Vive la Révolution!

24 April 2009 at 2:49 pm Leave a comment

| Peter Klein |

So says the all-star team of Acemoglu, Cantoni, Johnson, and Robinson in  “The Consequences of Radical Reform: The French Revolution.” Check it out:

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.

Think of this as a fixed-effects model estimating the within-country effect of legal origin; what happens when a society’s institutional (particularly, legal) environment changes suddenly and unexpectedly? If a common-law country is invaded and occupied by a civil-law country, what happens to financial-market development? An interesting counterpoint to the cross-sectional studies that are the norm in this field.

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Institutions, Law and Economics, New Institutional Economics.

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