Bill Stan Jevons and the meteorology/economics connection

So, this 19th century economist called William Stanley Jevons came up with a Paradox around how the increased efficiency in the use of a commodity/element of production would lead to an increase in overall usage.  If it gets cheaper to use, it will be used up more.  I made a video a few years back. It’s mercifully short.

But that’s not why I’m here today. It’s to share this bit from a fascinating article on Jevons time in Australia (who knew) and how it influenced his later thinking (turns out he’s the daddy of mathematical economics.)

William Stanley Jevons, later to be famous as the founder of modern, mathematical economics, spent five formative years in Australia in the 1850s and prepared the first comprehensive, scientific description of the Australian climate (Nicholls 1998). He was obsessed with meteorology, and continued this interest when he returned to England. Stigler (1982) points out that Jevons’s first empirical work in economics, the preparation of a time series plotting commercial events, was inspired by his interest in meteorology. Jevons even referred to his charts as being for the study of ‘commercial storms’. Jevons was fascinated by the 11-year sunspot cycle, and tried, unconvincingly, to relate this cycle, through variations in the Indian monsoon, to business cycles in Europe. Stigler suggests that Jevon’s background in meteorology made him susceptible to the apparent associations between sunspots and commerce. This background also made him want to apply quantitative methods to economics: ‘It seems necessary, then, that all commercial fluctuations should be investigated according to the same scientific methods with which we are familiar in other complicated sciences such as meteorology’ (Jevons 1862). Keynes (1936) says that Jevons ‘approached the complex economic facts of the real world, both literally and metaphorically, as a meteorologist’.

Nicholls, N. 2005. Climate and culture connections in Australia. Australian Meteorological Magazine, Vol. 54, pp.309-319.


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