Since the late nineteenth century, the 'cost of living' has been a prominent part of debates about American political economy. By the early twentieth century, that prominence had taken a quantitative turn, as businessmen, unions, economists, and politicians all turned to cost-of-living statistics in their struggle to control and reshape the American economy. Today, the continuing power of these statistics is exemplified by the U.S Consumer Price Index, whose fluctuations have enormous consequences for economic policy and the federal budget (including the allocation of hundreds of billions of dollars annually through cost-of-living escalator clauses in programs such as Social Security). In this book, Stapleford interweaves economic theory with political history to create a novel account of the quantitative knowledge that underpins much of American political economy. Demonstrating that statistical calculations inevitably require political judgments, he reveals what choices were made in constructing and using cost-of-living statistics and why those choices matter both for our understanding of American history and for contemporary political and economic life.
Thomas Stapleford received his Ph.D. from the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University in 2003, where he studied the history of the social sciences. His dissertation, the basis for this book, won the Joseph Dorfman Best Dissertation Award from the History of Economics Society in 2004. Stapleford is currently an assistant professor in the Program of Liberal Studies at the University of Notre Dame and was a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 2008-2009. He has published related work in the Journal of American History, Labor History, and Labor: Studies in the Working-Class History of the Americas. Research for this book was supported by the National Science Foundation, the Notre Dame Faculty Research Program, and the Harvard Center for American Political Studies.
Introduction; Note on terminology and technical theory; Part I. Statistics and Labor Reform,1880-1930: 1. Before there were indexes: the 'labor question' and labor statistics, 1884-1910; 2. The cost-of-living statistics and industrial relations in the 1920s; Part II. Rationalizing the Democratic Political Order, 1930-1960: 4. The nature of a revolution: the Bureau of Labor Statistics from the bottom-up: union research on the cost of living; 7. Bounded conflict: collective bargaining and the consumer price index in the Cold War; Part III. The Consumer Price Index and the Federal Government, 1960-2000: 8. Accounting for growth: macroeconomics analysis and the transformation of price index theory; 9. From workers to the welfare state: the consumer price index and the rise of indexation; Epilogue: governance and economic statistics; Technical index: a brief primer on cost-of-living indexes.