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\noindent{\bf William Stanley JEVONS}\\
b. 1 September 1835 - d. 13 August 1882
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\noindent{\bf Summary.} Jevons pioneered the use of mathematics in economics,
taking a greater
interest in statistics than any of the other great economists.
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W.S. Jevons was one of the most influential economists of
his age. Although he was not the first scholar to apply
sophisticated mathematical and statistical techniques to the study
of economic problems and theories, he was by far the most effective
early advocate and practitioner of the `mathematical theory of
political economy'.
His {\it Notice of a General Mathematical Theory of Political
Economy} attracted no notice whatever when read before the British
Association Meeting at Cambridge in 1862, and was barely noticed
when published in the {\it Statistical Journal} in 1866. But the
developed version of this short paper, published as {\it The Theory
of Political Economy} in 1871, was to be identified by J.M. Keynes (q.v.)
as `the first modern book on economics'. And in his {\it Business
Cycles} (1927), Wesley C. Mitchell wrote that `It was left for W.
Stanley Jevons to give the first powerful impetus to statistical
work in economic theory'.
Jevons was born in Liverpool, England.
In 1853, at the age of 18, he had interrupted his studies in
mathematics and chemistry at University College, London in order to
accept a lucrative position as an assayer at a new branch of the
(British) Royal Mint at Sydney. His official duties during the
succeeding five years (1854-59) left him time to pursue a wide
range of scientific interests, many of which involved the use of
statistics. The most important publication of Jevons' Australian
years was in the field of meteorology (`Some Data concerning the
Climate of Australia and New Zealand'), in which he provided some
remarkably accurate descriptions of climate fluctuations in
Australia, based on very limited data.
In a paper on clouds published in 1858, Jevons appears to have been
the first researcher to entirely discard electricity as having a
role in the explanation of meteorological phenomena, and also the
first to observe the phenomenon now called `salt fingers'.
In the same year Jevons produced his `Social Statistics or the
Science of Towns especially as regards London and Sydney'. Though
it remained unpublished, this work is of great significance as a
pioneering exercise in urban sociology which anticipated his
subsequent achievement as statistician and economist.
Soon after his return to England, Jevons was at work on a
`Statistical Atlas': a collection of charts or diagrams of economic
and social variables - in effect, the representation of time series
in graphical form, which Jevons believed was as essential to the
economist as were maps to the geographer.
He then embarked upon a remarkable series of studies of commercial
fluctuations and prices. In 1936, J.M. Keynes was to identify the
first of these (`On the Study of Periodic Commercial
Fluctuations'), read before the British Association in 1862, as
marking `the beginning of a new stage in economic science'. Jevons
`was not the first to plot economic statistics in diagrams', said
Keynes, but `he compiled and arranged economic statistics for a new
purpose and pondered them in a new way'.
In the succeeding year Jevons published, at his own expense, the
pamplet `A Serious Fall in the Price of Gold ascertained, and its
Social Effects set forth'. This was an investigation of the effect
of the gold discoveries in Australia and California upon the prices
of commodities. In this pamphlet, Jevons was able to combine the
historical and practical knowledge of gold and currency matters
which he had acquired in his Australian post with a rare capacity
to confront and resolve conceptual problems. It was of this work
that Keynes was to write:
\begin{quotation}
Jevons had to solve the problem of price index-numbers practically
from the beginning; and it is scarcely an exaggeration to say that
he made as much progress in this brief pamphlet as has been made by
all succeeding authors put together. He examines the logical and
dialectical problem, the question of weighting, the choice between
an arithmetic and geometric mean, whether articles which have moved
abnormally should be excluded, and, generally speaking, what
classes of commodities can best be taken as representative.
$\ldots$ For unceasing fertility and originalitry of mind applied,
with a sure touch and unfailing control of the material, to a mass
of statistics, involving immense labours for an unaided individual
ploughing his way through with no precedents and labour-saving
devices to relieve his task, this pamphlet stands unrivalled in the
history of our subject.
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Many have assumed that `our subject', to Keynes, was economics. In
fact, his audience was the Royal Statistical Society, not the
Economic Society. In his paper Keynes recalled Jevons' decision,
at the age of 28, to have himself `proposed and perhaps elected a
Fellow of the Statistical Society as $\ldots$ possible acquaintance
with other statisticians will be of high advantage to me'; and to
the fact that, during his years in London, Jevons `frequently
attended our [i.e., the Statistical Society's] meetings'. He was
duly elected to the Fellowship of the London [now Royal]
Statistical Society, and read further pathbreaking econometric
studies before the Society in each of the two succeeding years.
In 1869, at the age of 34, Jevons produced the earliest model of
his `Logic Machine'. This device consisted of keys, levers and
pulleys, and was something of a cross between a logical abacus and
a piano. It was the first machine that could solve a logical
problem faster than that problem could be solved without using the
machine. In the same year, Jevons was elected President of the
Manchester Statistical Society, and President of the Economic
Science and Statistics Section of the British Association for the
Advancement of Science. Significantly, his Presidential Address
focussed upon the meaning and importance of `Statistics'. It was
published in the {\it Journal of the Statistical Society}
(September 1870), a testament to the fact that its author took a
greater interest in statistics, and gave stronger and more
continuous support to statistical institutions, than any of the
other great economists.
Jevons' statistical investigations were related mainly, but by no
means entirely, to the contributions to economics for which he has
achieved lasting fame. Among papers which were not specifically
related to economic issues were `Statistics of Shakespearean
Literature' ({\it Athenaeum}, 12 March 1864), which Stigler has
identified as an early `social indicator'; `On a General System of
Numerically Definite Reasoning' (Manchester Literary and
Philosophical Society, January 1870); and various papers on the
so-called Brownian movement of microscopic particles which have
their place in the history of the investigation of random
processes.
Jevons was accidentally drowned in 1882, in Hastings, England
at the age of 46. His
biography in Britain's {\it Dictionary of National Biography}
pointed to his reputation `as a statistician of vast industry and
rare gifts of combination, and an economist of high original
power'; and by 1936 Lionel Robbins was to write that `Since his
death, (Jevons) has been recognised universally as one of the most
outstanding figures in the history of economic thought'.
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\begin{thebibliography}{3}
\bibitem{1} Fitzpatrick, P.J. (1860). Leading British statisticians
of the nineteenth century. {\it Journal of the American
Statistical Association}, 38-70.
\bibitem{2} Jevons, W.S. (1858). On Clouds: their various forms and
producing causes. {\it Sydney Magazine of Science and Art}, 1,
pp. 163-76; (1859). Some Data concerning the climate of Australia and
New Zealand. In {\it Waugh's Australian Almanac for the Year
1859}; (1870). Opening Address as President of Section F of the
British Association for the Advancement of Science. {\it Journal
of the Statistical Society} (September); (1871). {\it The Theory of
Political Economy}; (1878). On the molecular movement of particles.
({\it Quarterly Journal of Science}, April); (1884). {\it
Investigations in Currency and Finance}.
\bibitem{3} Keynes, J.M. (1951). William Stanley Jevons 1835-1882:
A centenary allocution on his life and work as economist and
statistician. {\it Essays in Biography}, 2nd ed., pp. 255-309.
\bibitem{4} Maxwell, Clive and Brown, Alvin (1996). {\it Bebop BYTES back
(An unconventional guide to computers)}.
\bibitem{5} Robbins, L. (1936). The Place of Jevons in the History of
Economic Thought. {\it Manchester School of Economics and Social
Studies}, {\bf 7}.
\bibitem{6} Schabas, M. (1990). {\it A World Ruled by Number:
William Stanley Jevons and the Rise of Mathematical Economics}.
Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton.
\bibitem{7} Schmitt, R.W. (1995). The ocean's salt fingers.
{\it Scientific American}, May, pp. 50-55.
\bibitem{8} Stigler, S.M. (1982). Jevons as statistician.
{\it The Manchester School}, {\bf 50}, 354-65.
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\hfill{I. Castles}
\end{thebibliography}
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