Local rule, Elites, and Popular Grievances: Evidence from Ancien Régime France. Journal of Historical Political Economy. Vol. 3: No. 1, pp 1-29. May 17, 2023.
In an authoritarian state, are citizens better-off when governed by local rulers or the central state? Local rulers have better information on local conditions than central officials and may be more accountable to citizens, but when left unchecked by the central state, elites can also use their power at the expense of the general population. I analyze French Ancien Regime provincial institutions representing local elites, which levied taxation in a third of the territory. I leverage data on living standards, popular rebellions and grievance lists to measure distinct dimensions of the general population’s welfare. Local rule had no clear impact on living standards but improved satisfaction with some limited aspects of taxation. Further, there is evidence of increased rent-seeking by local elites, suggesting that lower central oversight of local elites had detrimental consequences for peasants. Overall, local rule controlled by elites made little difference for most citizens.
Building Fiscal Legibility: Evidence from the Napoleonic Cadaster.
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What happens when historical states invest to make citizens fiscally legible? I analyze the French Napoleonic cadaster, a large scale land surveying project aiming at fiscal fairness, which was implemented over 40 years in a context of political instability. I argue that large legibility investments do not necessarily increase the reach of the state or fiscal capacity, though they can have local level consequences on property rights. I build a novel dataset of the gradual roll-out of the cadaster in 2,697 cantons and combine it with detailed information on fiscal capacity and local property rights. I show that despite its technical scope and ambition, the cadaster primarily consolidated state capacity rather than extended it, and had little short or long term impact on fiscal capacity. However, mapping did contribute to the uniformization of communal property rights.
Suffrage Expansion and Political Development: Evidence from 19th Century France. (with Alejandro López Peceño and Arturas Rozenas).
Despite rich scholarship on the causes of suffrage expansion, there remains a limited understanding of how the extension of voting rights impacts political development. By examining the canonical case of 19th-century France, we argue that the expansion of suffrage politicizes the public and enhances their capacity for mobilization. Exploiting the 1831 municipal election law, which introduced changes to suffrage allocation based on discrete population cutoffs, we find that a higher degree of suffrage facilitated, further down the line, the emergence of a politically more engaged public characterized by heightened interest in public affairs, resistance to authoritarianism, and an increased potential for collective action. Wider political inclusion, even within the context of an authoritarian regime, appears to foster the growth of a public with more “pro-democratic” dispositions.
Bureaucrats and State Capacity: Venal Bureaucracy and Peasant Rebellions in 17th century France. (with Ronan Tallec).
Bureaucratic development is viewed as an important dimension of state building. However, an extensive network of bureaucrats can turn against the ruler when its interests are threatened. We study the case of 17th century France, a context marked by large peasant and later elite rebellions. Historians have argued that elites from the venal bureaucracy encouraged peasant riots to protest threats to their status by the central state. We create a novel dataset with detailed information on venal bureaucrats and the central policies which threatened or improved their status, which we combine it with data on peasant rebellions. We examine whether negative shocks to bureaucrats’ status led to peasant rebellions.
Social Solidarity during the Great Depression: Did immigration hinder the development of municipal unemployment funds? (with Charlotte Cavaillé and Victor Gay).
Research shows that opposition to policies that redistribute across racial and ethnic divides affected the formation of the American welfare state. Were similar dynamics at play in France during the interwar period? To answer this question, we focus on the relationship between immigration and social solidarity during the Great Depression. We examine whether the presence of a large immigrant population hindered the creation of municipal unemployment funds aimed at meeting the needs of a growing contingent of able-bodied workers unable to find work.
Forests, Conservation and Conflict: Evidence from 19th century France.
What are the consequences of historical state intervention in environmental conservation? Deforestation was a major issue in early 19th century France, and politicians viewed the excess use of communal land as its main cause. In 1827, the state passed a Forest code which limited longstanding use rights on most forests. The law led to major revolts in several forested regions of France, where peasants relied on these rights to complement their income. Using detailed data on forest geography and the gradual application of the Forest code, I show the impact of state intervention in forest conservation on local development, compliance with the law and revolts against state authority.
“Inequality and the State-society Conflict: A Simple Model of Divide and Rule”.
“State, Roads, and Coerced Labor: Evidence from the French Corvee System”.