The History of Economic Thought
Online ISSN : 1884-7358
Print ISSN : 1880-3164
ISSN-L : 1880-3164
A Reappraisal of Jevons's Thought on Labour
Motohiro Okada
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2012 Volume 53 Issue 2 Pages 21-40


Abstract: This paper re-examines W. S. Jevonsʼs thought on labour and elucidates its unique-ness and limitations.  Jevonsʼs subjectivist approach penetrated his theory of labour, and he regarded pain as the measure of labour. In the first edition of The Theory of Political Economy, Jevons provided insights that could lead to the negation of the market determination of wages and other work conditions, thus offering a rationalisation of the interven-tion of socio-political factors in labour exchange. In doing so, Jevons distinguished himself from other neoclassical economists.  However, Jevons lacked self-knowledge of the feature of his own theory. In addi-tion, he failed to provide a deeper perception of the distinctiveness of labour ex-change rooted in the variability of labour that depends on the workerʼs identity and the constraints imposed by the employer. Consequently, instead of advancing the an-ti-neoclassical perspective implied in his arguments, Jevons argued for the market determination of wages, similar to that of prices of non-human productive services and products, in the second edition of The Theory of Political Economy and other writings.  Jevonsʼs opinions on real issues concerning industrial relations also demonstrated ambivalence. Jevons approved of union activities to shorten labour time and conced-ed the efficacy of legal measures in settling labour disputes. At the same time, he clung to his advocacy of the market determination of wages and harshly criticised strikes for a pay rise. Furthermore, Jevonsʼs dichotomy of ʻeconomicʼ and ʻsocialʼ mat-ters, expressed in The State in Relation to Labour, excluded labour-capital class strife and other socio-political factors from the scope of his economic study.  This paper makes a thorough reappraisal of Jevonsʼs thought on labour, which has traditionally been construed as a transitional product from classicism to neoclassi-cism. JEL classification numbers: B 13, J 01.

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© 2012 The Japanease Society for the History of Economic Thought
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