Thesis ID: CBB001567371

Calculated Values: The Politics and Epistemology of Economic Numbers in Britain, 1688--1738 (2012)


Deringer, William Peter (Author)

Princeton University
Colley, Linda J
Burnett, D. Graham
Pincus, Steven
Levy, Jonathan I.
Burnett, D. Graham
Pincus, Steven
Gordin, Michael
Levy, Jonathan I.

Publication Date: 2012
Edition Details: Advisor: Gordin, Michael, Colley, Linda J; Committee Members: Levy, Jonathan I., Burnett, D. Graham, Pincus, Steven.
Physical Details: 482 pp.
Language: English

This dissertation chronicles the emergence of economic calculation as an analytical, argumentative, and moral tool in British politics in the half-century after the 1688 Revolution. During Britain's "financial revolution," novel questions about the nation's "Trade & Revenue" were contested in the halls of Parliament and the pamphlet press. Accountants, government employees, journalists, and Parliamentary representatives built creative economic calculations to make sense of imperfect data, interrogate political secrets, and critique factional opponents. Through seemingly endless political fights over economic numbers, nourished by Britain's intensely partisan political culture, a novel practice of quantitative political economy coalesced. Those skilled in economic calculation found new opportunities for public advancement. Such practitioners forged inventive techniques of numerical estimation, modeling, and valuation, and pitched ambitious ideas about how numbers could make for better policy and a better nation. Consequently, epistemological questions about data sufficiency, probability, and prediction became problems of immediate political concern. While Britain's computational combatants came to few cohesive answers about the questions they confronted, their disagreements laid the groundwork for a more pervasive trust in numbers as a privileged medium of political knowledge. The first half of the dissertation traces the career of economic calculation through three major political transformations that shaped the modern British nation. Chapter 1 considers the problems of public accounting--the challenge of "finding the money"--that arose for MPs and political commentators in the aftermath of 1688. Chapter 2 looks at the calculation of the "Equivalent" and the debates over the Anglo-Scottish Union in 1706-1707. Chapter 3 recounts the heated debates over the Anglo-French "balance of trade" in 1713-1714, prompted by the Peace of Utrecht. The second half of the dissertation begins with the 1720 South Sea Bubble, which, perhaps more than any other event, demonstrated to contemporaries why accurate calculation was so necessary for a commercial polity. Chapter 4 recaptures the diversity of plausible methods Britons developed for computing the value of the South Sea stock before the 1720 crash. Chapter 5 explains how one particular method of valuation, that of the MP Archibald Hutcheson, gained special authority as a true representation of that stock's "intrinsick value," in large part because it proved so useful in establishing the ethical wrongdoings behind the Bubble. The final chapter examines how, just as financial calculations had become so valuable for proving the failures of the past after 1720, thereafter they also began to assume new powers for predicting and controlling the political future.


Description Cited in Dissertation Abstracts International-A 74/04(E), Oct 2013. Proquest Document ID: 1238001647.

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Authors & Contributors
Meyns, Chris
Zhao, Gang
Le Maux, Laurent
Bochove, Christiaan van
Winterbottom, Anna
Underwood, Matthew Carl
Eighteenth-Century Studies
Social Text
Notes and Records: The Royal Society Journal of the History of Science
Journal of British Studies
Intellectual History Review
History of Political Economy
University of Hawai'i Press
Oxford University Press
Irish Academic Press
Harvard University Press
Science and politics
Science and economics
Science and government
Swift, Jonathan
Smith, Adam
Sloane, Hans
Petty, William
Davenant, Charles
Time Periods
18th century
17th century
19th century
20th century
Early modern
Great Britain
United States
Atlantic world
Amsterdam (Netherlands)
Royal Society of London
Great Britian. Parliamentary and Scientific Committee
Dutch East India Company

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