In an authoritarian state, are citizens better-off when governed by local representative institutions, or the central state? Local rulers have better information on local conditions and may be more accountable to citizens than central officials. However, if they are overrepresented in institutions of local rule, elites can use their power at the expense of the general population. I analyze French Ancien Regime institutions representing provincial elites, which levied taxation in a third of provinces. I leverage novel data on living standards, popular rebellions and grievance lists to measure distinct dimensions of the general population's welfare. I show that local rule had no clear impact on living standards but improved satisfaction with limited aspects of taxation. Further, I find evidence of increased rent-seeking by local elites, suggesting that lower oversight of elites had detrimental consequences for peasants. Overall, local rule controlled by elites made little positive difference for most citizens.