Accounting for CapitalismThe World the Clerk Made

Accounting for CapitalismThe World the Clerk Made

Michael Zakim

Print publication date: 2018

ISBN: 9780226977973

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


A new class of “merchant clerks” appeared on the historical stage in the middle of the nineteenth century, collectively charged with administering the most important production project in America’s emerging capitalist economy, production of the market. In so doing, they manned a labor-intensive regime of writing operations and accounting procedures that transposed a general miscellany of goods into standard sets of commensurable values, re-inventing trade as a far more universal and abstract grid of relations than anything previously known in the marketplaces and seasonal fairs of older systems of exchange. At the same time, these ambitious young men were no less devoted to producing a new version of selfhood as well, one that matched the mobility and mutability so essential to the commodity form. Crossing the thresholds that divided farm and metropolis, homestead and boarding house, and, most significantly, growing things and selling them, they redefined the relationship between “Mammon and Manhood,” and personified that most evocative of modern keywords, human capital.