Capitalizing on the Economy

Timothy Mitchell

Columbia University 


We can now see “the economy” not as a feature of all societies but as mode of organizing material worlds and calculative agents that developed suddenly in the mid-twentieth century. We imagine the economy as a macro-object, the product of new statistical work, regulation, and management organized at the level of the nation-state. But this is misleading, for making the economy was a work of scaling down and excluding things from calculation. The birth of the economy is better understood in relation to a wider and earlier development, the rise of the large corporation. If the economy involved what has been called “economization” (the work of rendering things calculable and creating economic agents), the large corporation involved the larger project of “capitalization.” The corporation emerged as a way of building technical-spatial arrangements—initially colonies, canals, and railways, later oil fields, dams, urban fabrics, industrial processes, and consumer worlds—whose scale, durability, and powers of control promised a future stream of income that could be traded speculatively in the present.  The birth of the economy was a short-lived attempt to stabilize the increasingly unstable speculative futures on which capitalization had come to depend.