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The use of global abstractions: national income accounting in the period of imperial decline

  • Daniel Speich (a1)
Abstract
Abstract

This article explores the history of a conceptual world economic order of nations created by statistically minded economists over the last seventy years. Drawing upon work by Colin Clark, Richard Stone, and Simon Kuznets from the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, it reconstructs the rise of new economic indicators referring to economic inequality. Two forms of intellectual practice can be identified that characterized a remarkable shift in knowledge production in Anglo-American economics in the period of French and British imperial decline. One was new methods of counting and comparing income, which produced a sensational new view of the world as a place of enormous poverty. The other was the belief that these issues could be solved by applying a limited set of policy recommendations to all economies in the world.

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3 Wallerstein Immanuel, Open the social sciences, Open the social sciences: Stanford University Press, 1996; Klein Judy and Morgan Mary, eds., The age of economic measurement, The age of economic measurement: Duke University Press, 2001.

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5 Margret Schabas, ‘Coming together: history of economics as history of science’, History of Political Economy, Ann. Suppl. 34, 2002, pp. 208–25; Theodore R. Schatzki, Karin Knorr Cetina, and Eike von Savigny, eds., The practice turn in contemporary theory, The practice turn in contemporary theory: Routledge, 2001.

6 Daston Lorraine and Galison Peter, Objectivity, Objectivity: Zone Books, 2007; Poovey Mary, A history of the modern fact: problems of knowledge in the sciences of wealth and society, A history of the modern fact: problems of knowledge in the sciences of wealth and society: University of Chicago Press, 1998.

7 Power Michael, The audit society: rituals of verification, The audit society: rituals of verification: Oxford University Press, 1997; Tomo Suzuki, ‘The epistemology of macroeconomic reality: the Keynesian revolution from an accounting point of view’, Accounting, Organization and Society, 28, 2003, pp. 471–517.

8 Alain Desrosières, ‘Du réalisme des objets de la comptabilité nationale’, in Desrosières Alain, Gouverner par les nombres: l’argument statistique Tome II, Gouverner par les nombres: l’argument statistique Tome II: Mines, 2008, pp. 257–70.

9 Schumacher Ernst Friedrich, Small is beautiful: a study of economics as if people mattered, Small is beautiful: a study of economics as if people mattered: Blond & Briggs, 1973.

10 See Unger, ‘Towards global equilibrium: American foundations and Indian modernization, 1950s to 1970s’, in this issue, pp. 121–42.

11 Geertz Clifford, Local knowledge: further essays in interpretive anthropology, Local knowledge: further essays in interpretive anthropology: Basic Books, 1983. For further details on this point see Daniel Speich, ‘Der Blick von Lake Success: das Entwicklungsdenken der frühen UNO als “lokales Wissen”’, in Hubertus Büschel and Daniel Speich, eds., Entwicklungswelten: Globalgeschichte der Entwicklungszusammenarbeit, Entwicklungswelten: Globalgeschichte der Entwicklungszusammenarbeit: Campus, 2009, pp. 143–74.

12 Cetina Karin Knorr, Die Fabrikation von Erkenntnis: zur Anthropologie der Naturwissenschaft, Die Fabrikation von Erkenntnis: zur Anthropologie der Naturwissenschaft: Suhrkamp; Latour Bruno and Woolgar Steve, Laboratory life: the social construction of scientific facts, Laboratory life: the social construction of scientific facts: Sage, 1979.

13 I am highly indebted to the work of Mary Morgan in this connection. See Mary S. Morgan, ‘Seeking parts, looking for wholes’, History of Observation in Economics Working Paper Series 1, University of Amsterdam, 2009, http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1496882 (consulted 8 December 2010).

14 Arndt Heinz W., The rise and fall of economic growth: a study in contemporary thought, The rise and fall of economic growth: a study in contemporary thought: Longman, 1978.

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17 On the history of national income accounting, see Studenski Paul, The income of nations: theory, measurement, and analysis, past and present: a study in applied economics and statistics, The income of nations: theory, measurement, and analysis, past and present: a study in applied economics and statistics: New York University Press, 1958. More recent work includes Raymond Vernon, ‘The politics of comparative economic statistics: three cultures and three cases’, in Alonso William and Starr Paul, eds., The politics of numbers, The politics of numbers: Russell Sage, 1987, pp 61–82; Robert A. Horvath, ‘The rise of macroeconomic calculations in economic statistics’, in Lorenz Krüger et al., eds, The probabilistic revolution 2: ideas in the sciences, The probabilistic revolution 2: ideas in the sciences: MIT Press, pp. 147–70; Zoltan Kenessey, ed., The accounts of nations, The accounts of nations: IOS Press, 1994; Ward Michael, Quantifying the world: UN ideas and statistics, Quantifying the world: UN ideas and statistics: Indiana University Press, 2004.

18 Latour Bruno, Science in action: how to follow scientists and engineers through society, Science in action: how to follow scientists and engineers through society: Harvard University Press, 1987, p. 68.

19 Simon Kuznets, National income, 1929–1932, National income, 1929–1932: United States Government Printing Office, 1934; idem, ‘National income’, in Seligman Edwin R. A., ed., Encyclopedia of the social sciences, Encyclopedia of the social sciences: Macmillan, 1933, vol. 11, pp. 205–24; Mark Perlman, ‘Political purpose and the national accounts’, in Alonso William and Starr Paul, eds., The politics of numbers, The politics of numbers: Russell Sage, 1987, pp. 133–53.

20 Kuznets, ‘National income’, p. 205. See also Vibha Kapuria-Foreman and Mark Perlman, ‘An economic historian’s economist: remembering Simon Kuznets’, Economic Journal, 105, 433, 1995, pp. 1524–47.

21 Bruno Latour, ‘Drawing things together’, in Lynch Michael and Woolgar Steve, eds., Representation in Scientific Practice, Representation in Scientific Practice: MIT Press, 1990, p. 27.

22 For the history of statistical time series, see Klein Judy L., Statistical visions in time: a history of time series analysis, 1662–1938, Statistical visions in time: a history of time series analysis, 1662–1938: Cambridge University Press, 1997. The immediate problem at hand was, of course, the change in prices over time. For the history of techniques of deflation, see Studenski, Income of nations, pp. 217ff.

23 Kuznets, ‘National income’, p. 209.

24 Hailey William Malcolm, An African survey: a study of problems arising in Africa south of the Sahara, An African survey: a study of problems arising in Africa south of the Sahara: Oxford University Press, 1938.

25 Deane Phyllis, The measurement of colonial national incomes: an experiment, The measurement of colonial national incomes: an experiment: Cambridge University Press, 1948, p. 152.

26 Deane Phyllis, Colonial social accounting, Colonial social accounting: Cambridge University Press, 1953, p. 115.

27 Prest A. R. and Stewart I. G., National income of Nigeria, National income of Nigeria: HSMO, 1953, p. 4.

28 Morgan, ‘Seeking parts’, pp. 28 and 32.

29 On Stone, see M. Hashem Pesaran and G. C. Harcourt, ‘Life and work of John Richard Nicholas Stone 1913–1991’, Economic Journal, 110, 461, 2000, pp. F146–65; Flavio Comim, ‘Richard Stone and measurement criteria for national accounts’, in Klein and Morgan, The age, pp. 213–34.

30 Peacock Alan T. and Dosser Douglas, The national income of Tanganyika 1952–54, The national income of Tanganyika 1952–54: HMSO, 1958, p. 16.

31 Here, theoretical propositions by Karl Polanyi met empirical substance: Karl Polanyi, ‘The economy as instituted process’, in Karl Polanyi, Conrad M. Arensberg, and Harry W. Pearson, eds., Trade and market in the early empires: economies in history and theory, Trade and market in the early empires: economies in history and theory: Free Press, 1957, pp. 243–69. A ‘substantivist’ position was proposed by, for example, George Dalton, ‘Economic theory and primitive society’, American Anthropologist, American Anthropologist: foundations of economic anthropology, Boulder, CO: Westview, 1996.

32 C. J. Martin, ‘The development and diversity of national income series in East Africa since 1947’, in Samuels L. H., ed., African studies in income and wealth, African studies in income and wealth: Quadrangle Books, 1963, pp. 333–49.

33 T. A. Kennedy, H. W. Ord, and David Walker, ‘On the calculation and interpretation of national accounting material in East Africa’, in Samuels, African studies, p. 393.

34 William O. Jones, ‘Colonial social accounting’, Journal of the American Statistical Association, 50, 271, 1955, p. 665.

35 Dudley Seers, ‘The role of national income estimates in the statistical policy of an under-developed area’, Review of Economic Studies, Review of Economic Studies: problems of the developing countries: essays in honour of H. W. Singer, London: Macmillan, 1976, pp. 193–210.

36 Seers, ‘Role’, p. 160.

37 Lewis W. Arthur, The theory of economic growth, The theory of economic growth: Allen & Unwin, 1955, p. 202.

38 United Nations Statistical Office, A system of national accounts and supporting tables, A system of national accounts and supporting tables: United Nations, 1953.

39 Seers, ‘Role’, p. 160.

40 S. Herbert Frankel, ‘United Nations primer for development: reply’, Quarterly Journal of Economics, 67, 2, 1953, pp. 280–5; P. T. Bauer, ‘The United Nations report on the economic development of under-developed countries’, Economic Journal, 63, 249, 1953, pp. 210–22.

41 Richard Stone, quoted in Milton Gilbert, ‘The measurement of national wealth: discussion’, Econometrica, 17, 1949, p. 261.

42 Goethe Johann Wolfgang, The sorcerer’s apprentice, The sorcerer’s apprentice: 100 poems in new translations, Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1955.

43 Smithies, quoted in Gilbert, ‘Measurement’, p. 269.

44 Milton Gilbert, ed., Income and wealth, Income and wealth: Bowes & Bowes, 1953; Samuels, African studies.

45 Boserup Ester, Woman’s role in economic development, Woman’s role in economic development: Allen & Unwin, 1970; Hans W. Singer and Richard Jolly, Employment, incomes and equality. A strategy for increasing productive employment in Kenya, Employment, incomes and equality. A strategy for increasing productive employment in Kenya: International Labour Office, 1972.

46 Charles I. Jones, Introduction to economic growth, Introduction to economic growth: Norton, 2002. The topic has become ‘hot’ again with the global economic crisis of 2008–09. See Joseph Stiglitz, Amartya Sen, and Jean-Paul Fitoussi, Report by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, Report by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress: Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi-Commission, 2009.

47 Kuznets sharply criticized Colin Clark’s comparison between Chinese and US economic performance: Simon Kuznets, ‘National income and industrial structure’, Econometrica, Econometrica: reflections on their causes’, Economic Development and Cultural Change, 2, 1, 1953, pp. 3–26. A series of voluminous studies on ‘Quantitiative aspects of economic growth’ followed in the same journal between 1956 and 1964.

48 For the notion of epistemic spaces, see Hans-Jörg Rheinberger, Toward a history of epistemic things: synthesizing proteins in the test tube, Toward a history of epistemic things: synthesizing proteins in the test tube: Stanford University Press, 1997.

49 A typical example for a comparative study taking Mexican performance as a benchmark for Africa is G. J. Ligthart and B. Abbai, ‘Economic development in Africa: aims and possibilities’, in Robinson Austin G., ed., Economic development for Africa, south of the Sahara, Economic development for Africa, south of the Sahara: Macmillan, 1964, pp. 3–47.

50 Phyllis Deane and W. A. Cole, British economic growth 1688–1959: trends and structure, British economic growth 1688–1959: trends and structure: Cambridge University Press, 1962. The new perspective was strongly promoted by Alexander Gerschenkron, ‘Economic backwardness in historical perspective’, in Bert F. Hoselitz, ed., The progress of underdeveloped areas, The progress of underdeveloped areas: University of Chicago Press, 1952, pp. 3–29. For an overview, see Cristel de Rouvray, ‘“Old” economic history in the United States 1939–1954’, Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Journal of the History of Economic Thought: conversations with economic historians, London: Routledge, 2008.

51 Angus Maddison, Contours of the world economy, 1–2030 AD: essays in macro-economic history, Contours of the world economy, 1–2030 AD: essays in macro-economic history: Oxford University Press, 2007.

52 The problem has been discussed for population statistics in Libby Schweber, Disciplining statistics. Demography and vital statistics in France and England, 1830–1885, Disciplining statistics. Demography and vital statistics in France and England, 1830–1885: Duke University Press, 2006.

53 Alain Desrosières, ‘Managing the economy’, in Porter Theodore M. and Ross Dorothy, eds., The modern social sciences, The modern social sciences: Cambridge University Press, 2003, pp. 553–64, here p. 560.

54 Stuart Hall, ‘The West and the rest’, in Stuart Hall and Bram Gieben, eds., Formations of modernity, Formations of modernity: Polity Press, pp. 275–320.

55 See Bradley R. Simpson, Economists with guns: authoritarian development and US–Indonesian relations, 1960–1968, Economists with guns: authoritarian development and US–Indonesian relations, 1960–1968: Stanford University Press, 2008.

56 On civilizing missions, see Boris Barth and Jürgen Osterhammel, eds., Zivilisierungsmissionen: imperiale Weltverbesserung seit dem 18. Jahrhundert, Zivilisierungsmissionen: imperiale Weltverbesserung seit dem 18. Jahrhundert: UVK Verlagsgesellschaft, 2005.

57 Keynes John Maynard, How to pay for the war, How to pay for the war: Macmillan, 1940; Angus Maddison, ‘Quantifying and interpreting world development: macromeasurement before and after Colin Clark’, Australian Economic History Review, 44, 1, 2004, pp. 1–34.

58 On the relationship between economic theory and operations research during the Second World War, see Philip Mirowski, ‘Cyborg agonistes: economics meets operations research in mid-century’, Social Studies of Science, 29, 5, 1999, pp. 685–718.

59 Keynes John Maynard, The general theory of employment, interest and money, The general theory of employment, interest and money: Macmillan, 1936. For Keynes’ international impact, see Peter A. Hall, ed., The political power of economic ideas: Keynesianism across nations, The political power of economic ideas: Keynesianism across nations: Princeton University Press, 1989.

60 Harrod Roy, The life of John Maynard Keynes, The life of John Maynard Keynes: Macmillan, 1951, pp. 501ff.

61 Germany went a ‘Sonderweg’. Early attempts at professionalizing macroeconomic statistics fell victim to the dynamics of a polycentric state administration in 1936. See J. Adam Tooze, Statistics and the German state, 1900–1945: the making of modern economic knowledge, Statistics and the German state, 1900–1945: the making of modern economic knowledge: Cambridge University Press, 2001, ch. 6. After 1945, German national accounting had to regain plausibility. On West Germany, see Alexander Nützenadel, Stunde der Ökonomen: Wissenschaft, Politik und Expertenkultur in der Bundesrepublik 1949–1974, Stunde der Ökonomen: Wissenschaft, Politik und Expertenkultur in der Bundesrepublik 1949–1974: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2005. Most local experiences in national income accounting have been registered by Studenski, Income of nations.

62 Bauchet Pierre, La planification française: quinze ans d’expérience, La planification française: quinze ans d’expérience: Editions du Seuil, 1962; François Fourquet, Les comptes de la puissance: histoire de la comptabilité nationale et du plan, Les comptes de la puissance: histoire de la comptabilité nationale et du plan: Encres, 1980; André Vanoli, Une histoire de la comptabilité nationale, Une histoire de la comptabilité nationale: La Découverte, 2002.

63 Boumans Marcel, How economists model the world into numbers, How economists model the world into numbers: Routledge, 2005.

64 For the notion of real experiments – ‘Realexperimente’ – see Matthias Gross and Wolfgang Krohn, ‘Society as experiment: sociological foundations for a self-experimental society’, History of the Human Sciences, 18, 2, 2005, pp. 63–86.

65 James Harold, International monetary cooperation since Bretton Woods, International monetary cooperation since Bretton Woods: IMF, 1996.

66 Truman promised to the world ‘a bold new program for making the benefits of our scientific advances and industrial progress available for the improvement and growth of underdeveloped areas’. Dennis Merrill, ed., The Point Four Program: reaching out to help the less developed countries, The Point Four Program: reaching out to help the less developed countries: University Publications of America, 1999, pp. 4–5. On Truman see generally Elizabeth Edwards Spalding, The first Cold Warrior: Harry Truman, containment, and the remaking of liberal internationalism, The first Cold Warrior: Harry Truman, containment, and the remaking of liberal internationalism: University Press of Kentucky, 2006.

67 Evatt Herbert Vere, The United Nations, The United Nations: Oxford University Press, 1948, p. 127.

68 Eugene Staley, World economic development: effects on advanced industrial countries, World economic development: effects on advanced industrial countries: International Labour Office, 1944. On Staley, see David Ekbladh, The great American mission: modernization and the construction of an American world order, The great American mission: modernization and the construction of an American world order: Princeton University Press, 2010. On the ILO see Daniel Maul, Menschenrechte, Sozialpolitik und Dekolonisation: die internationale Arbeitsorganisation (IAO) 1940–1970, Menschenrechte, Sozialpolitik und Dekolonisation: die internationale Arbeitsorganisation (IAO) 1940–1970: Klartext, 2007.

69 United Nations Department of Economic Affairs, Economic report: salient features of the world economic situation 1945–47, Economic report: salient features of the world economic situation 1945–47: United Nations, 1948, p. 243.

70 Staffan Müller-Wille, ‘Race et appartenance ethnique: la diversité humaine et l’UNESCO Déclarations sur la race (1950 et 1951)’, in UNESCO, 60 ans d’histoire de l’UNESCO, Actes du colloque international, Paris, 16–18 novembre 2005, 60 ans d’histoire de l’UNESCO, Actes du colloque international, Paris, 16–18 novembre 2005: UNESCO, pp. 211–20.

71 Kuznets, ‘International differences’, p. 10.

72 See e.g. Hugh L. Keenleyside, International aid: a summary: with special reference to the programmes of the United Nations, International aid: a summary: with special reference to the programmes of the United Nations: James H. Heineman, 1966, p. 37ff.

73 Trygve Lie, ‘Opening statement at first UN Technical Assistance Conference’, in Andrew W. Cordier and Wilder Foote, eds., Public papers of the Secretaries-General of the United Nations, 1: Trygve Lie 1946–1953, Public papers of the Secretaries-General of the United Nations, 1: Trygve Lie 1946–1953: Columbia University Press, 1969, p. 311.

74 Frederick Cooper, ‘Modernizing bureaucrats, backward Africans, and the development concept’, in Frederick Cooper and Randall Packard, eds., International development and the social sciences: essays on the history and politics of knowledge, International development and the social sciences: essays on the history and politics of knowledge: California University Press, 1997, pp. 64–92.

75 Dietmar Rothermund, ‘Indien: von der Planwirtschaft zur Liberalisierung’, in Wolfram Fischer, ed., Lebensstandard und Wirtschaftssysteme: Studien im Auftrage des Wissenschaftsfonds der DG Bank, Lebensstandard und Wirtschaftssysteme: Studien im Auftrage des Wissenschaftsfonds der DG Bank: Fritz Knapp, 1995, pp. 501–42.

76 Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis, The approach of operational research to planning in India, The approach of operational research to planning in India: Statistical Publishing Society, 1955; C. R. Rao, ‘Prasantha Chandra Mahalanobis 1893–1972’, Biographical memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, Biographical memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society: Oxford University Press, 2002.

77 Tom Mboya, ‘Tensions in African development’, in Tom Mboya, ed., The challenge of nationhood: a collection of speeches and writings, The challenge of nationhood: a collection of speeches and writings: Heinemann, 1970, pp. 24–33; B. T. G. Chidzero, ‘The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa’, African Studies Bulletin, 6, 2, 1963, pp. 1–5.

78 Tignor Robert L., W. Arthur Lewis and the birth of development economics, W. Arthur Lewis and the birth of development economics: Princeton University Press, 2006, chs. 4, 5, and 6; Murphy Craig N., The United Nations Development Programme: a better way?, The United Nations Development Programme: a better way?: Cambridge University Press, 2006, ch. 5.

79 Dosman Edgar J., The life and times of Raúl Prebisch, The life and times of Raúl Prebisch: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2008, ch. 14.

80 Gray Clive S., Inside independent Nigeria: diaries of Wolfang Stolper, 1960–1962, Inside independent Nigeria: diaries of Wolfang Stolper, 1960–1962: Ashgate, 2003; Mary Morgan, ‘“On a mission” with mutable mobiles’, Working papers on the nature of evidence: how well do ‘facts’ travel?, 34, 2008, Department of Economic History, London School of Economics, http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/22500/1/3408Morgan.pdf (consulted 9 December 2010).

81 Adebayo Adedeji, ‘The ECA: forging a future for Africa’, in Yves Berthelot, ed., Unity and diversity in development ideas: perspectives from the UN Regional Commissions, Unity and diversity in development ideas: perspectives from the UN Regional Commissions: Indiana University Press, 2003), pp. 233–306; Bahgat El-Tawil, ‘Statistical activities of the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa, Addis Ababa’, Journal of Modern African Studies, 3, 3, 1965, pp. 437–9.

82 Chidzero, ‘United Nations Economic Commission’.

83 Richard M. Barkay, ‘The statistical macro-economic framework needed in development planning in Africa’, in Samuels, African Studies, p. 85. I thank Mary S. Morgan for bringing this quote to my attention.

84 Jackson Robert H., Quasi-States: sovereignty, international relations, and the Third World, Quasi-States: sovereignty, international relations, and the Third World: Cambridge University Press, 1990; Badie Bertrand, L’état importé: essai sur l’occidentalisation de l’ordre politique, L’état importé: essai sur l’occidentalisation de l’ordre politique: Fayard, 1992.

85 Frederick Cooper, ‘The dialectics of decolonization: nationalism and labour movements in post-war French Africa’, in Frederick Cooper and Laura Ann Stoler, eds., Tensions of empire: colonial cultures in a bourgeois world, Tensions of empire: colonial cultures in a bourgeois world: University of California Press, 1997, pp. 406–35; Daniel Speich, ‘The Kenyan style of “African socialism”: developmental knowledge claims and the explanatory limits of the Cold War’, Diplomatic History, 33, 3, 2009, pp. 449–66.

86 Peter J. Boettke, ed., The collapse of development planning, The collapse of development planning: New York University Press, 1994.

87 It is interesting to note that these benchmarks created an incentive for underdeveloped countries to keep their official national income figures low: Vernon, ‘Politics’, p. 65.

88 Carl E. Pletsch, ‘The three worlds, or the division of social scientific labor, circa 1950–1975’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 23, 4, 1981, pp. 565–90.

89 Mary Morgan, ‘Perspective: making measuring instruments’, in Klein and Morgan, The age, pp. 235–51.

90 The limitations of national sovereignty in the postcolonial world order are analysed in Antony Anghie, Imperialism, sovereignty and the making of international law, Imperialism, sovereignty and the making of international law: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

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