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.

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