This paper concerns the emergence of a specifically ’economic’ way of governing poverty at the start of this century, an event which is to be accounted for, though by no means exhaustively, by the discovery of ’unemployment’. The latter will make it possible to relate the nineteenth-century ’problem of the unemployed’ to an object domain that is primarily economic, rather than cultural or moral. A new object of regulation will emerge from this economic problematization of the ’social question’s the labour market. The paper pays particular attention to the national labour exchange system, the political technology that will visibilize the labour market in new ways. Together with unemployment insurance, it will suggest new ways of governing poverty and a new course for social policy.