Recipes for creating development have changed radically since the international community first thought to intervene in such historical processes soon after World War II. During this time, views about how to measure development have also changed dramatically, moving from relatively simple to relatively complex measurement systems. This article charts these changes using both the oral interview histories and retrospective book accounts given by those involved with the United Nations Development Programme and offers an analysis of their “political economy of numbers.” Their move from using GNP per head to the Sustainable Development Goals is analyzed in terms of the potential performativity of those numbers in prompting development and for creating accountability.
Measuring Development—from the UN’s Perspective
Mary S. Morgan is the Albert O. Hirschman Professor of History and Philosophy of Economics at the London School of Economics; she is an elected Fellow of the British Academy, and an Overseas Fellow of the Royal Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences. Her research interests cover the practical aspects of science: questions about models, measurements, observation, experiments, and so forth, and how these have changed over the last century. Her two most recent books are The World in the Model (2012) and How Well Do Facts Travel? (2011); and she is currently working on projects on poverty measurement, on how economics gets used to change things in the world, and on the ways that narrative forms of explanation are used across the sciences.
Maria Bach studied for her PhD at King’s College London in international political economy and is now an economics lecturer at the American University of Paris (AUP). Her thesis analyses how Indian political economists constructed an idea of development at the turn of the nineteenth century. She has published an article on Mahadev Govind Ranade’s idea of progress in late nineteenth-century India in the European Journal for the History of Economic Thought. She is currently an economics lecturer at the American University of Paris and has previously taught economic history at the London School of Economics, as well as international political economy and economics at King’s College London. From 2013 to 2014, she was a consultant at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in Paris working on a project titled New Approaches to Economic Challenges.
Mary S. Morgan, Maria Bach; Measuring Development—from the UN’s Perspective. History of Political Economy 1 December 2018; 50 (S1): 193–210. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00182702-7033932
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