There was an explosion of interest in political economy in mid-eighteenth century France. Many were disappointed and puzzled that while Paris was the intellectual capital of Europe, and France had exercised great military power in the reign of Louis XIV, she was ﬁnding it diﬃcult to ﬁnance the elementary needs of government without debts which threatened to become unsustainable. The French state had to pay higher interest rates than the governments of Britain and Holland, and higher even than those paid by private borrowers in France itself, because of fear that escalating government debt might become unﬁnanceable. Equally critically, French towns and the countryside suﬀered from repeated scarcity despite France’s exceptional fertility. There was extraordinary distress, and the poor lived on the borderline of subsistence while the wealthy displayed ostentatious luxury. A poor state, a peasantry with many close to starvation and conspicuous consumption by an often idle nobility produced internal contradictions which many were beginning to regard as unsustainable. The paradox of a rich country and a near-bankrupt government was weakening the nation. The resolution of these diﬃculties concerned every thinking Frenchman who cared for his country. The anomaly of French economic weakness in comparison with Great Britain, France’s principal competitor for European and world inﬂuence, also attracted attention. It has been widely suggested that Britain and France fought what was in eﬀect a ‘Second Hundred Years War’ from 1688 to 1815 for European and world inﬂuence. Britain mostly enjoyed naval superiority...
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