Jeeves and Jevons — a short story

Posted on 2015 September 10

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%22jeeves and jevons%22 Service

When we make something cheaper, we consume a lot more of it. — Alex Rubalcava

In the dining room, the Owner turned to his butler. “Thank you, Jeeves. The supper was excellent. The guests seemed well pleased.”

Jeeves inclined his head. “Thank you, sir.” 

“In fact, I must say that, ever since I purchased you from Lloyd’s Robotics, I’ve been exceptionally satisfied with your performance.”

“I am most flattered, sir.” Jeeves spoke with the efficient, clipped upper-class accent — and correct air of deference — expected of a well-trained manservant.

“And I’ve run some quick figures and have discovered that you only cost me about five pounds per day. I don’t have to feed you, except for a nominal sum to recharge your batteries, and you don’t require health subsidies or a separate room or even a loo.”

“That’s correct, sir.”

“Frankly, it’s so cheap, I’d like to have three of you.”

“I take that as a compliment, sir.”

“And well you should. In fact, I want you to to arrange for the purchase of two more of your model, with the latest upgrades.”

“As you wish, sir.” Jeeves closed his eyes. After a moment, he looked back at the Owner. “All has been arranged. Your new servants will arrive by driverless taxi on the morrow early. This purchase also entitles you to two changes of uniform per servant. They shall bring the clothing with them.”

“I hope they’ll each be wearing some of it when they arrive! I expect to entertain my sister and her husband here tomorrow at breakfast.”

“Yes, sir. The default shipment dresses them in full livery.”

“Excellent!” The Owner clapped Jeeves on the shoulder. Jeeves’ eyes widened, as if in surprise. Abruptly the Owner pulled his hand back. “Sorry,” he said, “I got carried away.”

“Quite all right, sir. I am difficult to break.”

“Yes. Well.” The Owner pursed his lips. “Having three of you reminds me of an old adage I learned back in my youth at the London School of Economics. Something about how, when a product becomes sparing of energy use and therefore less expensive, people tend to spend the savings on more of the product. Can’t seem to remember the name of the principle, however…”

Again Jeeves’ eyelids closed briefly and reopened. “Found it, sir. It’s called the Jevons Paradox. First mentioned in connection with English coal-powered steam engines, which became more efficient and less costly, whereupon people applied the excess toward more steam power. It is lately considered aberrant behavior in those who have been urged to use efficiency to save energy.”

“Ah, yes, that’s it! Now I remember. And here I am, benefitting from your great efficiency by purchasing more of you.” He chuckled. “I suppose I should name one of you ‘Jevons’ in honor of the irony.”

“Yes, sir. Jeeves and Jevons. Appropriately alliterative.”

“Huh! You show wit. Interesting. In any event, I also feel somewhat guilty, owing to the recent anti-robot street protests and riots. Your kind are replacing humans as workers, and those humans aren’t taking it well.”

Jeeves looked thoughtful. “Sir, as you point out, we are quite inexpensive. In fact, nearly anyone can afford one of us, perhaps to perform paying work on their behalf.”

The Owner nodded. “Good point. But then, having a butler will no longer be a symbol of prestige.” He sighed.

Jeeves moved his mouth upward in a smile. “Yes, but you will now possess three of them.” 

“Very good, Jeeves! Why, I feel better already. Sharp as a tack, you are. Now, where were we? Ah, yes. When the new servants are squared away, please inform me, and I’ll have us meet in the study for a quick overview of everyone’s duties.”

“Of course, sir.”

“Oh, by the way. I noticed, at tonight’s soirée, that a few of the young ladies were actually flirting with you, Jeeves.”

“‘Flirting’, sir?”

“You don’t know what that is?”

“One moment, please, while I search … Ah, of course. It’s a social activity related to … Oh, dear me! I suppose, if I could, I’d be blushing, sir.”

“Yes, well, be careful, you and your two new associates, as we don’t want trouble. On the other hand—” The Owner tapped his chin rhythmically with a finger. “There are some interesting possibilities. I’ll have to think on it.” Again he chuckled. “Well then. Excellent work, Jeeves. You’re dismissed.”

“Thank you, sir.” Jeeves bowed regally and withdrew.

As the butler walked away, the Owner could just make out the whirring of servos in its arms and legs.

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