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By Okwui Enwezor

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Substitutes provided no solution to this dilemma, since all substitutes ultimately would face the same problem, of limited supplies. Electricity, for instance, constituted ‘a marvelous mode of distributing power’, but it was not ‘a self-creating power’ (TCQ, p. 161). To say otherwise would be to ignore the ‘great advances which have been achieved in the mechanical theory of nature’ that have ‘greatly cleared up our notions of force and energy’: It has been rendered apparent that the universe, from a material point of view, is one great manifestation of a constant aggregate of energy.

While ‘few countries’ have increased so rapidly, Jevons argued that ‘the same reasoning holds good of any other rate. We are about doubly as numerous as our grandfathers. If we are in other respects like them—equally vigorous and enterprising, and free from any new exterior obstacles—we may expect our grandchildren to be doubly as numerous as ourselves’ (TCQ, p. 193). 27 Yet the entire framework of analysis in TCQ and related works was designed to prove that scarcity checks would eventually manifest themselves.

Yet this is the natural way to proceed with the microeconomic problem of an exhaustible resource, given a fixed initial stock of the resource. And this would be the procedure if in fact Jevons viewed the coal ‘problem’ as an ‘extrapolation’ of energetics, analogous to a constrained JEVONS’S THEORY OF ECONOMIC GROWTH 37 optimization problem. The procedure would yield a time independent equilibrium path of resource prices. Jevons’s concern in the coal analysis was not the optimal extraction schedule given a stock of resources—since, at any rate, he did not perceive the stock to be fixed—but the potential problems created by rising extraction costs for British trade and for the labouring classes.

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