Michelle Murphy is Professor of History and Women and Gender Studies at the University of Toronto and the author of
Phantasmagrams of Population and Economy
Arc I tells a U.S. Cold War–era story of data practices that generated “economy” and “population” as calculative objects of national governance and intervention. At stake at the intersection of economy and population was the calculation of how life contributes to gdp, and hence the identification of forms of surplus life and life not worth being born. More than an object of calculation, the macroeconomy became a phantasmagram in which numbers were charged with imaginaries, desires, and feelings that went beyond their facticity. While early practices of modeling the national economy excluded the labor of home and care from calculations of gdp, by the 1960s questions of reproduction in the form of population growth and demography became central to Cold War and postcolonial practices of governing national economies that sought to avert the birth of some for the sake of the future prosperity of others.