Modernising the Economy in 18th century France: The revealed policy of the ‘Bureau du Commerce’

  • Date and time: Wednesday 8 March 2023, 1pm
  • Location: In-person only
    A/RC014, Alan Maynard Auditorium, Alcuin Research Resource Centre, Campus West, University of York (Map)
  • Audience: Open to staff, students
  • Admission: Free admission, booking not required

Event details

Speaker: Eric Brousseau (Paris XI)

This seminar is hosted by Dr Thilo Huning.

Abstract: This article explores the decision-making logic of a small French agency that was in charge of the oversight and support to the supply side of the proto-industrial part of the economy in the eighteenth-century. We specifically explore the rational behind the decision made by the Bureau du Commerce when deciding to support or not an entrepreneur. We analyse indeed the whole set of privileges — ie individual franchises and rents, to private entrepreneurs — asked for and granted by the Bureau between 1700 and 1791; ie the 535 individual applications that were received and processed.

We identified the conclusions reached, and motivations developed by the parties and experts involved in each case, and the qualitative arguments leveraged by each of them. Hence, we are able to test on a case-by-case basis how the members of the Bureau perceived the difficulties faced by entrepreneurs, how they assessed the value added of a business (in terms of contribution to economic development), and decided the type of support the crone could grant, given the costs or the drawbacks of public support. In particular the Bureau was very conservative regarding supports with significant fiscal costs or negative impact on competition. We are also able to check whether a consistent policy was applied across periods and across entrepreneurs.

Overall, we highlight that supports to businesses were granted according to broad and impersonal criteria. These criteria were in line with the “market-friendly interventionism” that has been prominent in post 1990’s development policies. Start-up firms might be supported, but only parcimoniously to allow competition to stimulate and select entrepreneurs.