The Economics of W. S. Jevons

By Sandra Peart | Go to book overview

6

PRODUCTION

INTRODUCTION

There can be no disputing that the treatments of exchange, production, and distribution in Jevons’s TPE are asymmetrical, and commentators have not failed to note that he apparently neglected the production side of economic analysis. 1 But once we appreciate that, as Black has argued (1970, p. 18), and as Jevons stated in his ‘Preface’ to the first edition (see Chapter 4) his intent in the TPE was to apply Benthamite utilitarian philosophy to economics, that central focus renders the organization and content of the TPE less puzzling. One no longer anticipates symmetry between the ‘exchange’ and the ‘production’ chapters. Instead, Chapters 1 through 3 set out the theory of utility and exchange in great detail, and Chapter 4—‘Theory of Labour’—presents what might be regarded as an extension of utility theory, a ‘theory of cost of production in terms of disutility’ (Black 1970, p. 19). The ‘Theory of Rent’ follows from this disutility of labour chapter, being an explanation of how rent emerges when labour and land are combined. Finally, Jevons’s ‘Theory of Capital’ is presented as an addition to the Theory of Exchange important enough to be considered in its own right: since ‘there is no close or necessary connexion between the employment of capital and the processes of exchange’, Economics is not only the science of Exchange, but also of ‘Capitalisation’ (TPE, p. 222). But capital, like labour, is regarded by Jevons as a source of disutility, so that it, too, can be examined in terms of pleasure and pain.

In addition, once we appreciate that the analysis of cost proceeds in terms of negative utility, several puzzling remarks by Jevons concerning value are clarified. For, as is well known, Jevons was quick to juxtapose his theory of exchange to a labour theory of value: ‘Economists have not been wanting who put forward labour as the cause of value, asserting that all objects derive their value from the fact that labour has been expended on them; and it is thus implied, if not stated, that value will be proportional to labour. This is a doctrine which cannot stand for a moment,

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