Abstract: Beyond the Firm: Economic Indicators and the Visible Hand of Everyday Life

Eli Cook


This paper explores how cost-accounting figures shaped cost-of-living statistics and the invention of the calorie by examining the lifework of Gilded Age manufacturer, nutrition reformer, and economic thinker Edward Atkinson. In so doing, this paper demonstrates that the managerial statistics that Alfred Chandler has famously documented ended up being used not only to manage American firms but to run American society. Chandler was one of the first historians to recognize the importance of data in managing a corporate capitalist society. And yet, his work focused mostly on firms. This paper suggests that we need to bravely go where Chandler rarely went before: beyond the firm. Instead of focusing only on the microeconomics of the corporation, we must explore the macroeconomics of the nation. Instead of analyzing only the "visible hand" of the firm, we must examine the visible hand of everyday life.