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Peer reviewed

Jahrbuch für Wirtschaftsgeschichte / Economic History Yearbook

Ed. by Ziegler, Dieter

CiteScore 2018: 0.06

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2018: 0.115
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2018: 0.203

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Volume 59, Issue 2


Mapping the Future.

Business Forecasting and the Dynamics of Capitalism in the Interwar Period

Laetitia Lenel
  • Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Lehrstuhl für Sozial- und Wirtschaftsgeschichte, Unter den Linden 6, D-10099 Berlin, Berlin, Germany
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Published Online: 2018-12-31 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/jbwg-2018-0013


The recognition of the key importance of economic stability after World War I sparked interest in business forecasting on both sides of the Atlantic. This article explores the creation and the rapid international and domestic dissemination of the Harvard Index of General Business Conditions in the early 1920s, which contemporaries celebrated as the first “scientific” approach to business forecasting. Drawing on multi-site archival research, the paper analyses the extension of the index by an information-exchange-based method in the 1920s and traces its influence on the survey-based forecasting approach employed by American companies in the 1930s. Engaging with the current debate on the temporal order of capitalism, the article argues that business forecasting was not only a means of stabilizing capitalism, but a factor and an indicator of a change in the dynamics of capitalism in the interwar period.

JEL Classification: B 00; B 10; B 20; B 41; N 01; N 40

Keywords: forecasting; future; business cycle research; capitalism; consumer research; historical epistemology; material practices; Harvard Economic Service; London and Cambridge Economic Service; League of Nations; General Motors; Prognose; Zukunft; Konjunkturforschung; Kapitalismus; Konsumforschung; Wirtschaftskrisen; Wissensgeschichte

About the article

Laetitia Lenel

Laetitia Lenel is a PhD candidate at the Department of History at Humboldt University Berlin. Her research project, which is part of the Priority Programme 1859 “Experience and Expectation. Historical Foundations of Economic Behaviour” funded by the German Research Foundation, explores the Euro-American history of business cycle forecasting in the twentieth century.

Published Online: 2018-12-31

Published in Print: 2018-11-27

Citation Information: Jahrbuch für Wirtschaftsgeschichte / Economic History Yearbook, Volume 59, Issue 2, Pages 377–413, ISSN (Online) 2196-6842, ISSN (Print) 0075-2800, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/jbwg-2018-0013.

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