'Please Find Enclosed Restricted Information': Business, International Organisations, and the Production of Economic Knowledge in Post-War Europe
Post-war international standards have contributed to the acceleration of global economic integration, comparing, assessing, and ranking the wealth of nations within a normative framework. The trauma of the Great Depression of the 1930s fueled a profound belief that peace could only be guaranteed through interdependence among peoples, and that it was necessary to work on opening up economies and increasing trade to achieve this goal. But it was also the time to heal societies and compensate for everything that was missing but necessary for the basic well-being of weary populations. For the first time in history, there was a sense that no one should be left behind, because frustrated crowds could become dangerous, and from now on nothing was more to be feared than orchestrated violence. From the ashes of the post-war world, in the 1940s, international organizations were thus created with the aim of restoring national economies and giving the world a new impetus.
In order to build an economic and social approach to global governance compatible with a market economy, IOs needed to collect, standardize and distribute data in a systematic way (on a planetary scale). This often meant creating data that in most cases did not exist. To that end, IOs had to work with private and public actors to learn about local economic activities: as shows the correspondence at the UNOG from the 1940s between the UNECE and entrepreneurs, research institutes, governments, other IOs, and lobbying groups in which international economic actors/thinkers requested aggregated data on specific sectors (industry, agriculture, transportations, etc.). I am interested in this international data mapping of the world economy, the first standardized tools for measuring economic production, assets and trade flows on a planetary scale. I am concerned with the debates around the constitution of these raw data, the training of statisticians and data producers in developing countries, the debates around what constitutes productive and unproductive activities, and the evolution of all these debates, depending on who