Vital Minimum: Need, Science, And Politics In Modern France

Hardcover | July 13, 2015

byDana Simmons

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What constitutes a need? Who gets to decide what people do or do not need? In modern France, scientists, both amateur and professional, were engaged in defining and measuring human needs. These scientists did not trust in a providential economy to distribute the fruits of labor and uphold the social order. Rather, they believed that social organization should be actively directed according to scientific principles. They grounded their study of human needs on quantifiable foundations: agricultural and physiological experiments, demographic studies, and statistics.

The result was the concept of the "vital minimum"--the living wage, a measure of physical and social needs. In this book, Dana Simmons traces the history of this concept, revealing the intersections between technologies of measurement, such as calorimeters and social surveys, and technologies of wages and welfare, such as minimum wages, poor aid, and welfare programs. In looking at how we define and measure need, Vital Minimum raises profound questions about the authority of nature and the nature of inequality.

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What constitutes a need? Who gets to decide what people do or do not need? In modern France, scientists, both amateur and professional, were engaged in defining and measuring human needs. These scientists did not trust in a providential economy to distribute the fruits of labor and uphold the social order. Rather, they believed that so...

Dana Simmons is associate professor of history at the University of California, Riverside.
Format:HardcoverDimensions:240 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.9 inPublished:July 13, 2015Publisher:University Of Chicago PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:022625156X

ISBN - 13:9780226251561

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Extra Content

Table of Contents

1          Introduction

2          Subsistence
Pigs on a balance
Scarcity
Bread and meat
Recycling and reproduction

3          Social Reform
Scale balances
Air rations
Maintenance rations

4          Family, Race, Type
Welfare and comparative zoology
Family and race
Socialism and statistics

5          Citizens
Useless mouths, get out!
Meat or bread

6          Vital Wages
Socialism, statistics, and the iron law
The fever of needs
Vital wages

7          Science of Man
Biosocial economics
Rationing
The vital minimum wage
The science of man after 1945

8          Human Persons
Incompressible needs and the SMIG
Human persons
An impossible standard

9          Need, Nature, and Society
Acknowledgments
Notes
Bibliography
Index

Editorial Reviews

"An impressive study, drawing upon a range of neglected or unknown evidence, Vital Minimum is the first book to bring the important historical themes of consumption, nutrition science, and statistics together in a single volume—themes which are particularly timely given the economic troubles of recent years. Focusing on France from 1790 to the 1970s, Simmons offers a detailed and rigorous examination of the circumstances under which debates about need arose and were addressed. This is an extremely readable and thought-provoking book."