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Counting Persons, Counting Profits

Counting Persons, Counting Profits

(p.160) 5 Counting Persons, Counting Profits
Accounting for Capitalism
Michael Zakim
University of Chicago Press

Proliferating enumerations of persons and property, farms and manufactories, marriages and migrations, and, of course, death and disease, became a vital means for reordering society in the fragmenting conditions of the age of capital. Statistics thus marked the very acme of paperwork, allowing humanity to distill the flux of events into their constituent parts, which could then be reconfigured into more useful patterns in a nearly endless array of tabular sequences and causal chains. This knowledge economy reached full expression in the federal census of 1850, whose population and industrial schedules rested on a newly personalized taxonomy – households rather than individuals having hitherto served as the unit of account in the census – that proved essential to the thinkability of capitalism, applying its measurements with equal effect to both people and profits.

Keywords:   statistics, census, knowledge, taxonomy, Lemuel Shattuck, commodification, epistemology

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