May 22, 2009 cameron

The Consequences of Radical Reform: The French Revolution

The National Bureau of Economic Research, America’s leading nonprofit economic research organization, has released a paper about the effects of Napoleon’s “invasions” into the other European countries. It sounds interesting:

—- Abstract —–

The French Revolution of 1789 had a momentous impact on neighboring countries. The French Revolutionary armies during the 1790s and later under Napoleon invaded and controlled large parts of Europe. Together with invasion came various radical institutional changes. French invasion removed the legal and economic barriers that had protected the nobility, clergy, guilds, and urban oligarchies and established the principle of equality before the law. The evidence suggests that areas that were occupied by the French and that underwent radical institutional reform experienced more rapid urbanization and economic growth, especially after 1850. There is no evidence of a negative effect of French invasion. Our interpretation is that the Revolution destroyed (the institutional underpinnings of) the power of oligarchies and elites opposed to economic change; combined with the arrival of new economic and industrial opportunities in the second half of the 19th century, this helped pave the way for future economic growth. The evidence does not provide any support for several other views, most notably, that evolved institutions are inherently superior to those ‘designed’; that institutions must be ‘appropriate’ and cannot be ‘transplanted’; and that the civil code and other French institutions have adverse economic effects.

It’s available for download for $5.

Comments (2)

  1. Anyone actually check it out yet? Sounds interestng, but I’m not about to throw $5 down the drain if I don’t really know if it’s credible.

  2. The whole premise sounds dodgy to me. The effect of the Napoleonic wars on the Continent must have strengthened oligarchies not weakened them. Just look at the map before and after. And as the French occupied virtually the whole continent at some point it is hard to see how the authors could work out which bits were affected. Also, 1850? These supposedly beneficial effects took a long time to work their way through!

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