simply due to the necessity for expansion, but also for a projection of power and prestige, and colonies were often made at the whims of the elite. In the 21st century, globalists are pushing for an integrated world system, which will further strengthen large multinational corporations.
On a general level, sure, expansion of an economy (growth of an economy) is usually a prerequisite for the success of a state. Yet, I am not so sure any homeostasis can ever be achieved in this world, and what happens when the lone state, with a static population, is hit with a blight upon its crops, and there is no other state to trade with to save them? This is part of the thinking behind Globalism. I do not quite agree with it, I savor that romantic image of a simple farmer’s life in Plato’s Republic, which Glaucon calls a “City of Pigs.” But this is merely a pipe dream unless you can get out of the allegiance to taxes and statutory law bestowed upon you at birth, and forged by your social security number, birth certificate etc. In sum, the world either continues to become more integrated, or a giant war will thwart this trajectory. However, I do not believe there is a developed/developing country in the world right now that wants a major world war due to the fact that money has no real value, and the only thing propping up this system is the world monetary trade.