In his article on the canonical labour-supply model Derobert (2001) mentioned Chapman's theory in connection with Hicks's description of it as "the classical statement of the theory of 'hours' in a free market." Derobert dismissed Chapman's theory as "excessively complicated" and as "more of an amalgam than a synthesis" (p. 204). He also described it as lying "somewhere between Jevons's analysis and the canonical model" (p. 204). Chapman's theory lies between Jevons and the current canonical model only in a narrow chronological sense. Although Chapman's analysis did indeed develop Jevons's earlier discussion of the hours of labour, it bears little resemblance to the income-leisure choice model. Instead, it incorporates the opportunity-cost concept without at the same time abandoning the idea that work provides intrinsic satisfactions and dissatisfactions.
Perhaps Chapman's theory could indeed be considered "excessively complicated" in the non-pejorative sense that life itself is too complicated to describe in a mathematical model. The income-leisure choice model simply ignores Chapman's theory, it doesn't refute, refine, simplify, adapt or transcend it. In its ignorance of Chapman's theory, it tacitly assumes proportionality between hours worked and output produced. In the bargain, mainstream analysis implies an identity between market goods purchased and economic welfare. Leisure time disappears – even as a commodity. The hypothetical purchase of leisure time leaves behind no receipts to be reckoned in the calculation of national income. Thus Barone's book-keeping artifice involves writing entries in disappearing ink – a practice that might elsewhere be reckoned as fraudulent.
Sydney Chapman's theory of the hours of labour was both insightful and authoritative. It was widely accepted by eminent English economists of its day. It buttressed the novel conclusions that the ideal hours of work for maximizing social welfare would be shorter than those for maximizing profits and that the hours of work set in a competitive market may be too long even from the standpoint of maximizing output. Yet that acknowledged authoritative theory was displaced by what? A simplifying assumption? A semantic device? A book-keeping artifice? An absent-minded lapse of theory? In place of an established theory has sprung up a mathematical model of income-leisure choice in which the face of actual work is unrecognizable. With the centennial of its original presentation fast approaching, it is fitting that economists should re-examine what opportunities have been sacrificed and what – if anything – has been gained by this remarkable instance of theoretical substitution.
Abstract: Sidney Chapman's theory of the hours of labour, published in 1909 in The Economic Journal, was acknowledged as authoritative by the leading economists of the day. It provided important insights into the prospects for market rationality with respect to work time arrangements and hinted at a profound immanent critique of economists' excessive concern with external wealth. Chapman's theory was consigned to obscurity by mathematical analyses that reverted heedlessly to outdated and naïve assumptions about the connection between hours and output. The Sandwichman is serializing "Missing: the strange disappearance of S. J. Chapman's theory of the hours of labour" on EconoSpeak in celebration of the centenary of publication of Chapman's theory. (To download the entire article in a pdf file, click on the article title.)