The Economics of W. S. Jevons

By Sandra Peart | Go to book overview

8

JEVONS’S ANALYSIS OF POLICY

INTRODUCTION

In his account of late nineteenth-century political economy, Vincent Bladen has maintained that a decline of the laissez-faire doctrine occurred by 1870. 1 Economists from Adam Smith to J.S. Mill are said to have been ‘so impressed with the possibility of the automatic functioning of the economic system that they preached the doctrine of laissez-faire’ and reduced ‘the agenda of government…to a minimum’; whereas by 1870 there is discernible a ‘collectivist trend in legislation’ in the writings of professional economists—including, conspicuously, Jevons (1959, pp. 302, 303). 2 In this account, throughout the late nineteenth century economists gained a new and realistic appreciation of the complexities of the economic system, a responsible attitude towards policy analysis, and a ‘diminished faith in a priori reasoning’: ‘Economists became more careful in applying theory, valid under certain postulated conditions of great simplicity, to the problems of the real world, and more sensitive to those changes in the characteristics of the real world which undermined views of public policy which had been well founded in the conditions of an earlier time’ (p. 309; cf. pp. 303-308). 3 These increased calls for intervention reflected altered economic conditions rather than late nineteenth-century developments in economic theory (p. 306). 4

By examining Jevons’s specific policy recommendations, this chapter confirms the argument above (Chapter 7) that Jevons and Mill shared a common method as well as a common set of value judgements defining ‘the greatest good’. Both saw a role for intervention, but one which took account of individual initiative, and aimed at encouraging ‘self-reliance’. For both, Utilitarianism entailed a presumption in favour of encouraging independent and responsible behaviour, and liberty constituted a key element in the utilitarian goal. On balance, a slight difference is discernible between Jevons and Mill in terms of interventionary zealousness; on a number of occasions Jevons was less willing than Mill to endorse wide-ranging economic reforms, and maintained instead that human nature

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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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