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Political Arithmetic

Simon Kuznets and the Empirical Tradition in Economics

We take for granted today that the assessments, measurements, and forecasts of economists are crucial to the decision-making of governments and businesses alike. But less than a century ago that wasn’t the case—economists simply didn’t have the necessary information or statistical tools to understand the ever more complicated modern economy.

With Political Arithmetic, Nobel Prize–winning economist Robert Fogel and his collaborators tell the story of economist Simon Kuznets, the founding of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and the creation of the concept of GNP, which for the first time enabled us to measure the performance of entire economies. The book weaves together the many strands of political and economic thought and historical pressures that together created the demand for more detailed economic thinking—Progressive-era hopes for activist government, the production demands of World War I, Herbert Hoover’s interest in business cycles as President Harding’s commerce secretary, and the catastrophic economic failures of the Great Depression—and shows how, through trial and error, measurement and analysis, economists such as Kuznets rose to the occasion and in the process built a discipline whose knowledge could be put to practical use in everyday decision-making.

The product of a lifetime of studying the workings of economies and skillfully employing the tools of economics, Political Arithmetic is simultaneously a history of a key period of economic thought and a testament to the power of applied ideas.


"It all adds up! Political Arithmetic captures a great intellectual pioneer at work and shows how he helped make modern economics a tool for transforming not only mankind’s environment but mankind itself."

Sylvia Nasar, author of Grand Pursuit: The Story of Economic Genius and A Beauti

"The tale moves quickly, but with the light touch of a master who understands the tradition of which he writes from the inside."


Table of Contents


Introduction: The Amazing Twentieth Century
1  The Rise of Academic Economists Before World War I
2  The Early History of the NBER
3  The Emergence of National Income Accounting as a Tool of Economic Policy
4  The Use of National Income Accounting to Study Comparative Economic Growth
5  The Scientific Methods of Simon Kuznets
6  Further Aspects of the Legacy of Simon Kuznets
7  The Quarter Century since the Death of Simon Kuznets


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