Welcome to Finance and Fury. If you are up for learning about history a little bit of often skipped over– tune in – this episode is about how reforms for economic liberalism, turned into authoritarianism, but gave the rise to the thought experiment of communism, turning once again into authoritarianism – all occurring during the French revolution

I’ve been listening to podcasts on the French revolution by Mike Duncan– very complex topic, that went through many stages and ended up eating itself a few times over, where not only the monarchs met the guillotine, but so did most of the key figureheads of the initial revolution, like Robespierre and Danton, but then their replacements as well who ordered their deaths under a kangaroo court

  1. Before it got to this point – what was the French revolution – a period of radical political and societal change in France that overthrew the monarchy for a period of around 10 years – the initial ideals of the revolution was based on the Social Contract argued that each person was born with rights, and they would come together in forming a government that would then protect those rights. Under the social contract, the government was required to act for the general will, which represented the interests of everyone rather than a few factions – such as it previously did under a monarchy, which benefited a noble class
    1. Out of this movement, and to enshrine the social contract the – Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was established by the National Assembly in 1789 (National Assembly was the form of government that replaced rule by the nobles) – In total, this declaration had 17 Articles – rather than simply reading each individually, the gist is that the Declaration outlined the fundamental characteristics of rights of all peoples, which are qualified as “natural, unalienable and sacred” and “simple and incontestable principles” on which citizens could base their demands.
    2. In the second article, “the natural rights of man” are defined as “liberty, property, security and resistance to oppression”.
    3. The ideals are very similar to the words in the US declaration of independence, which is also seen as a revolution, depending who you talk to, against the British empire – who the French Monarchy aided – and many French nobility were present for as observers
  2. So, this Declaration defines a single set of individual and collective rights for all men – where Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Where they have certain natural rights to property, to liberty, and to life. According to this theory, the role of government is to recognize and secure these rights. Freedom of speech and press were declared, and arbitrary arrests outlawed – These principals are the bedrock of any prospering economy –
    1. But in reality, this declaration was a statement of vision rather than reality – like any revolution, a power structure emerged to replace the previous state, being the monarchy, to a new form of authoritarian rule – a democratically elected committee – this introduced periods known as the ‘reign of terror’ – which there were a few of – but in total, around 17k people were executed with mock trials, 12k executed without trials and 10k simply died in prison due to overcrowding – enlightened democratically elected government killed between 35k to 40k of their own citizens
    2. So whilst the declaration of rights of man championed freedom of speech and press and that the people should be free from the governments oppression, and arbitrary arrests, the opposite occurred – as a quick side note, this should be a lesson to never take the statements of government as fact – as actions speak louder than words
  3. Many of the casualties to the reign of terror came from the principals of the rights of man, and if someone pointed out that the national convention was acting against the articles – rather than taking a second look at their own actions, which were against the principles they stood for – they simply labelled those who spoke the truth as anti-revolutionaries and killed or imprisoned them – this went on for years
  4. Two such individuals, were François-Noël Babeuf and Sylvain Maréchal – who published what is often referred to as the first initial conceptions of communism, even though it wasn’t called this back then
    1. They ended up being executed because of the publication of the Manifesto of the Equals – this was a document written in 1796 and created a political group that sought to challenge the new government of France.
    2. This manifesto first and foremost calls for Equality. It argues that equality has never existed in its purest form and it is now time for the citizens of France to establish this. After the Revolution of 1789, Maréchal argues that legislation had not gone far enough to establish true equality among the citizens of France. Equality should be manifested in every aspect of life, not simply written in the Declaration of the Rights of Man.
      1. This is an interesting point though – how can equality truly exist in its purest form? The answer really depends on the definition of equality – is it outcome or opportunity? But in either case, it is utopian to think that true equality can really exist in either form – even with complete equality for opportunity under the law – I will never play in the NBA – so whilst there is no law that stops me from trying out – I doubt I would get drafted due to my lack of skills
    3. But Maréchal aims were in collectivising land and the means of production. Therefore, there would be no rulers, no servants – to establish a Republic of Equals – a society in which capital is universally accessible to all citizens uniquely meets the demands of justice.
    4. About his political philosophy, Babeuf wrote: “Society must be made to operate in such a way that it eradicates once and for all the desire of a man to become richer, or wiser, or more powerful than others. The French Revolution was nothing but a precursor of another revolution, one that will be bigger, more solemn, and which will be the last.”
      1. These individuals were executed for their radical ideals – as it would take power away from the existing government – i.e. those already in power – the revolutionaries, once they got a taste of power, didn’t want to give it up
    5. But much of this thinking of equality came from a government reform that the National Assembly was trying to solve – by abolishing the system by which Paris was fed at the expense of all France – similar to the modern age, cities are fed by rural communities that produce food – this was seen as inequality, as those not working in the fields were seen as living off the masses
      1. But the idea that you can have a government enforce human nature is folly – such as to eradicate the desire of a man to become richer, or wiser, or more powerful than others – here this thought experiment failed to understand human nature, which responds to incentives – and it isn’t about simply becoming richer, wiser or more powerful than others, but improving your own life to become wealthier, have more knowledge – this is what later went wrong in nations that introduced this form of philosophy – you cannot eradicate human nature – but you can try to enforce it through an authoritarian government – chopping all of the trees in a forest down to the same length – which tends to be at the ground level due to one tree just starting to sprout
    6. But taking a step back – why did the French revolution kick off in the first place – there are too many reasons to cover in one episode – but one of the contributing factors that lead to the preliminary revolts came from France trying to liberalize their economy to catch up with those of England and other nations going through the industrial revolution
      1. France’s population began to explode in the 1720s – but its agricultural production and industrial expansion didn’t keep up – Jobs and food were scarce and they lived in fear of famine, so the crown guaranteed bread prices and distribution – under the feudal system, the nobility controlled the supply chain – By the mid-century, wages lagged and grain prices skyrocketed – which in retrospect was due to the Crowns control of the grain trade
      2. Skipping forward to the 1760s prior to the Revolution – Turgot, a famed French philosopher and high government administrator whose responsibilities were to manage the monarchy’s legal affairs and taxes began a series of reforms to liberalize the French economy.
        1. He was a leader of the Enlightenment and believed in religious tolerance, the abolition of slavery, secular public schools, free speech and more democratic representation.
        2. But most of all, Turgot was influenced by the new French free-market school of thought called physiocracy – wealth came from labour – therefore, landowners and farm laborers should be freed from taxes and regulations so that farming could prosper and produce capital investment for improvement and progress
      3. At the time Turgot took over – France’s economy was agrarian based, mainly on the grain trade
        1. The grain markets were heavily regulated so that producers could not make large profits – which saw this as the fundamental problem of the economy
        2. King Louis XVI tasked Turgot to reduce the misery of the population and spur the economy – creating France’s first large-scale liberalization project – with the belief in lower, proportional taxes to ease pressures on poor peasant consumers and to create a floating price for grain – the nation’s major food source
      4. Therefore, he thought, if the grain trade were free, then France’s economy would grow in turn. One of the first advocates of the term laissez-faire, he hoped that a rationalized taxation scheme would free “capitalist entrepreneurs” to invest in farming and fuel an economic expansion.
        1. Turgot did everything he could to first protect the poor from the immediate market shock of liberalization before unleashing free markets in 1774.
        2. He abolished grain subsidies, price controls, state storehouses and bread distribution systems for the poor
  • But by the end of the summer of 1774, harvests were poor due to extreme weather events – extremely cold weather which saw frosts in the summer – Almost immediately, there was grain price inflation, panic, speculation and shortages – Turgot tried to ease the pain by importing grain from Poland to keep supply working
  1. Still, the results were catastrophic – Over the following months, with speculation, hoarding, inflation, bread shortages and famine, riots broke out across France. Bakers and grain merchants were attacked, and the houses of the rich were pillaged in some cities. The rioters came from the rural labouring classes leading to the Flour Wars
    1. The constant pressure of famine and subsistence living created a vicious circle of regular, organized uprisings and growing political criticism – Turgot’s reforms had rallied large groups of opposition to the government who saw the reforms as a way to simply starve the poor
  2. Whilst Turgot in theory right that the grain markets would benefit from liberalization, it came at the worst possible time – leading to events that played out for the revolution
  1. So, the trial for the introduction of free market economics comes as a massive shock to a system that is completely controlled in price – But the poor weather leading to shortages in grain production and destabilisation was a contributing factor for the revolution – which saw the introduction of the Declaration of the rights of man –
    1. Which brings us back to the Manifesto of the Equals being published – but this was largely ignored at its time of writing and the conspiracy of the equals which was led by Babeuf failed – but these ideas didn’t die with him – as it later came to be seen as the founding text of modern socialism, anarchist, and communist ideologies
    2. Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx even recognised the Manifesto of Equals as ‘the first appearance of a truly active communist party’. The Manifesto set a precedent for radical revolutionary thought. It was taken as proof that individual revolutions held importance in the build up towards a great revolution in the future.
  2. The Conspiracy and the Manifesto of the Equals radically detached revolution from legal mechanisms. This was because Babeuf and Maréchal saw revolution as distinct from the state, and structures of power. The Manifesto also prioritised economic equality over liberty and freedom.
    1. Their ideals of economic equality – refer to a movement that strives to provide equal life chancesregardless of identity, to provide all citizens with a basic and equal rights to access employment, goods, and services – no favouritism, or exclusion – but to enforce economic equality of outcome comes at the expense of liberty and freedom
  3. Equality of opportunity under the law is the best way – no differentiation between race, religion,
    1. But the thinking that equality means that of outcome is the same as the authoritarian nature of Lenin, Stalin, and Mao which piggy backed off Marx and Engels ideas, which piggy backed off Babeuf and Maréchal
    2. The French revolution was also extremely authoritarian – resulting in the deaths of 40k of its own citizens at the hand of the government – but in retrospect, these are rookie number to what the Stalin or Mao would later go on to achieve
    3. the idea that you can somehow legislate or have a government enforce human nature is doomed to fail – the question just remains on how far a government is willing to go to enforce such an idea – to eradicate the desire of a man to become richer, or wiser, or more powerful than others – here the thought experiment failed to understand the nature of man, which is responses to incentives – and it isn’t about becoming richer, wiser or more powerful than others, but improving your own life to become wealthier, have more knowledge, or say start your own company – this is what later went wrong in nations that introduced this form of philosophy – you cannot eradicate human nature – but you can try to enforce it through an authoritarian government – which in turn makes the political class more powerful than those that they rule, negating the principles of Babeuf and Maréchal

Summary –

  1. Republic of Equals is a great idea in theory – a society in which capitalis universally accessible to all citizens uniquely meets the demands of justice – but only if it is all about equality of opportunity, something which didn’t exist under the Monarchy in France – but the Revolutionary government that took over was so controlling, that it did little to benefit the economy of the French people – there were actually revolts against the revolution in many cities that saw their economic conditions deteriorate – in many cases, rather than trying to control the people or the economy, the government just needs to get out of the way for the most part – and only enforce laws that allow for the rights of man to continue to flourish
  2. But whilst the ideals a government could have may be pure –governments have never been proven to be so – once power is formed, it tends to be abused, and anyone who is seen as a threat to this power, even if this threat is simply pointing out that the government is failing to live up to the nations ideals, this group can be oppressed or even killed
  3. When implementing economic plans to enforce equality of outcome, control by the state over the population is required – the greater the changes, the more authoritarian the state can become –
  4. Later under Marx – and the implementation of communist ideals – the worst the populations economic condition becomes
  5. So that’s the story on how French revolutionaries introduced the ideas of communism

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