William Stanley Jevons was a British economist and logician.

Irving Fisher described his book The Theory of Political Economy (1871) as the beginning of the mathematical method in economics. It made the case that economics as a science concerned with quantities is necessarily mathematical. In so doing, it expounded upon the "final" (marginal) utility theory of value. Jevons' contribution to the marginal revolution in economics in the late 19th century established his reputation as a leading political economist and logician of the time.

However it was for The Coal Question (1865), in which he called attention to the gradual exhaustion of the UK's coal supplies, that Jevons received public recognition.

In The Coal Question, Jevons covered a breadth of concepts on energy depletion that have recently been revisited by writers covering the subject of peakoil. For example, Jevons explained that improving energy efficiency typically reduced energy costs and thereby increased, rather than decreased, energy use, an effect now known as the Jevons paradox.

Jevons argued that improvements in fuel efficiency tend to increase, rather than decrease, fuel use: "It is a confusion of ideas to suppose that the economical use of fuel is equivalent to diminished consumption. The very contrary is the truth."

Jevons observed that England's consumption of coal soared after James Watt introduced his coal-fired steam engine, which greatly improved the efficiency of Thomas Newcomen's earlier design. Watt's innovations made coal a more cost-effective power source, leading to the increased use of the steam engine in a wide range of industries. This in turn increased total coal consumption, even as the amount of coal required for any particular application fell.

At that time, many in Britain worried that coal reserves were rapidly dwindling, but some experts advised that increasing efficiency would reduce coal consumption. Jevons argued that this view was incorrect, as further increases in efficiency would tend to increase the use of coal. Hence, increasing efficiency would tend to increase, rather than reduce, the rate at which England's coal deposits were being depleted.

The Coal Question remains a paradigmatic study of resource depletion theory. Jevons's son, H. Stanley Jevons, published an 800-page follow-up study in 1915 in which the difficulties of estimating recoverable reserves of a theoretically finite resource are discussed in detail.

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