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The Consequences of Radical Reform: The French Revolution

64 Pages Posted: 3 Apr 2009  

Daron Acemoglu

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Economics; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR); National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Davide Cantoni

Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich - Faculty of Economics

Simon Johnson

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Entrepreneurship Center; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

James A. Robinson

Harvard University - Department of Government; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR); National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Multiple version iconThere are 3 versions of this paper

Date Written: March 19, 2009

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.

Keywords: institutions, civil code, guilds, democracy, oligarchy, political economy

JEL Classification: I10, O40, J11

Suggested Citation

Acemoglu, Daron and Cantoni, Davide and Johnson, Simon and Robinson, James A., The Consequences of Radical Reform: The French Revolution (March 19, 2009). MIT Department of Economics Working Paper No. 09-08. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1369681 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1369681

Daron Acemoglu (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Economics ( email )

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Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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Davide Cantoni

Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich - Faculty of Economics ( email )

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Germany

Simon Johnson

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Entrepreneurship Center ( email )

United States
617-253-8412 (Phone)
617-258-6855 (Fax)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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James A. Robinson

Harvard University - Department of Government ( email )

1737 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-496-2839 (Phone)
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Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) ( email )

77 Bastwick Street
London, EC1V 3PZ
United Kingdom

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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