Articulating American Capitalism: Money, Uneven Development, and the Making of a Macroeconomy

Authors: Mikael Omstedt*, University of British Columbia
Topics: Economic Geography, Political Geography
Keywords: geographical political economy, Federal Reserve, uneven development, territory
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The organization of money and finance has long been recognized as a crucial component of modern state territoriality. By superimposing universalizing standards of exchange upon previous patchworks of concrete and incommensurable economic geographies, the establishment of uniform national currencies and integrated credit systems sought to construct a homogenizing state space more adequate to the capitalist commodity form and its equivalence of difference. Never just a state affair, these money and credit systems were always co-produced through public and private institutions alike; most strikingly by the peculiar state-market hybrid that is the modern central bank. However, if these reforms strived for internally cohesive “national” economies, the monetary institutions tasked with governing them had to grapple with the continued persistence of uneven development—not just as remnants of older economic structures, but as actively produced by capitalist relations themselves. With these tensions being particularly evident in a continental economy such as the U.S., I will in this paper present preliminary findings from an ongoing research project on the Federal Reserve System’s regulation of uneven development over the “long” twentieth century. Drawing on archival research, I will explore the contradictions involved in the early-twentieth-century development of the Federal Reserve’s infrastructures for regional economic intelligence gathering. Effectively contributing to displacing the contested monetary politics of the late nineteenth-century onto a technocratic field, these infrastructures became crucial for articulating—and intervening in—a regionally differentiated macroeconomy.

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