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Episode 522: The Invention Of 'The Economy'

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Episode 522: The Invention Of 'The Economy'

Podcast

Episode 522: The Invention Of 'The Economy'

Episode 522: The Invention Of 'The Economy'

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/520294083/520324049" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

A bread line forms outside of the Rescue Society in New York City in 1929. "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" directly confronted the hardship of the Great Depression. Wikimedia Commons hide caption

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Wikimedia Commons

A bread line forms outside of the Rescue Society in New York City in 1929. "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" directly confronted the hardship of the Great Depression.

Wikimedia Commons

The Great Depression brought unemployment, hunger and anxiety, but it also brought us a great new acronym: The GDP. In the midst of the United States' worst economic downturn — the GDP, Gross Domestic Product — was born. It was a number and an idea that changed the way we talked and thought about the world.

Until the concept of GDP came around, no one really had figured out a way to measure what was happening, economically. There was no way to compare one year to another.

In 1934, Congress asked a group of economists to solve that. Later that year, those economists published a paper called "National Income, 1929-1932." The report, by Simon Kuznets and others, became a best-seller in a matter of weeks.

And soon enough, you couldn't turn on the radio without hearing these numbers and what they were measuring, this new thing called the economy.

On today's show: How we started boiling down entire nations and their economies into a single number. And how that number made people think they could control a country's destiny.

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