Magazine article Foreign Affairs

Recent Books: Economic, Social, and Environmental: The Power of a Single Number: A Political History of GDP/The Great Invention: The Story of GDP and the Making (and Unmaking) of the Modern World

Magazine article Foreign Affairs

Recent Books: Economic, Social, and Environmental: The Power of a Single Number: A Political History of GDP/The Great Invention: The Story of GDP and the Making (and Unmaking) of the Modern World

Article excerpt

Recent Books: Economic, Social, and Environmental: The Power of a Single Number: A Political History of GDP BY PHILIPP LEPENIES. Columbia University Press, 2016, 208 pp. The Great Invention: The Story of GDP and the Making (and Unmaking) of the Modern World BY EHSAN MASOOD. Pegasus Books, 2016, 352 pp.

In recent decades, the acronym "gdp"-short for "gross domestic product"-has entered popular and political discourse as a measurement of economic activity; gdp per capita, meanwhile, has emerged as a rough measure of overall well-being. In his informative book, Lepenies describes the tortuous path by which gdp became so crucial, beginning with the conceptual work on economic measurement carried out by the English economist William Petty in the mid-seventeenth century, to the consolidation of gdp's role in assessing and managing the British and U.S. economies during World War II, to Washington's postwar insistence that European recipients of Marshall Plan aid adopt gdp as a metric and collect the data needed to calculate it. …

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