“Economic protectionism has not always prevented growth”

J.Until the end of the Ancien Régime, France did not really constitute a coherent economic space. Of course, geographical proximity favored trade between the cities of ancient Gaul – it is one of the best established laws in economics that trade is denser between neighbors. The Greek geographer Strabo already admired the extent of the Gallic river navigation network: the Rhône and the Saône, the Seine, the Loire, the Garonne greatly facilitated the transport of goods. But even when the political boundaries of the national territory were better defined, the domestic economy was limited by numerous entries. In the 17th centurye century, Lyon booksellers who wanted to export books to Spain paid more taxes to reach the French Pyrenees than to cross the border and go to Madrid.

Under Colbert, a first internal market developed, with the abolition of customs tariffs in the northern half of the country, an ambitious reform which was extended to the entire territory in 1789. From that moment on, the State began to invest more in transport infrastructure: roads and canals, particularly that of the Midi. Construction accelerated in the 18th centurye century and under the Restoration, before the first railways.

This liberalization went hand in hand with a protectionist policy, aimed at encouraging the development of the textile and metallurgical industry. Thus, as soon as France becomes a commercially integrated country and its customs policy takes on an “industrial” objective, we can speak of a French economic policy.

More or less favorable periods

Protectionism has not always prevented growth. The “Bairoch paradox”, well known to historians, applies to France: it was not during the phases of free trade that its economy grew the fastest in the 19th century.e century. Under the Second Empire, when France seemed most committed to the idea of ​​free trade, growth declined until the 1890s. On the contrary, the relatively protectionist periods of the First Empire, the Restoration and the Belle Epoque been more favorable. The continental blockade, under Napoleon Iuh, even favored the growth of the mechanical textile industry in the north of the country, protecting it from English competition. These new products survived the blockade and managed to maintain themselves despite the resumption of trade with England. Thus, a protectionist policy does not always prevent technical progress and can even favor emerging industries, according to an old argument in which Colbert already believed.

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