Essays on the Political Economy of the French Revolution

dc.creatorLouis Rouanet
dc.description.abstractThis dissertation is less about the French Revolution than about using the French Revolution to improve our understanding of institutional change. Between 1789 and 1815, France went from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy, from constitutional monarchy to Republicanism and from Republicanism to a de facto military dictatorship which in turn led to the proclamation of the first Empire. In other words, France from 1789 to 1815 became a genuine laboratory experiment for studying comparative institutional analysis. Each of the topics covered in this dissertation have in common that they analyze how thegovernment and its agents raise resources, whether it be through price controls, conscription, inflation or the creation of a central bank, for the benefit of some segments of the population. Each chapter analyzes through the lenses of Public Choice theory changes which were key to the development of the French centralized administrative state. Chapter one tries to come up with a theory for why widespread price controls were adoptedin Revolutionary France between 1793 and 1794 despite their cost. I argue that price controls can be a tool for governments to mobilize additional resources while buying the support of certain key interest groups, hence making war politically viable. I argue that urban capitalists benefited from price controls on agricultural output combined with forced sales. I estimate that in the six months preceding the abolition of price controls, the government saved, by using them (and in real terms), the equivalent of roughly 40% of the annual 1790 central government budget. Consistent with the theory expounded in this chapter, once the exigencies of the war attenuated and as collective action became more costly for the urban population, price controls were abandoned. Between 1794 and 1796, France experienced an unprecedented hyperinflation fueled by anexplosion of paper money called the assignat. Chapter two (co-authored with Bryan Cutsinger and Joshua Ingber) uses the assignat hyperinflation as an experiment to illustrate Brennan & Buchanan (1980)'s view that the presence of a "stable" money demand function depends on the constitutional rules underlying the money creation process. In September 1795, the French adopted the Constitution of Year III, which we use to demonstrate how constitutional changes can have important effects on monetary phenomena. We find that the new regime had a structural effect on the demand for money that substantially weakened the link between real money balances and inflation, and that failing to account for this effect results in substantially different estimates of the seigniorage-maximizing rates of inflation. We also and that the new regime increased the volatility of inflation, suggesting that the previous regime was more effective at anchoring the public's inflation expectations. Taken together, these results lend credence to the constitutional perspective's primary theoretical insight. The third chapter discusses the content of my paper "The interest group origins of theBank of France" (published in Public Choice). This paper contrasts different interpretations of the creation of the Bank of France. I argue that the Bank of France was the product of rent seeking behavior rather than the pursuit of public interest, as is commonly supposed. I explain how the changing institutional constraints faced by both politicians and bankers can account for changes in France's monetary constitution. The creation of the Bank in 1800 followed the fall of the Directory and the establishment of Napoléon's autocratic regime. I argue that as parliamentarism and the separation of powers were weakened by Napoléon, the cost of establishing and maintaining a monopoly privilege in banking evaporated and the creation of the Bank of France became more likely. The fourth and final paper, co-authored with Ennio Piano provides a simple economicframework of how the threat of desertion induces both short-run and long-run institutional changes. We show that in the short-run, Napoléon's regime adopted a strategy of discriminatory conscription enforcement: The French government set a lower (higher) conscription rate for those regions where, due to their geographic characteristics, the enforcement of conscription was more (less) costly. In the longer run, Paris centralized the administration of conscription, employed the army for its domestic enforcement, and introduced a set draconian measures to punish deserters, their families, and their communities. These actions resulted in a rapid fall in desertion rates across France, until Napoléon's failed invasion of Russia compromised the stability of the regime.
dc.titleEssays on the Political Economy of the French Revolution Mason University


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