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Emigration during the French Revolution: Consequences in the Short and Longue Durée

Raphaël Franck, Stelios Michalopoulos

NBER Working Paper No. 23936
Issued in October 2017
NBER Program(s):Development Economics, Economic Fluctuations and Growth, Political Economy

During the French Revolution, more than 100,000 individuals, predominantly supporters of the Old Regime, fled France. As a result, some areas experienced a significant change in the composition of the local elites whereas in others the pre-revolutionary social structure remained virtually intact. In this study, we trace the consequences of the émigrés' flight on economic performance at the local level. We instrument emigration intensity with local temperature shocks during an inflection point of the Revolution, the summer of 1792, marked by the abolition of the constitutional monarchy and bouts of local violence. Our findings suggest that émigrés have a non monotonic effect on comparative development. During the 19th century, there is a significant negative impact on income per capita, which becomes positive from the second half of the 20th century onward. This pattern can be partially attributed to the reduction in the share of the landed elites in high-emigration regions. We show that the resulting fragmentation of agricultural holdings reduced labor productivity, depressing overall income levels in the short run; however, it facilitated the rise in human capital investments, eventually leading to a reversal in the pattern of regional comparative development.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w23936

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