The Theory of Political Economy
By William Stanley Jevons
THE contents of the following pages can hardly meet with ready acceptance among those who regard the Science of Political Economy as having already acquired a nearly perfect form. I believe it is generally supposed that Adam Smith laid the foundations of this science; that Malthus, Anderson, and Senior added important doctrines; that Ricardo systematised the whole; and, finally, that Mr. J. S. Mill filled in the details and completely expounded this branch of knowledge. Mr. Mill appears to have had a similar notion; for he distinctly asserts that there was nothing; in the Laws of Value which remained for himself or any future writer to clear up. Doubtless it is difficult to help feeling that opinions adopted and confirmed by such eminent men have much weight of probability in their favour. Yet, in the other sciences this weight of authority has not been allowed to restrict the free examination of new opinions and theories; and it has often been ultimately proved that authority was on the wrong side.There are many portions of Economical doctrine which appear to me as scientific in form as they are consonant with facts. I would especially mention the Theories of Population and Rent, the latter a theory of a distinctly mathematical character, which seems to give a clue to the correct mode of treating the whole science. Had Mr. Mill contented himself with asserting the unquestionable truth of the Laws of Supply and Demand, I should have agreed with him. As founded upon facts, those laws cannot be shaken by any theory; but it does not therefore follow, that our conception of Value is perfect and final. Other generally accepted doctrines have always appeared to me purely delusive, especially the so-called Wage Fund Theory. This theory pretends to give a solution of the main problem of the science—to determine the wages of labour; yet, on close examination, its conclusion is found to be a mere truism, namely, that the average rate of wages is found by dividing the whole amount appropriated to the payment of wages by the number of those between whom it is divided. Some other supposed conclusions of the science are of a less harmless character, as, for instance, those regarding the advantage of exchange (see the section on “The Gain by Exchange,” p. 141). [From the Preface to the First Edition]
First Pub. Date
London: Macmillan and Co.
3rd edition. Includes Preface by Harriet Jevons.
The text of this edition is in the public domain. Picture of William Stanley Jevons: Photogravure after a photograph of W. Stanley Jevons, taken by Maull & Co., London., courtesy Liberty Fund, Inc.
[Note from Econlib Editor: The error on page 108, covering the last pair of equations in paragraph IV.50, appears to have been corrected in the third edition. The error on page 201, covering the last few sentences of paragraph V.27 remains in this edition, but we have noted it in a footnote for the paragraph.]
for “in this respect be taken negatively,”
read “in this respect be taken positively.”
Essays in Political and Moral Philosophy, Dublin, 1879, pp. 216-242.
Journal of the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland, August 1878, vol. vii. Appendix. Also as a separate publication, Longmans, London, 1878.
Fortnightly Review, November 1876, vol. viii., N. S., pp. 617-631. Translated in the
Journal des Economistes, March 1877, 3
me Série, vol. xlv. p. 325.
me ed., Paris, 1863, pp. 700-702.
An Inquiry, 1729, etc., pp. 186-198.
An Essay, etc., pp. 34-43, and elsewhere.
Traité de la Volonté et de Ses Effets, Paris, 1815, 8vo, p. 499. Edition of 1826, p. 335. American Edition,
A treatise on Political Economy, translated from the unpublished French original. Georgetown, D.C. 1817, p. xiii.