The productivity discourse: constructing the economies of France and the United States during the 20th century
Degree awarded: Ph.D. School of International Service. American University
The productivity discourse, constructing the economies of France and the United States during the 20th century analyzes the way in which mathematical models of productivity - as well as the rhetoric of productivity - powerfully influenced policy-making in France and the United States during the last century. The research reveals that social meanings attached to the concept of productivity, and the lens through which we attribute the source of productivity growth shifted, over time, and that these shifts related to changes in the social context. The larger finding exposes the potency of economic indicators to act as organizing principles, with the research showing how countries respond to changes in their relative rankings.The dissertation research is premised on the assumption that the productivity discourse would neutralize divisive interests because of its promise that "more" would be available for less - and for all. The evidence collected from public debates in France and the United States suggests this presumption to be clearly correct. The research additionally reveals the sheer competitive force of a country's relative productivity ranking as an economic organizing principle. Because the numbers and models used to conceptualize productivity tend to shift with changes in the social context, essentialist properties of productivity are placed in doubt, thereby providing the grounds for novel interpretations about how economies are constructed and become transfigured over time. The fact that social meanings attached to productivity translated fairly well across two countries - France and the United States - with very different institutional configurations, more fundamentally, reveals the power of ideas as organizing principles in economies and presents a challenge to the Varieties of Capitalism literature.
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