Economically the French revolution played a pioneering role for France and influenced many European nations. The oppression that existed in France in 1789 led to a revolution that in the long run improved the efficiency of the French economic and political system. The short-term cost of human life was devastating and unjustifiable but essential for the long-term economic progression of France and Europe.
Creating equal opportunity and fair economic standards in terms of wages, prices, and taxation were some of the first changes that would lead to long-term economic growth and capitalism. Prior to the French Revolution, the third estate was spending up to 80% of their income solely on bread while being taxed, whereas the first and second estates paid no taxes and were significantly wealthier. There was obvious was need for economic and political change. The financial crisis following France’s support of the American Revolution created a strain on the economy. Louis XIV demanded tax money from the previously exempt first and second estates. Their resistance to pay taxes paired with the negligence felt by the third estate at the Estates General assembly led to the creation of the National Assembly. The National Assembly’s Tennis Court Oath followed by the storming of the Bastille gave the third estate enough power to establish the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen. The newly established code was meant to create greater political and economic opportunity and equality for all. Although the French population did not taste the fruits of the long run economic gains, the Declaration of the Rights of the Man and Citizen served as a benchmark for long-term economic equality and prosperity.
Aristocratic landowners and the church no longer oppressed the French peasant classes. Previous to the Declaration of the Rights of the Man and the Citizen, the subjection faced by serfs limited their individual pursuit of wealth. The abolition of feudalism planted the seeds for capitalism and encouraged prosperity by giving the third estate increased economic autonomy. The peasant class no longer had to pay 80% of their income on bread. Theoretically, the population’s average amount of disposable income indicates the overall state of an economy. By reducing taxes and increasing disposable income, the bourgeoisie possessed greater purchasing power, which will ultimately lead to economic growth. Religious taxes were also constitutionally abolished and further enhanced the potential to increase ones wealth. Economic autonomy and increased disposable income helped to promote capitalism and growth in the long run. The ideas were progressive and would influence future laws and economic policies, but unfortunately didn’t take effect fast enough; the worst had yet to come.
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After the execution of Louis XIV and a continuously faltering economy, the Jacobins took power of France. Robespierre used terror to further the revolutionary movement and killed thousands of nobles with the guillotine. Extended economic downturns due the Austrian and Prussian wars generated food shortages and high bread prices. Robespierre’s instilment of the “law of the maximum” theoretically was supposed to help the reduce inflation by creating fixed bread prices and raised wages. The law of the maximum showed progressive thinking in support of the poor, but turned out to be unsustainable and created more economic dissatisfaction. Tumultuous governments during post-Jacobin reign attempted to balance the slumped economy, but no one managed to hold enough power to create lasting economic change until Napoleon.
Despite various negative short-term effects that Napoleon had on society, he had a positive long-term influence in the economy. Napoleon helped France survive a poor harvest by reintegrating an authoritarian government. With his near-absolute power, he helped eliminate feudal rights of the aristocracy, expanded the value of human capital through his education and healthcare reforms, created a fairer tax code, improved infrastructure, and created a civil code: The Napoleonic Code. He stimulated economic growth by establishing a central bank and making it possible to take out loans. Napoleon encouraged a diversified economy between a combination of agriculture, industry, and external trade. According to Jean-Laurent Rosenthal’s research in “The Fruits of Revolution: Property Rights, Litigation, and French Agriculture,” agricultural infrastructure improvements and costs were highly reduced after the French Revolution and helped establish a more productive agriculture industry for the future. Educational and healthcare reforms paired with the ambition, talent, and equal opportunity of the growing middle class and bourgeoisie helped France give power back to the people after the fall of Napoleon.
The short-term terror, extreme devastation, loss of human life, and political reformations can be justified by the long-term advantages that the French Revolution created for the people. The greatest long-term economic benefit for France was the investment in human capital, the equal opportunity for specialization, and a fairer tax code that encouraged trade and increased purchasing power. Equal opportunities and economic autonomy gave people the power to innovate through talent, ambition, and education, and paved the way for future economic growth. Economic growth led to capitalism, an essential ingredient for continuous technological innovation, infrastructure improvements, and competitive advantages within the world of trade and commerce. Although the French Revolution devastated the population, the right to specialize and pursue careers beyond serfdom was a huge influence in the economic evolution of the entire world. The French were the ones who had to pay with human life, but the world gained a valuable lesson and a valuable model for progression. Radical measures needed to be taken for radical change. The French Revolution introduced progressive movements towards human capital investments, job specialization and trade, and equal economic and political opportunities.
Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen(1789).
Investopedia “Invisible Hand.” What Is Invisible Hand? Definition and Meaning. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2014James E. NAPOLEON ET LA PENSEE ECONOMIQUE DE SON TEMPS.Revue De L”institut Napoleon