Journal of Historical Political Economy > Vol 3 > Issue 1

Local Rule, Elites, and Popular Grievances: Evidence from Ancien Régime France

Anne Degrave, Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse, Université Toulouse 1 Capitole, France,
Suggested Citation
Anne Degrave (2023), "Local Rule, Elites, and Popular Grievances: Evidence from Ancien Régime France", Journal of Historical Political Economy: Vol. 3: No. 1, pp 1-29.

Publication Date: 17 May 2023
© 2023 A. Degrave
Public economics,  Elections,  Bureaucracy,  Autocracy,  Bureaucracy,  Comparative political economy,  Comparative politics,  Democratization,  Electoral institutions,  European politics
State capacityrepresentationelite capturedecentralizationEuropean history


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In this article:
Literature and Contribution 
The Consequences of Local Rule for the General Population 
Historical Background 
Empirical Strategy 


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.