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The Consequences of Radical Reform: The French Revolution

  • Acemoglu, Daron
  • Cantoni, Davide
  • Johnson, Simon
  • Robinson, James A

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.

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Paper provided by C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers in its series CEPR Discussion Papers with number 7245.

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Date of creation: Mar 2009
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Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:7245
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  1. Acemoglu, Daron & Cantoni, Davide & Johnson, Simon & Robinson, James A, 2009. "The Consequences of Radical Reform: The French Revolution," CEPR Discussion Papers 7245, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  2. Daron Acemoglu, 2008. "Oligarchic Versus Democratic Societies," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 6(1), pages 1-44, 03.
  3. Sheilagh Ogilvie, 2002. "Guilds, Efficiency, and Social Capital: Evidence from German Proto-Industry," CESifo Working Paper Series 820, CESifo Group Munich.
  4. Guido Tabellini, 2010. "Culture and Institutions: Economic Development in the Regions of Europe," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 8(4), pages 677-716, 06.
  5. Arellano, Manuel & Bond, Stephen, 1991. "Some Tests of Specification for Panel Data: Monte Carlo Evidence and an Application to Employment Equations," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 58(2), pages 277-97, April.
  6. Kisch, Herbert, 1989. "From Domestic Manufacture to Industrial Revolution: The Case of the Rhineland Textile Districts," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780195051117, March.
  7. Doug Miller & A. Colin Cameron & Jonah B. Gelbach, 2006. "Bootstrap-Based Improvements for Inference with Clustered Errors," Working Papers 621, University of California, Davis, Department of Economics.
  8. Rafael La Porta & Florencio Lopez-de-Silane & Andrei Shleifer & Robert W. Vishny, 1996. "Law and Finance," NBER Working Papers 5661, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Daron Acemoglu & Simon Johnson & James A. Robinson, 2001. "Reversal of Fortune: Geography and Institutions in the Making of the Modern World Income Distribution," NBER Working Papers 8460, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Daniel Berkowitz & Katharina Pistor & Jean-Francois Richard, 2000. "Economic Development, Legality, and the Transplant Effect," CID Working Papers 39, Center for International Development at Harvard University.
  11. Daron Acemoglu & James A. Robinson, 2006. "Persistence of Power, Elites and Institutions," NBER Working Papers 12108, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Eugene White, 1999. "France and the Failure to Modernize Macroeconomic Institutions," Departmental Working Papers 199904, Rutgers University, Department of Economics.
  13. Daron Acemoglu & Simon Johnson, 2003. "Unbundling Institutions," NBER Working Papers 9934, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Daron Acemoglu & Simon Johnson & James A. Robinson, 2000. "The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development: An Empirical Investigation," NBER Working Papers 7771, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. Ogilvie, S., 2007. "Can We Rehabilitate the Guilds? A Sceptical Re-Appraisal," Cambridge Working Papers in Economics 0745, Faculty of Economics, University of Cambridge.
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