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Vital MinimumNeed, Science, and Politics in Modern France$
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Dana Simmons

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780226251561

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2016

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226251738.001.0001

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(p.13) Chapter 2 Subsistence
Vital Minimum

Dana Simmons

University of Chicago Press

This chapter describes key technologies and social formations, which placed nineteenth-century agronomists at the center of the modern wage question. Agronomists viewed plants and animals as objects of economic management, whose needs could be measured in units of carbon and nitrogen. Agronomist-chemists Jean Baptiste Boussingault and Jean Baptiste Dumas adapted Antoine Lavoisier’s science of consumption into a science of needs. Dumas and Boussingault established chemical standards for human needs, in units of bread (carbon) and meat (nitrogen.) Their chemical-economic techniques came to characterize the modern science of wages. The problem of subsistence was seen as a fundamental challenge to the modern social order. Thus one could argue that these agronomists were among the most important political economists at work in the mid-nineteenth century.

Keywords:   needs, chemistry, respiration, nutrition, agronomy, political economy, wages, subsistence, rations

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