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Introducing double-entry bookkeeping in public finance: a French experiment at the beginning of the eighteenth century

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  • Yannick Lemarchand

Abstract

Before the Revolution, tax-collecting was a very profitable private business. Using fiscal receipts, tax-collectors lent money to the Crown, instead of giving it without delay, so the State paid interest on public funds. To accelerate the receipts of the Royal Treasury and to diminish the interest paid by the King, in 1716 the French government introduced a reform based on a key technical innovation: double-entry bookkeeping was used to control tax-collectors' activities. The experiment was gradually extended to the various branches of the royal finances, but the scope provided by the new system for more effective supervision rapidly met with the hostility of the financiers. These attempts to rationalize public finance were interrupted in 1726 and the four Paris brothers who were the promoters of the reforms were distanced from royal finances. After relating these events, this paper tries to measure their significance. The interest of this accounting change goes further than the technical aspects, because it was linked with a fundamental organizational change. The Paris brothers attempted to replace a set of decentralized contractual relations with a centralized bureaucratic administration, conceiving of accounting as a sophisticated instrument of supervision, able to modify the behaviour of the financiers. This experiment can be seen as an eighteenth-century example of what Foucault referred to as the emergence of disciplinary technologies. It was the product of the ambition for scientific government, such as was to be found throughout Europe during the Enlightenment, and the Paris brothers' manuscripts may be ranked among the first manifestations of a literature which was soon termed the 'science of administration'.

Suggested Citation

  • Yannick Lemarchand, 1999. "Introducing double-entry bookkeeping in public finance: a French experiment at the beginning of the eighteenth century," Accounting History Review, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 9(2), pages 225-254.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:acbsfi:v:9:y:1999:i:2:p:225-254
    DOI: 10.1080/095852099330313
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Garry D. Carnegie & Christopher J. Napier, 2012. "Accounting's past, present and future: the unifying power of history," Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Emerald Group Publishing, vol. 25(2), pages 328-369, February.
    2. Timothy C Irwin, 2013. "Shining a Light on the Mysteries of State; The Origins of Fiscal Transparency in Western Europe," IMF Working Papers 13/219, International Monetary Fund.
    3. Céline Michaïlesco, 2007. "Contrôle de gestion de projet au 19ème siècle," Post-Print halshs-00338976, HAL.
    4. Boll, Karen, 2014. "Shady car dealings and taxing work practices: An ethnography of a tax audit process," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 39(1), pages 1-19.
    5. Malcolm Anderson, 2000. "Accounting History Publications 1999," Accounting History Review, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 10(3), pages 385-393.
    6. Hoskin, Keith & Macve, Richard, 2016. "“L'État c'est moi”....ou quoi? On the interrelations of accounting, managing and governing in the French ‘administrative monarchy’: revisiting the Colbert (1661-1683) and Paris brothers (1712-1726) ep," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 67890, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    7. Boll, Karen, 2014. "Mapping tax compliance," CRITICAL PERSPECTIVES ON ACCOUNTING, Elsevier, vol. 25(4), pages 293-303.
    8. Karine Fabre & Céline Michaïlesco, 2010. "From Learning to Rationalization: the Roles of Accounting in the Management of Parisian Great Exhibitions from 1853 to 1902," Post-Print halshs-00540569, HAL.
    9. Jose Jurado-Sanchez, 2002. "Mechanisms for controlling expenditure in the Spanish Royal Household, c.1561-c.18081," Accounting History Review, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 12(2), pages 157-185.
    10. repec:dau:papers:123456789/2427 is not listed on IDEAS

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