This chapter examines an entanglement of class politics, science and consumption in the postwar French welfare state. In spring 1950, the French Minister of Labor asked a group of union leaders, employers, and experts to design a new national minimum wage (the SMIG.) They were charged with defining a “budget-type,” an exemplary monthly budget for the lowest-paid French worker. The French government employed scores of dietitians, sociologists, anthropologists and doctors to establish a vital minimum, an objective consumer standard. They collected mountains of statistics on people’s consumption and income, their diets, housing conditions and fitness. However, political discord between workers and employers, each wielding competing sets of data, rendered it impossible for science to play a mediating role. Expert knowledge promised to depoliticize the social question. Again and again, it failed to do so.
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