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Accounting for CapitalismThe World the Clerk Made$
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Michael Zakim

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780226977973

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226545899.001.0001

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(p.9) 1 Paperwork
Accounting for Capitalism

Michael Zakim

University of Chicago Press

An American “knowledge economy” was not put in place, operating through an extensive network of information industries that specialized in credit, insurance, communications, and transportation, as well as in training a professionalized cadre of “subaltern officials and scribes” administer a paper system of command and control, as Max Weber eventually explained. This mercurial growth in the production and dissemination of business information became the practical foundation for the era’s other, more spectacular revolutions being wrought by steam and iron. Indeed, capitalism could not function without such a vigilant disposal of the books, refitting the counting room into an assembly line for fabricating, aggregating, duplicating, and transmitting reams of written documentation that cannot therefore be dismissed as the mere detritus of modern material life. The railroad and telegraph might be favorite examples of the new economy’s information infrastructure, as such, but bills of lading, warehouse receipts, copies of the correspondence, and a matrix of ledgers and account books proved no less essential to the rise of capital to dominion status.

Keywords:   paperwork, office, business administration, knowledge economy, penmanship systems, business writing, bookkeeping

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