Working Paper BETA #2023-35

Download working-paper

Title : Boisguilbert's use of political arithmetic to denounce the illusions and the disorder of the reign of Louis XIV

Author(s) : Jean Daniel BOYER

Abstract : In this article we show that Boisguilbert could be considered a forerunner of the employment of quantitative analysis in economics. To ground our analysis, we examine Boisguilbert’s possible links with British political arithmetic and set out the influence this may have had on his thought and on his estimations of the wealth of the kingdom of France and the income of the king. Reconstructing the data Boisguilbert uses, we also show that his analysis of public revenues and good price is grounded on the distinction he makes between current and constant prices. On this basis, echoing Gramont’s analysis (1620), Boisguilbert seeks to reveal the monetary illusion to which he perceived his contemporaries as having fallen victim. Against popular opinion, Boisguilbert estimates that while the current revenues of Louis XIV have increased, his real revenues have in fact decreased. This proves that the French tax system is highly imperfect. According to his estimations, the real price of grain is also disproportionate: far from being too high, it is in fact half what it should be. We thus see Boisguilbert using quantitative analysis to identify the causes of the ruin of the kingdom of France, to dissipate the illusions of his contemporaries, and to propose ways of restoring the good order.

Key-words : Boisguilbert, crisis, Gramont, monetary illusion, order, proportion, Petty, political arithmetic, quantitative analysis, wealth.

JEL Classification : B11, E02, E21, E31.