The Economics of W. S. Jevons

By Sandra Peart | Go to book overview

7

JEVONS AND UTILITARIANISM

INTRODUCTION

A major theme of Chapters 1, 4, 5 and 6 has been that Jevons’s Theory of Political Economy emphasized utility as the primary object of economic investigations. As a consequence, his analysis led to new economic problems to be investigated subsequently—problems focusing on the nature, measurability and maximization of utility. While his new way of ‘doing economics’ carried with it few subsequent implications for specific policy recommendations, it did lead quite readily to the investigation of ‘Social Welfare’—aggregate utility—which has, as yet, to be fully resolved either theoretically or empirically. 1

Many of the contemporary debates concerning the nature and constituents of the ‘social good’, as well as the measurability of utility and the relationships among individual good, preferences, and Social Welfare, have historical precedents in nineteenth-century policy analysis. J.S. Mill and Jevons both struggled with the issue of defining and measuring the ‘greatest good’. Mill was ambivalent about equating welfare with preference fulfilment. 2 Jevons, by contrast, took a step towards the approach of modern welfare economists by opposing Mill in this regard, and identifying welfare with choices made. Both Mill and Jevons explicitly considered ‘liberty’ (carefully defined) as a constituent of the social, as well as individual, good. While Welfare, for Mill, was measurable in principle, he was stopped by the difficulty of reconciling different pleasures into one whole, ‘Pleasure’. Jevons was intensely critical of Mill’s allowance that pleasures differed qualitatively as well as quantitatively; he attempted to overcome the measurement problem by allowing that pleasures differ only in their (quantifiable) characteristics. But he was unable to define a means of measuring these characteristics, and ultimately also stopped short of attempting to measure Social Happiness.

The precise nature of Jevons’s utilitarianism as a guiding rule for economic policy has been neglected (Black 1972a), and that will be a second main concern of this chapter. 3 In terms of presumptive guidelines

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The Economics of W. S. Jevons
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgements x
  • 1 - Introduction 1
  • Appendix 1.1 Chronology of Jevons’s Life 8
  • Part I - Macroeconomic Concerns 19
  • 2 - Jevons’s Theory of Economic Growth 21
  • Appendix 2.1 Coal Consumption 42
  • Appendix 2.2 Population Data 44
  • 3 - Sunspots and Expectations 45
  • Part II - Microeconomic Theory 71
  • 4 - Jevons’s Theory of Political Economy 73
  • 5 - Jevons’s Theory of Exchange 90
  • Appendix 5.1 Physics and Neoclassical Economics 114
  • 6 - Production 115
  • Part III - Economic Policy 135
  • 7 - Jevons and Utilitarianism 137
  • 8 - Jevons’s Analysis of Policy 155
  • Part IV - Methodology 171
  • 9 - The Rise of Empirical Methods 173
  • 10 - Jevons’s Empirical Studies 194
  • Appendix 10.1 Jevons’s Commodity Groups, Enlarged Sample 214
  • Appendix 10.2 The Currency Wear Calculations 217
  • Appendix 10.3 The Davenant Corn Law 219
  • Appendix 10.4 Jevons’s 1875 Buys-Ballot Table 220
  • 11 - Conclusion 221
  • Notes 232
  • References 295
  • Index 307
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