4th April 2014 – The Excesses of the State: Administrative control or political transparency? 17th -19th century Europe

This is a one day workshop sponsored by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Centre de Recherches Historiques (EHESS) with the support of the journal Histoire & Mesure.

PROGRAMME

09.30. Registration – tea/coffee

10.00. Welcome and introduction

10.15-11.30. Session 1.

Daniel Baugh, Cornell University

Public and Parliamentary Concern, and Unconcern, about British Naval Spending in the Eighteenth Century, 1689-1789’.

Anne L. Murphy, University of Hertfordshire

The performance of public credit during the late eighteenth century

Break.

11.45-13.00. Session 2

Rafael Torres-Sanchez, University of Navarra

 Absolutism and fiscal transparency in eighteenth-century Spain.

Alberto Feenstra, University of Amsterdam

Excesses of which state? The sovereign province of Groningen’s failed experiment with the free capital market in Holland, 1660-1761.

Lunch

14.00-15.15. Session 3

Mathieu Marraud, EHESS-CRH (Paris)

Reducing guilds’ debt in 18th century Paris: royal publicity, liberation and coercion.

Jérome Loiseau, University of Besancon

Knowing as a means of controlling: financial knowledge and its circulation at the end of the Ancien Régime in some French provincial estates

Tea/Coffee

15.45-17.00. Session 4

Patrik Winton, University of Uppsala

Sweden 1750–1830: parliamentary control, public discussions and royal autonomy

Joel Felix, University of Reading

The long march towards public accountability in Europe: hurdles and leaps.

Practical details

Date: 4 April 2014, 10.00-17.30

Venue: University of Reading, Palmer Building 103

 

Bursaries: a limited number of travel bursaries are available to PG students

Contact: for any question about this event please email Joel Félix (j.m.felix@reading.ac.uk)

 

Booking: There is no fee to attend this event, but places are limited; you are kindly requested to register by emailing Mrs Amanda Harvey (a.h.harvey@reading.ac.uk)

Directions: http://www.reading.ac.uk/about/find/about-findindex.aspx

ABSTRACTS

 

 

Daniel Baugh, Cornell University

 Public and Parliamentary Concern, and Unconcern, about British Naval Spending in the Eighteenth Century, 1689-1789’.

The primary focus of public and parliamentary concern about British naval spending changed as the century after 1689 progressed. In 1690s the English people learned to their dismay that they must meet the cost of a very large navy to oppose Louis XIV, who wished to overturn the Revolution of 1688. The rapidly mounting cost was unprecedented and most members of parliament knew they must vote to pay it, but they tried to make sure that the sums would be truly spent on defence of the realm and protection of trade. Mistrust of William III whose strategic thoughts were known to be centred on continental Europe was a constant consideration. William badly needed parliamentary ‘supplies’ (of money) and this enabled the creation of committees and commissions for examining naval accounts which not only inquired into whether the money was truly spent on the navy but also into matters of grand strategy and, sometimes, orders given to fleet commanders.

After 1714 public and parliamentary concern sharply diminished and naval officials were allowed to get away with deliberately obscuring certain details of appropriation, even some very large details. Parliamentary concern about the naval budget was sporadic, sometimes minimal. Before 1714, however, measures publicizing certain statistics had been adopted. Of greatest importance for providing public information was the annual report of the Navy Debt.  Efforts after 1763 s to diminish the growth of the Navy Debt by requiring more realistic Estimates (which could have been done) were short-lived. Near the end of the period reformers commonly focused on accounting questions, most particularly on repositories of cash that officials might be inclined to turn to private profit.  One aim of the paper will be to explain the reasons for the changing nature and level of concern during the century.

Anne L. Murphy, University of Hertfordshire

The performance of public credit during the late eighteenth century

Thanks to the work of scholars like Craig Muldrew and Margot Finn, much is now known about the negotiation of personal credit relationships. In particular, we can see how direct contact and observations allowed individuals to assess the credit-worthiness of those with whom they had financial connections and to whom they might lend money. Much less is known about one of the most important credit relationships of the long eighteenth century: that between the state and its creditors. How did those who lent money to the state in the form of annuities, consols and through the purchase of lottery tickets scrutinise and assess the state’s credit-worthiness? What were the signifiers that told savers that their money would be safe in Parliament’s hands?

This paper aims to examine one aspect of this question: the performance of public credit as displayed at the Bank of England during the late eighteenth century. By this time the Bank was the manager of nearly three quarters of the state’s debt and it housed the main secondary market in that debt. Thus, it provided a place for public creditors, both current and potential, to attend and scrutinise the performance of the state’s promises. The paper will demonstrate how the Bank acted to embody public credit through its architecture, internal structures and imagery, and the very visible actions of its clerks and the technologies that they used to record ownership and transfer of the national debt. The Bank, by those means, allowed creditors to interrogate the financial stability and reputation of the state in the same ways that they could interrogate the integrity of a potential private debtor.

Rafael Torres-Sanchez, University of Navarra

 Absolutism and fiscal transparency in eighteenth-century Spain.

Studies of the public management of taxation and finance matters have tended to focus on legislation and the political structure. There would nonetheless seem to be a glaring difference between state intentions and real practice. Our objective here is to assess the gap between political speeches and actual implementation of policies. Working from a specific tax hike in the second half of the eighteenth century in Spain, we look at which arguments were used or facts hushed up to justify a change, how the political regime might constrain these arguments and how, finally, the information on the process was manipulated to woo public opinion. We argue that legislation was by no means synonymous with actual application of policies precisely because it had to be communicated to society.

Alberto Feenstra, University of Amsterdam

Excesses of which state? The sovereign province of Groningen’s failed experiment with the free capital market in Holland, 1660-1761.

Work in progress. Please do not quote or cite without permission.

The Dutch Republic is frequently depicted as proto-democratic state, in which creditors were able to secure property rights due to their control over public finance (Tracy 1985; Stasavage 2011; Van Zanden en Prak, 2013). Furthermore, the Dutch economy is  characterised as modern, consisting of well-functioning integrated markets for commodities and production factors (De Vries and Van der Woude 1995/1997, Petram 2011).  Yet these studies fail to take into account the federalist nature of the Dutch Republic. This paper will demonstrate that the control over public finance was at best limited to the creditors’ own province, by analysing the default by the sovereign province of Groningen during the 1680’s, at the expense of its creditors living in the province of Holland. It is furthermore argued that Groningen’s sovereignty within the federalist structure was the essential condition both for the province’s default and the market’s inability to punish the province after its failed experiment on the free capital market.

Jérôme Loiseau, Université de Besancon

Knowing as a means of controlling: financial knowledge and its circulation at the end of the Ancien Régime in some provincial estates.

At the end of the Ancien Régime, the French central administration (controle general des finances) closely scrutinised the expenditure of provincial estates in order to sustain the ability of the latter to raise loans for the State. In the years 1776-1786, a variety of new forms of documentation  which sought to shed light on provincial finances were published in Burgundy, Brittany and Languedoc, regions where the provincial estates were still very much alive and active. The estates published tables of revenue, expenditure and loans, as well as accounting documents which were more and more accurate/of a greater and greater degree of accuracy. This administrative literature, such as the Précis des Etats de Bourgogne or Dictionnaire de la Bretagne, served a similar purpose to the Encyclopédie: the rationalisation of administration through knowledge and critical assessment. In Languedoc and Burgundy, this enlightened agenda went hand in hand with new proposals calling for radical fiscal reform. During this pre-revolutionary period, the endless quest for money, and thus to raise and service provincial loans, created the conditions for the emergence of fiscal transparency through the publication of pre-statistical data and nurtured a lively fiscal debate.

Mathieu Marraud, CRH-EHESS

Reducing guilds’ debt in 18th century Paris: royal publicity, liberation and coercion.

The Royal Treasury in the 18th century never stopped looking for new ways of funding the war effort. Among others, corporate bodies such as the guilds were asked to come to the support of the king. For guilds’ revenue put them in a position to service loans worth dozens of millions. The aim of this paper is to look at the work of a royal commission – the Commission pour la révision des comptes des communautés d’arts et métiers – which was set up in1716 to examine the financial situation of the guilds, and a number of subsequent royal decrees issued in the 1740s. The paper will show how the commission used its power to closely monitor and impose a number of constraints on the origin and destination of guilds’ revenue, expenditure and debt. Financial control by the state was used as a method to facilitate the political integration of guilds into royal administration. In this context, transparency meant making use of sovereign power to force guilds into releasing their accounts and denying them corporate autonomy in the management of their debt, which thus became/was declared to be public debt. In this respect, the king’s debts made it possible to take control of corporate bodies which initially had consented to act as intermediaries for the consolidation of the king’s credit.

Patrik Winton, University of Uppsala

Sweden 1750–1830: parliamentary control, public discussions and royal autonomy

In 1766, the Swedish Diet, which controlled the government’s finances, decided to implement a Freedom of the Press Act, which abolished pre-publication control of secular publications, as well as introduced the principle of open access to government documents. The principle of open access meant that most documents from the Diet, the Council, the civil service and the law courts became accessible to citizens who wished to publish them in print. These decisions were part of a process of dealing with the financial and political effects of Sweden’s participation in the Seven Years’ War. By contrast, the coup d’état in 1772 significantly strengthened the powers of the king. A more divided fiscal authority emerged, which led to struggles between the political elite and the king regarding the financial affairs of the state and the mechanisms of financial control. The king tried to protect his political autonomy, while the elite tried to reduce the king’s maneuverability.

This paper will examine Swedish developments from around 1750 to 1830 in relation to the struggles concerning financial control and transparency. The Swedish case is particularly interesting since it can problematize the process of transition from an absolutist financial regime to a more liberal constitutional one. Parliamentary control and financial openness could be revoked and there was no guarantee that a sovereign would not try to regain his autonomy in financial matters.

Joel Félix, University of Reading

What public? The long march towards public accountability: hurdles and leaps forward in early modern France.

Public accountability is a central concept of western polities and institutions. Although French revolutionaries included the principle of public accountability in the Declaration of the Rights of the man of 1789, it would take several more decades before transparency would become the cornerstone of European modern politics and efficient economic systems. This paper will examine the cultural and political conditions which delayed but also made this transition possible in 18th century Europe.