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Jevons, Jenkin, and Walras on demand-and-supply analysis in the theory of exchange

Listed author(s):
  • Franco DONZELLI


In his economic writings Jevons insists on the allegedly fundamental role played by the so-called "laws of supply and demand" in his theory of exchange; yet no demand-and-supply analysis is actually employed in deriving such theory, as developed in Chapter 4 of The Theory of Political Economy (TPE). This is all the more puzzling in the light of the following two facts: 1) in his 1868 correspondence with Jevons, Fleeming Jenkin provides a complete geometrical solution of the exchange equilibrium problem based on the use of demand and supply curves, but his suggestion is wholly neglected by Jevons in the first edition of TPE (1871); 2) in his 1874 open letter to Jevons, Walras explicitly criticizes his correspondent for his defective treatment of the "laws of supply and demand", suggesting an alternative analytical solution of the exchange problem based on the use of demand and supply functions; yet Jevons entirely disregards Walras's remarks in preparing the second edition of TPE (1879). This paper compares Jevons's, Jenkin's and Walras's approaches to the exchange equilibrium problem, explaining the analytical and epistemological reasons that underlie Jevons's neglect of his correspondents' criticism and advice.

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Paper provided by Department of Economics, Management and Quantitative Methods at Università degli Studi di Milano in its series Departmental Working Papers with number 2009-39.

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Date of creation: 25 Aug 2009
Handle: RePEc:mil:wpdepa:2009-39
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  1. Ekelund, Robert B, Jr & Shieh, Yeung-Nan, 1989. "Jevons on Utility, Exchange, and Demand Theory: A Reassessment," The Manchester School of Economic & Social Studies, University of Manchester, vol. 57(1), pages 17-33, March.
  2. George J. Stigler, 1950. "The Development of Utility Theory. II," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 58, pages 373-373.
  3. White, Michael V, 2001. "Indeterminacy in Exchange: Disinterring Jevons's Trading Bodies," Manchester School, University of Manchester, vol. 69(2), pages 208-226, March.
  4. Michael V. White, 1989. "Why are there no Supply and Demand Curves in Jevons?," History of Political Economy, Duke University Press, vol. 21(3), pages 425-456, Fall.
  5. F. Donzelli, 1997. "Pareto's Mechanical Dream," Departmental Working Papers 1997-07, Department of Economics, Management and Quantitative Methods at Università degli Studi di Milano.
  6. Creedy, John, 1992. "Jevons's Complex Cases in the Theory of Exchange," Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Cambridge University Press, vol. 14(01), pages 55-69, March.
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