*Stuff and Money in the Time of the French Revolution*

by on December 28, 2014 at 3:01 pm in Books, Economics, History | Permalink

Throughout the debate, no one (not even Marat or Robespierre) took the truly revolutionary position of suggesting venal offices might be illegitimate privileges that could be cancelled without payment.

This book is interesting throughout for its treatment of fiscal and monetary issues during the time of the French Revolution.  It is not geared toward current macroeconomic debates, but arguably that liberates it to be more interesting on the historical side.  The author is Rebecca L. Spang, of The Invention of the Restaurant fame.

1 Tom West December 28, 2014 at 3:52 pm

1) I suspect the money’s raised were a major source of income.
2) Cancelling the perceived major path to success for most of the populace is rarely wise for a new regime.
3) I suspect that many even now who might feel that someone successful enough to be able to purchase an office is more likely to be competent than someone who was simply elected.

2 Urso December 29, 2014 at 6:11 pm

Yes, there’s something perversely noble about earning the money to purchase your own political office, rather than begging other rich people to purchase it for you.

3 So Much for Subtlety December 28, 2014 at 3:58 pm

To this day France is basically another Latin-style clientage society where you need to lobby the powerful to get anywhere. It does better than most in looking like some other sort of society but it is not. Banning payment for office simply privatized the profits and drove the business underground – instead of openly paying the Treasury, you know secretly pay the Minister.

Although some quasi-public offices are still purchased. I am not sure I remember correctly but I think Notaries have to buy their practice, and are given a de facto monopoly in their area.

4 Millian December 28, 2014 at 5:29 pm

What??? Are we allowed to throw out claims about universal French public corruption with zero evidence, now, or is it just reserved for racist HBD bronies?

5 So Much for Subtlety December 28, 2014 at 6:50 pm

No, you have it exactly backwards. Political correctness means we are allowed to throw out allegations of universal corruption against White people like the French, but not Third World nations.

Zero evidence? Come on, you must be joking. Everything any Frenchman has ever written makes it perfectly plain you need to pay off officials and Ministers. It is not as if the French hide it. Take a French oil company like Total. In just the last decade they have been caught bribing officials in Italy and in Malta. They were involved in the Oil-For-Food corruption scandal in Iraq. They have been accused of hiding Iranian oil. For some magical reason EU sanctions against Burma did not include Total’s investments. I am sure there is an innocent reason for that.

Before Total changed its name, it was Elf:

The Elf scandal which came to light in 1994 in France was according to The Guardian, ‘the biggest fraud inquiry in Europe since the Second World War… Elf became a private bank for executives who spent £200 million on political favours, mistresses, jewellery, fine art, villas and apartments’.[2] Iraqi-born Nadhmi Auchi, at that time rumoured to be among the ten richest men of Britain, received a 15-month suspended sentence and a £1.5m fine for his involvement taking illegal commissions.[3] Auchi was also linked to the Clearstream scandal. He is BNP Paribas bank’s main private share-holder; and until 2001, the money for the Oil-for-Food programme transited through the escrow account of BNP Paribas.[2] Magistrate Eva Joly investigated the case. In the Leuna/Minol deal following German reunification, Elf Aquitaine took over circa 2,500 vacated gas station allottments in the former East Germany without paying the rightful owners.

Notice that this scandal mildly damaged Roland Dumas’ career. Not a minor official – the French Foreign Minister. Who none-the-less went on to be appointed as the President of the Constitutional Court.

But my all time favorite remains Valerie Giscard d’Estaing who did not deny that the Emperor of the Central African Republic gave him large numbers of diamonds. His defense was that they were industrial diamonds and so not very valuable. You know, the President of France at the time.

You are really going to dispute anything anyone says about French corruption?

6 Pierre December 28, 2014 at 7:12 pm

The question is not wether some French at some point have been corrupt. Anecdotal evidence has no value.
Data show that France is the 26th least corrupt country in the world out of 175 ranked countries. The US is 17th.
Maybe the picture you were giving of France was a little bit exaggerated and didn’t reflect accurately the fact that France is one of the least corrupt society in the world. (In the top 15%)

7 Pierre December 28, 2014 at 7:13 pm
8 Pierre December 28, 2014 at 6:33 pm

Racist comment on marginalrevolution?
Gratuitous French bashing?
That can’t be!

9 So Much for Subtlety December 28, 2014 at 7:27 pm

Racism? Sad. It is not gratuitous. It is on-topic and directly to the issue. France has had many constitutions, but remains, fundamentally, shaped by Enlightened Absolutism and the Revolution.

One or two anecdotes may not amount to evidence, but at some point, when it is hard to find a French President against whom serious corruption charges haven’t been made, it become a little more convincing. The fact that France is less corrupt than Mali is not, I am sure, much comfort to the French. That it is less so than 25 other countries – who are, I assume, all of Northern Europe, the White Commonwealth and Japan – is hardly disputing my point is it? That ignores the fact that asking people about bribes misses the sort of corruption you would expect in France – the old boy network among ENA graduates for instance.

But if you don’t like accusations of corruption, then let’s us look for some other explanation. Coco Chanel enthusiastically collaborated with the Nazis. Unrepentant too – she supported her convicted War Criminal lover after he was released from prison. She faced no charges and profited hugely from her betrayals. Louis Renault did not collaborate – although he was forced to build trucks for the Germans. He was beaten to death in prison and his company nationalized without compensation. *I* would say it was because Ms Chanel had friends in high places and Renault did not. But if you want to claim it is because the French are utterly incompetent and brutal, by all means, feel free to do so. I don’t think there is a third option.

10 Pierre December 29, 2014 at 3:35 am

“To this day France is basically another Latin-style clientage society where you need to lobby the powerful to get anywhere.”

Data show that France is actually less corrupt than all Latin countries. So your statement is just plainly wrong.

11 Pierre December 29, 2014 at 3:54 am

“It does better than most in looking like some other sort of society but it is not.”

Plainly wrong, this one is just a figment of you imagination. The usual idea is that France is no Scandinavia but still better than Italy or Spain. And infinitely better than most countries in the world.
Which is exactly what the data confirm.

“Banning payment for office simply privatized the profits and drove the business underground – instead of openly paying the Treasury, you know secretly pay the Minister.”

Source? Never heard of that and I doubt it is closer from truth than your previous statements.

And about your Coco Chanel story, are you serious? Or are you just trying to be rude and provocative which is not a very smart way to exchange ideas?
Come on, I am sure you know that kind of Chanel stories happened in every countries with post-war purge. There were hundreds of Nazi officers who were saved because they knew the right guy and hundreds of others brutally murdered.
Would you say it is a proof that present day Germany is corrupt or utterly incompetent and brutal?
But if you want to claim you just realized your argument is actually completely bogus, that we have this whole conversation because you are refusing to admit you were wrong, that you were just writing some common baseless French bashing when you were called on it by the only French reader of this blog and that now you are ready to confess you might have overstated things, by all means, feel free to do so. I don’t think there is a second option.

12 So Much for Subtlety December 29, 2014 at 4:41 am

Does the data show France is better than any Northern European Protestant country? It doesn’t exactly look as if France is out of step with its Latin peers does it?

But I am sure we can agree France is better than Nigeria. As irrelevant as that objection on your part is. I note that you have objected loudly, but you have not actually bothered to disprove anything I have said. Or even to dispute it. You just get huffy and deny.

Your response to the Coco Chanel story is a great example of what you are doing wrong. It is true. The fact that you think everyone else did the same is irrelevant. Also not true. After all, few countries kept policemen who organized the deportation of Jews as Prefects of the Paris police force. As France did with Maurice Papon. Or elected a collaborator President of France. As France did with Mitterrand. Saying “but everyone else did it” is largely not true and completely irrelevant. It matters what the French did. And they did torture a mainly innocent man to death in prison. While allowing far more guilty people to walk free. Either that is because they were incompetent or corrupt. Which is it?

Do you really think throwing the switch to outrage is going to work for you? Nothing I say is common, but it is also not exactly untrue. As your repeated failures to do anything but splutter shows.

13 Pierre December 29, 2014 at 5:11 am

Once and for all, anecdotal evidence from the past doesn’t say anything about the general current state of corruption in France.

“Does the data show France is better than any Northern European Protestant country? It doesn’t exactly look as if France is out of step with its Latin peers does it?”

Did you bother reading my comment and the data?

What I said: “The usual idea is that France is no Scandinavia but still better than Italy or Spain. And infinitely better than most countries in the world.
Which is exactly what the data confirm.”

So read carefully: FRANCE. IS. NOT. LESS. CORRUPT. THAN. SCANDINAVIAN. COUNTRIES.

But you didn’t even said that in the beginning, you said: “To this day France is basically another Latin-style clientage society where you need to lobby the powerful to get anywhere.”
Which is A BLATANT LIE.

Proof: http://www.transparency.org/cpi2014/results

US: 17th

France: 26th

Spain: 37th

Italy: 69th

Mexico: 103rd

So France is actually closer to the US than to the main other Latin countries.

So you are wrong, at best you were exaggerating, and when the data proves you wrong, the only thing you can say is meaningless anecdotal evidences.

14 Pierre December 29, 2014 at 5:26 am

Corruption index 2014 (100=least corrupt)

Germany: 79

UK: 74

US: 73

France: 71

Spain: 65

Brazil: 43

Italy: 42

Greece: 36

Mexico: 34

France belongs to the group made by Germany, the US and the UK. Not the group of Latin countries.
Corruption in France is basically the same as corruption in the UK.

Welcome to the real world, where organizations collect data and people can check random statements on the internet.

15 dearieme December 28, 2014 at 4:51 pm

Oh, that Rebecca L. Spang.

On the issue of paying for office: I was struck by an explanation of the old custom of buying a commission in the (British) army – the point was that there were no pensions, so the expenses of your old age were expected to be covered by selling your commission.

16 Tom West December 28, 2014 at 5:44 pm

Were commissions sold privately? I’d assumed the gov’t got the money.

17 dearieme December 28, 2014 at 7:31 pm
18 Tom West December 29, 2014 at 9:47 am

Thanks. I should have known to check Wikipedia first :-).

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