What is a need, a want, a luxury? This chapter establishes ‘need’ as a social, biological, scientific and political category in need of a history. Chemist Antoine Lavoisier articulated a fundamental dilemma of the modern social order: workers, by virtue of their bodily expenditure, need to consume more fuel than the leisured classes. Yet the rich enjoy an abundance that they do not physically need. Lavoisier, writing in the thick of the French Revolution, articulated a disjunction between wealth, wages and needs, the social order and natural order. His dilemma sets out the central problematic of this book. The chapter further introduces the notion of quantum life, whose opposite is not death but non-productivity. ‘Vital minimum’, ‘minimum existence’ and the ‘living wage’ expressed a social necessity - the need to reproduce labor - in the language of life.
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