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Taxes, Lawyers, and the Decline of Witch Trials in France

  • Noel D. Johnson
  • Mark Koyama

How is rule of law established? We address this question by exploring the effect of increases in fiscal capacity on the establishment of well-enforced, formal, legal standards in a preindustrial economy. Between 1550 and 1700, there were over 2,000 witch trials in France. Prosecuting a witch required local judges to significantly deviate from formal rules of evidence. Hence, we exploit the significant variation across time and space in witch trials and fiscal capacity across French regions between 1550 and 1700 to show that increases in fiscal capacity were associated with increased adherence to the formal rule of law. As fiscal capacity increased, local judges increasingly upheld de jure rules, and the frequency of witch trials declined.

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File URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/10.1086/674900
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File URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/full/10.1086/674900
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Article provided by University of Chicago Press in its journal The Journal of Law and Economics.

Volume (Year): 57 (2014)
Issue (Month): 1 ()
Pages: 77 - 112

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Handle: RePEc:ucp:jlawec:doi:10.1086/674900
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  1. Johnson, Noel D., 2006. "Banking on the King: The Evolution of the Royal Revenue Farms in Old Regime France," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 66(04), pages 963-991, December.
  2. Areendam Chanda & Louis Putterman, 2004. "Early Starts, Reversals and Catchup in The Process of Economic Development," Working Papers 2004-04, Brown University, Department of Economics.
  3. Emily Oster, 2004. "Witchcraft, Weather and Economic Growth in Renaissance Europe," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 18(1), pages 215-228, Winter.
  4. Dan Bogart & Gary Richardson, 2008. "Making Property Productive: Reorganizing Rights to Real and Equitable Estates in Britain, 1660 to 1830," NBER Working Papers 14107, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Dincecco, Mark, 2010. "Fragmented authority from Ancien Régime to modernity: a quantitative analysis," Journal of Institutional Economics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 6(03), pages 305-328, September.
  6. Dincecco, Mark, 2009. "Fiscal Centralization, Limited Government, and Public Revenues in Europe, 1650–1913," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 69(01), pages 48-103, March.
  7. Dincecco, Mark & Federico, Giovanni & Vindigni, Andrea, 2011. "Warfare, Taxation, and Political Change: Evidence from the Italian Risorgimento," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 71(04), pages 887-914, December.
  8. Balla, Eliana & Johnson, Noel D., 2009. "Fiscal Crisis and Institutional Change in the Ottoman Empire and France," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 69(03), pages 809-845, September.
  9. Komlos, John & Hau, Michel & Bourginat, Nicolas, 2003. "An Anthropometric History of Early-Modern France," Discussion Papers in Economics 54, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
  10. Patrick O'Brien, 2011. "The nature and historical evolution of an exceptional fiscal state and its possible significance for the precocious commercialization and industrialization of the British economy from Cromwell to Nels," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 64(2), pages 408-446, 05.
  11. Bockstette, Valerie & Chanda, Areendam & Putterman, Louis, 2002. " States and Markets: The Advantage of an Early Start," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 7(4), pages 347-69, December.
  12. Bogart, Dan & Richardson, Gary, 2009. "Making property productive: reorganizing rights to real and equitable estates in Britain, 1660–1830," European Review of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 13(01), pages 3-30, April.
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