Adam Tooze

The American Historical Review, June 2008


A torrent of numbers accompanies both the bureaucratic communication and the public discourse that are characteristic of modernity. And there is no area where their dominance is more pronounced than with regard to economic affairs. From as early as the seventeenth century, “political arithmetic” was a favorite tool of economic punditry, but it was in the late nineteenth and the early twentieth century that the production of economic data became quasi-industrial. States and interest groups constructed systems of economic statistics in the form that we know them today, as instruments of real-time observation with a new and reified conception of “the economy” as their object. Clearly the history of statistics is intertwined with the history of what Michel Foucault termed governmentality.

View the paper here: Trouble with Numbers: Statistics, Politics, and History in the Construction of Weimar’s Trade Balance, 1918-1924