Jevons’ paradox

Consider the advent of steam power. Economist Stanley Jevons, in what’s known as Jevons’ Paradox, observed that as the efficiency of steam engines increased, coal consumption went up. That’s not what was supposed to happen. Jevons realized that abundance creates new ways of using something. As steam became cheap, we found new ways of using it, which created demand.

Alistair Croll mentioned Jevons’ paradox while arguing that the changes brought on by new technology require a new ethics. This reminds me of Ruth Schwartz Cowan’s assertion in More Work for Mother that the invention of the invention of the washing machine created more work.

The invention of the laundry machine has not only increased the amount of laundry that gets done, but has brought that task into the house. Before washing machines became popular in the 1930s, middle-class people hired laundresses or brought their clothes to commercial cleaners.