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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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Human Persons

Human Persons

(p.138) Chapter 8 Human Persons
Vital Minimum

Dana Simmons

University of Chicago Press

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.

Keywords:   minimum wage, welfare state, nutrition, social science, standards of living, labor, SMIG, SMIC, vital minimum

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