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To What Extent Was the Mishandling of the French Economy the Main Cause for the Downfall of the Absolute Monarchy

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To what extent was the mishandling of the French Economy the main cause for the downfall of the Absolute Monarchy

The absolute monarchy was present in France throughout the Bourbon reign and can be defined as a period where the monarch had total control; no popular sovereignty. The end of the absolute monarchy can be seen to occur at various points, with the beheading of Louis the 16th being the most obvious. However for the basis of this essay I will use the point where the power of Louis was first constricted which is arguably at the National Assembly. The Economic problems within France were without doubt a major factor, which lead to the end of the absolute monarchy, but there were other factors such as; the impact of France's involvement in the American war of Independence, the social orders and it's vertical problems, Louis's personality and the enlightenment. Many of the separate areas can be split down into sub-sections, with the internal and external economic policies being a prime example of this. The collapse can be attributed to fiscal, political and military mistakes and problems, both in the long term and short term.

Simon Schama suggests "trajectory was pointing sharply upwards" on the eve of the French Revolution, therefore suggesting there were little economic problems within France at the time. The agricultural problems and the poverty gap within France at the time, highlighted by the fact many Parisians during Louis the XVI's reign would be spending over half their wages on bread alone, undermine Schama's views on the economic system at the time. Some historians have emphasised the importance of the poor harvests within France during the late 1780's and the economic problems the harvests caused. Doyle emphasises the large impact of the weather conditions on the growers by highlighting the benefits to the growers of having high demand but a low amount of produce, thus increasing the price. This seems likely due to the simple basis of supply and demand economics and the fact that there was a growing gap between the poor and rich within the feudal system that epitomised the Bourbon rule. This, combined with the fluctuation in bread prices at the time highlights the economic instability and the problems there were within the social system itself. The sheer price of bread meant that many people were unable to eat, and this therefore created discontent which arguably could have lead to the

Joel Felix puts forward an alternative idea by undermining the importance of bread within his analysis of the agricultural system and it's effect on the economy and therefore France as a whole. Felix emphasises how the population were not totally dependent

upon bread and eating varied according to the location, for example fish being eaten on the coast. This therefore would suggest that the bread prices had a lesser effect on the population of France as there were other alternatives, thus undermining this as a major factor for the downfall of the monarchy. Despite the fact that a region using it's comparative advantage by eating local produce sounds effective, Paris has the densest amount of people but has little natural resources such as sea or expansive fields to use for comparative advantage, therefore disproving this theory, at least in part. Joel Felix also argues that the huge demographic increase also lead to huge economic problems for France at the time, particularly with regards to unemployment. Felix describes the whole economy to be "hostage to the demand for agricultural and manufacturing labour". This information seems to justify the reasons for the economic crisis and agrees with the demographic changes at the time, therefore making it a fairly reliable source.

The economy was also hindered by its lack of structure, particularly within the taxation system. The lack of structure meant that taxes were not rationally collected and therefore were inefficient. Gwynne Lewis highlights the effect of the feudal system on taxation and how this lead to the rich not being taxed, therefore being both grossly unfair and ineffective. This could be a major reason for the downfall of the monarchy as the suppression of the poor and the unfair taxes laid upon them will undoubtedly have lead to discontent within members of the third estate (the poor working class). Alexis De Tocqueville suggests that taxation within France was hated more than in any other European country and that the taxes were both indirect and direct, therefore making them more visible than taxes in countries such as Germany at the time, which had indirect taxes. William Doyle re-iterates this point by stating how France was "one of the most highly taxed nations within Europe", thus showing the abnormal amount of taxes the French had to pay and implying there might be discontent as a result of this. However it is arguable that commoners had little if any effect on the impetus for the commencing of the downfall of the monarchy and that it was the bourgeoisie that had a far greater impact on Louis's end than all of the third estate put together. This therefore suggests that the discontent that resulted from the taxation, in particular the introduction of le taille and le vingtieme, had little effect as the third estate had little input (apart from support) into the downfall of the French Monarchy.

Another problem with the lack of organisation was the poor state of the Royal treasury during Louis the XVI's rule, with debt being a major issue. The debt within France at the time is a financial element to the downfall of the French Monarchy. Historians' opinions over whether the actions of ministers such as Calonne and Necker had a great effect on the downfall of the monarchy are mixed. Simon Schama argued that the ministers' actions over debt were of little importance. This however is undermined by the fact that 91% of money to pay for the war of Independence came from debt. This therefore suggests that the actions of the ministers had a great effect and that there lack of efficiency in creating revenue may have caused the financial problems that lead to the downfall of Louis. The fact that Calonne tried to introduce a more equitable land tax between 1774 and 1789 further suggests that there were deep-set infrastructure problems within the financial system of France at the time. The attempt at introducing a more equitable land tax highlights the fact that Calonne at least had realised the ineffectiveness of the system and how the whole of France was losing

out as a result of the failures of the financial system.

The extent of debt within France during Necker's period is shown by a letter from Miromesnil to the King on the 8th of December 1786. The letter not only

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