18th century French economy

Reply Mon 31 Jan, 2011 12:57 pm
I have some difficulties understanding the economic situation of France during the pre-revolutionary period or ancien regime. I am currently studying Europe 1760-1871 and unfortunately have never studied economics therefore my insight is rather poor. Sorry for the elongated questions but I really need help.
1)How did guilds, municipal immunities and customs dues and tax exemptions hinder the development of overseas trade?
2)How did the feudal system work exactly during this time?
3)"For the landlord, putting up rents, when the depression struck in the 1700s, was an effective and profitable answer to declining incomes". Can you explain this to me please because I cannot understand how the landlord would need to put up rents if he was exempted from tax and where did his income come from?
4)What is a semi-landed peasant and what is waged employment?
5)Why were prices rising in the 1770s? Was it because the rate of production decreased rapidly due to ineffective farming?
6)The salt tax was collected by tax farmers; these paid for the right to collect the salt tax i.e. gabelle. How did these aggravate the peasants' expenditure; did they ask for more tax in order to make profits for themselves? Does the same go for the officiers who bought their right to collect the taille?
7)Did peasants 'own' land inside the seigneur's land, which they had to pay for?
8)How did the guilds protect themselves? For example, If I were a businessman in Paris and produced chairs at 10 livres each but I want to sell them in Bordeaux (therefore selling goods from one municipality to another), will the guilds in Bordeaux stop me from doing so? and how?
9)How does a government go into debt like France did in the pre-revolutionary period and what are the repercussions on the rest of the country once this happens?
10)What does this mean : "the Bank of England underwrote the cost of the Spanish Succession War" Would it be correct to call the Bank of England a Central Bank and how did this function?
11)What are terms such as investments and credit and speculation. What does the common term "the bubble burst" means?
12) What are government stocks and how did/do they function and how did the French government depend on short-term loans for its survival?
13)If the Government is in debt, then how do loans get the government out of the debt? as I see it (excuse my ignorance once again) wouldn't a loan aggravate state finances and increase the deficit/shortfall? So how did Necker manage to borrow money at such high interest rates 6%-10%?
Thanks so much for your time, and excuse me if I have troubled you excessively with my probing questions, but I feel that economics play a big part in the causation of the French Revolution and it would be a pity to omit these significant details when studying history in general.
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Reply Tue 1 Feb, 2011 10:28 am
Cripes! These are some interesting questions, but if you don't understand what is being asked, then you really need a whole lot more help than we're able to provide here. You need an entire book to fill in all the blanks. There are plenty of essays out there on the web that talk about the economic causes of the French Revolution, but many of them appear to be canned essay answers of dubious quality.
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Reply Tue 1 Feb, 2011 10:31 am
L'Ancien Régime et la Révolution, Alexis de Tocqueville, 1856. I'm sure it's available in English. Of course, you'd have to actually read it . . .

EDIT: In English, that's The Old Regime and the Revolution.
Reply Tue 1 Feb, 2011 12:21 pm
Tocqueville is still a good source, despite its age, and it probably would answer some of the questions regarding feudal rights and guilds. As I recall, however, it really doesn't get into the economic questions. Georges Lefebvre focused on the economic causes of the revolution in his book, but then he was a Marxist, so that's not surprising, and his analysis is somewhat dated. Nevertheless, that may be a good place to start for MSol18.
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Reply Tue 1 Feb, 2011 02:40 pm
Yeah, i'm sure there are much better books on the raw economic side of it. De Tocqueville's book is valuable precisely because it does describe the situation arising from the decaying system of fuedal dues and the corvée, as well as explaining the breakdown of the system thanks to the centraliation of power which was begun by Louis XIV.
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Reply Tue 1 Feb, 2011 02:46 pm
A very good brief summary of the specific events on 1788 and 1789 which constituted the economic crisis of Louis XVI's reign can be found in The Days of the French Revolution by Christopher Hibbert. A highly prejudiced, sarcastic and detailed account of the same collapse of royal finances can be found in Thomas Carlyle's The French Revolution: A History. The problem here is that a detailed study of the slow landslide of economic collapse in France from the reign of Henri II onward would be the province of professional economic academics. Those are woods i was never brave enough to hunt in.
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Reply Tue 1 Feb, 2011 03:01 pm
Don't forget that the French also financed the American Revolution which may have been that straw that broke the camel's back that led to the French Revolution and the execution of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.
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