Turgot & the Controlled Market in Pre-Revolutionary France



pp 216-217:

More extended and hardly less bitter was the opposition to the other great edict, for the suppression of the Jurandes and Maitrises - the corporations which represented the various trades and the wardenships which controlled them. In order to understand this particular complex of abuses which Turgot now endeavored to unravel, it must be remembered that under the old ideas of governmental interference there had grown up in France a system by which the various trades and industries had become close[d] corporations, each having its rights, its laws, its restrictions, its exclusions, its definitions, its hierarchy of officials. No person could exercise such trades without going through a long series of formalities; no person could rise in any of them without buying the right to rise. For some of these features there had doubtless once been a valid reason; but the whole system had finally become one of the most absurd things in all that chaos of mis- rule. Between 1666 and 1683 Colbert had issued one hundred and forty-nine different decrees regarding vari- ous trades; from 1550 to 1776, over two hundred and twenty-five years, there was dragging through the courts and the cabinets of the ministry the great struggle be- tween the tailors and the clothes-menders, the main ques- tion being as to what constitutes a new and what an old coat,-the tailors being allowed to work only upon new clothing and the menders upon old. From 1578 to 1767, close upon two hundred years, the shoemakers and cob- blers had been in perpetual lawsuits regarding the defini- tion of an old boot,-the regulation being in force that shoemakers were allowed to deal only with new boots and cobblers with old. Similar disputes occurred be- tween the roasters and the cooks as to which should have the exclusive right to cook geese, and which to cook smaller fowls; which the right to cook poultry, and which the right to cook game; which the right to sell simple cooked meats, and which to sell meats prepared with sauces. Beside these were endless squabbles between sellers of dry goods, clothiers, and hatters: wonderful were the arguments as to the number of gloves or hats which certain merchants might expose for sale at one time... In cloth making and selling there were minute restrictions, carefully enacted, as to the width, length, and color of pieces which might be sold. Workmen of one sort were not allowed to do work generally done by another sort in the same trade, and upon all the trades were levied tales and exactions which they recovered, as best. they might, from each other and from the public at large. Underlying and permeating all this tangled mass of evil was the idea of paternal government, the idea that the duty of a good government is to do the thinking for its subjects in a vast number of matters and transactions on which the individuals concerned would far letter think for themselves. As a legitimate conse- quence of this theory, one regulation required that tail- ors, grocers, sellers of mustard, sellers of candles, and a multitude of others engaged in various branches of business, carefully specified, should belong to the established church.' This whole system -- as crippling French industry and undermining French character -- Turgot sought to remedy. There was nothing of the Jack Cade spirit in his policy. He allowed just compensation in every case, but, having done this, he insisted that the trade corporations should be extinguished and all wardenships abolished, except in four industries ...




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