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Why Are Modern Bureaucracies Special? State Support to Private Firms in Early-Eighteenth Century France

Abstract : We ask to what extent early modern bureaucracies could work as policy tools, and take the case of a small French agency, the Bureau du Commerce, which allocated rights and rents to private entrepreneurs via a mix of hierarchical decision-making and peer-based collegial deliberation. This set-up reflected an attempt to maximize information and expertise, but also allowed for the recognition of existing private rights and social interests. We show that the decisions rendered on nearly all applications submitted over a period of twenty years are consistent with an objective of impersonal, rational and informed decision-making process. The final judgment of the key participants (for or against each demand), and the qualitative arguments they brought forward during the procedure, are robust predictors of eventual decisions. This result suggests that progress towards impersonal governance did not derive only from broad realignments within the elites: early modern bureaucracies were more innovative than often assumed and they could follow principles of impersonality, consistency and open access. However, this situation held true only as long as major rent-seeking interests that structured the social and political order were not affected by these early policies.
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Contributor : Jean BEUVE Connect in order to contact the contributor
Submitted on : Thursday, February 9, 2017 - 12:20:14 PM
Last modification on : Friday, April 29, 2022 - 10:12:42 AM

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Jean Beuve, Jérôme Sgard, Eric Brousseau. Why Are Modern Bureaucracies Special? State Support to Private Firms in Early-Eighteenth Century France . Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press (CUP), 2017, 77 (4), pp.1144-1176 ⟨10.1017/S0022050717001061⟩. ⟨hal-01463004⟩



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