Let me note that for this term, the means of subsistence, once universally accepted, J. B. Say has substituted another term that is much more accurate: the means of existence.
After describing what he believes to be true in Malthus’ analysis, Frédéric Bastiat attempts to understand where is the mistake that led to his disgrace. He looks at both elements limiting the growth of the population identified by Malthus, namely prevention and repression and searches for the error. According to Bastiat, Malthus had limited the power of prevention to a few moral issues, which would indeed not have been sufficient to limit the growth of the population beyond a certain threshold that would have necessarily led to a limitation by repression, be it natural (war, famines, etc.) of artificial (constructivist repression such as the one-child policy for instance). This latter point tends to ignite passions as it is particularly challenging from an ethics point of view.
Indeed, what history has revealed to us is that the power of prevention is much stronger than expected. What is revealed by Say in today’s quote allows us to catch a glimpse of the reason for it. To the extent that the issue is not limited to the means of subsistence but to the means of existence, it is the economic situation of a country as a whole that will set the level at which population growth will be limited to. And this is exactly what has been observed during the following two centuries when the demographic transition of country after country has been triggered by a reduction of the birth rate, which was systematically following the material, intellectual and cultural enrichment of peoples.