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William Stanley Jevons and “social reform”: A theory of welfare without posterity

Pelin Sekerler Richiardi () and Nathalie Sigot ()

Cahiers d’économie politique / Papers in Political Economy, 2013, issue 64, 221-251

Abstract: While Jevons is well known for his analysis on pure economics his contributions to a broader conception of welfare including a social aspect has attracted less attention. However, from a history of economic thought perspective, these contributions have a twofold benefit: on the one hand, they reflect the adhesion of Jevons to the utilitarian philosophy; on the other hand, they bear the marks of nascent welfare economics. Jevons has indeed a particular way of dealing with social welfare as he identifies two levels of utility, “economic” and what we call “global”, the latter being a broader concept and showing clearly that these two might contradict. In this paper, our objective is to reconstruct the overall architecture of Jevons’s position on “social reform”. For this purpose, we will first present the “narrow” approach that the economist should adopt according to Jevons and highlight the links that he establishes between economics and ethics through the utilitarian calculus of Bentham (§.1). Then, we will show that Jevons considers that such a point of view should be abandoned in the field of legislation in favour of a method similar to the cost/benefit analysis and which mobilises different sciences to anticipate the outcomes of reforms. After having defined this method (§.2), we will focus on the consequences of such an analysis, which lead Jevons, as an economist, to amend a number of assumptions that he made in the context of pure economics (§.3).

Keywords: Jevons; welfare economics; social utility; social reform. (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: B13 B3 D60 D63 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2013
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Handle: RePEc:cpo:journl:y:2013:i:64:p:221-251