The moments of, and movements for national accounts: contextualising changes to British national accounting during the 1930s to 1950s
University of Cambridge
Centre of Development Studies
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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Fright, M. (2021). The moments of, and movements for national accounts: contextualising changes to British national accounting during the 1930s to 1950s (Doctoral thesis). https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.68662
The moments of, and movements for national accounts: contextualising changes to British national accounting during the 1930s to 1950s Matthew Philip James Fright Abstract Despite a renewed interest in the origins of national income accounting, and increasing scholarship on the relationship this has to the State, there is further scope for us to better understand the context of how this came about. We do not fully understand how institutional factors shaped them or what the numbers themselves meant to the researchers. This thesis adopts a historical approach informed by the works of Geoffrey Hodgson and Quentin Skinner to better understand a critical juncture in national accounts transformation – the 1941 publication of White Paper Command Paper 6261 An analysis of War Finance and an Estimate of National Income and Expenditure – and how it was influenced by wider intellectual and institutional changes from the 1930s. The thesis is organised in two parts. In the first part, the Moments of National Accounts, Chapter 3 argues that 1930s economics drew on heroic figures from the distant past to justify new approaches to economics. Chapter 4 zooms out to consider the influence of international bodies such as the League of Nations and the Rockefeller Foundation during the 1930s upon a new data-driven, “realistic” approach to economics. Chapter 5 looks at how wider pressures for new wartime finance approaches justified new technocratic approaches which led to the publication of the first official national accounts. The second part, the Movements for National Accounts, examines the institutionalisation of this new technocratic national accounting approach through two case studies. Chapter 5 considers the way Keynes and Stone founded the Department of Applied Economics in Cambridge as a research centre for furthering a “realistic” research agenda. Chapter 6 examines a confluence of interests between the Colonial Office’s desire to export national accounts public finance, the researchers of the DAE and the colonial government of Nigeria led to the publication of the National Accounts of Nigeria in 1951. The contribution of the thesis is twofold: 1) showing how context matters to the idea of National Accounts culminating in the 1941 publication; and 2) showing why and how ideas became institutionalised after World War II. By unpacking both, this thesis shows how different bases of thought, rationale and contextual factors informed what National Accounts became in the UK, importantly, in ways that differ from thinking about National Accounts today.
national accounts, national income, G.D.P., public finance, Department of Applied Economics, institutional economics, Quentin Skinner Cambridge School, history of economics
Pigott Scholarship; Queens' College Munro Studentship; and, Cambridge Political Economy Society Trust.
This record's DOI: https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.68662
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