The tag “dismal science” actually refers to the threat that economics posed to the old order – hierarchy, natural slaves and masters – and not to the Malthusian fear of overpopulation. Whereas Ruskin and other representatives of the “natural” artistocracy upheld the division between themselves and the benighted subhumans inhabiting the rest of the world (including Ireland), political economists such as John Stuart Mill were speaking of the problems of institutions – not genes, race or other such nonsense – when investigating the differences between “the West and the Rest”. Economics saw only human individuals and their incentives, whereas the “high minded” defenders of the establishment saw only ruler groups and ruled groups. Economics recognized that increased productivity, expansion of creative expression and worldwide peace would and could result from the liberation of humans, i.e. the abolition of slavery. But that’s a whole ‘nother story.
Read “The Secret History of the Dismal Science” by David Levy and Sandra Peart to learn more.