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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Publication information: Book title: The Economics of W. S. Jevons. Contributors: Sandra Peart - Author. Publisher: Routledge. Place of publication: London. Publication year: 1996. Page number: 137.
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