The Pricing of Progress
Economic Indicators and the Capitalization of American Life
Harvard University Press 2017
New Books in American StudiesNew Books in Critical TheoryNew Books in EconomicsNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in SociologyNew Books Network December 6, 2017 Andrea Bernard
I was joined by Eli Cook from Israel to talk about his amazing new book The Pricing of Progress: Economic Indicators and the Capitalization of American Life (Harvard University Press, 2017). While economists and politicians are busy discussing alternative measures of progress, Eli Cook traces the long history that brought us to use the GDP as a measure of growth, success, power, wellbeing. This is not only the history of technical metrics, this is the history of ideas and of a dominant paradigm. According to the author the invention of GDP was the final step not only in the pricing of progress but also the capitalization of American life.
How did Americans come to quantify their society’s progress and well-being in units of money? In today’s GDP-run world, prices are the standard measure of not only our goods and commodities but our environment, our communities, our nation, even our self-worth.The Pricing of Progress traces the long history of how and why we moderns adopted the monetizing values and valuations of capitalism as an indicator of human prosperity while losing sight of earlier social and moral metrics that did not put a price on everyday life.
Eli Cook roots the rise of economic indicators in the emergence of modern capitalism and the contested history of English enclosure, Caribbean slavery, American industrialization, economic thought, and corporate power. He explores how the maximization of market production became the chief objective of American economic and social policy.
As economic elites quantified the nation as a for-profit, capitalized investment, the progress of its inhabitants, free or enslaved, came to be valued according to their moneymaking abilities. The book is a beautiful and enjoyable account of how capitalism shaped our societies: not only introducing a new social order of production and consumption but also through a new way of measuring the value of our economies, of our societies and, eventually, of ourselves.
Andrea Bernardi is Senior Lecturer in Employment and Organization Studies at Oxford Brookes University in the UK. He holds a doctorate in Organization Theory from the University of Milan, Bicocca. He has held teaching and research positions in Italy, China and the UK. Among his research interests are the use of history in management studies, the co-operative sector, and Chinese co-operatives. His latest project is looking at health care in rural China. He is the co-convener of the EAEPE’s permanent track on Critical Management Studies.