The economic benefits of the French Revolution came about while increasing inequality and consolidating wealth

Sunday, August 13th, 2017

The economic benefits of the French Revolution came about while increasing inequality and consolidating wealth:

In 1789, the revolutionary government seized French lands owned by the church, about 6.5% of the country, and redistributed them through auction. This move provided a useful experiment for the researchers—Susquehanna University’s Theresa Finley, Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Raphaël Franck, and George Mason University’s Noel Johnson.

They tracked the agricultural outputs of the properties and the investment in infrastructure like irrigation, and find that areas with the most church property before the revolution—and thus the most redistribution afterward—saw higher output and more investment over the next 50-plus years. They also found more inequality in the size of farms, thanks to consolidation of previously fragmented land, than in areas with less redistribution.


Before the revolution, large landholders like the church tended to focus on renting out their land to small-holders, but these small plots didn’t reward investment in large-scale irrigation or other improvements, especially since feudal authorities would collect much of the results. They also faced numerous legal obstacles to selling their land to someone who might invest in it. The system put too many costs on smart investments to be effective.


“The auctioning-off of Church land during the Revolutionary period gave some regions a head-start in reallocating feudal property rights and adopting more efficient agricultural practices,” the researchers conclude. “The agricultural modernization enabled by the redistribution of Church land did not stem from a more equal land ownership structure, but by increasing land inequality.”


  1. Graham says:

    Interesting. The consolidation of land leading to investment and improvement is certainly reminiscent of the enclosure movement in England that had by then been going on nearly 200 years [longer if one counts the dissolution of monasteries] and had largely been completed a couple of generations earlier.

    As revolutionary resource reallocations go, a more positive long term outcome than the more recent Russian experience.

  2. Talnik says:

    Perhaps redistribution of government lands could wipe out the debt. Might as well try it before it has to be given up to the debtholders.

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