Sir Edwin Chadwick Public Health

Sir Edwin Chadwick Public Health and The Value of Time

Although Chadwick was the undisputed leader of the overall public-health move­ment in nineteenth-century England, the basic feature of his proposed reform of the sanitation system involved the distribution of water. The existing system required consumers to bear the cost of transporting water from distribution point to home be­cause they were required to purchase water from central locations. The purchase price of water was low but the full cost was high because of the substantial time spent haul­ing water to the point of use. Chadwick's analysis of the situation identified the op­portunity cost of time. He pointed out that "if the labourer or his wife or child would otherwise be employed, even in the lowest paid labour or in knitting stockings, the cost of fetching water by hand is extravagantly high" ("Report on the Sanitary Con­dition of the Labouring Population," p. 142).

Chadwick recognized that the. full cost of water was the sum of its purchase price plus the opportunity wage rate per hour times the number of hours it took to fetch the water for home use. To provide the appropriate economic incentive for improved personal hygiene, he called for a reduction in the full cost of water by having it home-delivered. Once again, the solution to a public problem required the creation of an artificial identity of interest. The desired (public) result of home sanitation could be ensured by the proper structuring of economic incentives. Also important is the fact that Chadwick recognized the value of time and added this as a relevant variable in the formulation of economic policy.