Assignats or Death: Inflationary Finance in Revolutionary France
43 Pages Posted: 30 Sep 2020 Last revised: 21 Oct 2021
Date Written: August 15, 2020
Between 1794 and 1796, France experienced an unprecedented hyperinflation fueled by an explosion of paper money called the assignat. In September 1795, the French adopted the Constitution of Year III, which we use to demonstrate how changes in the "rules of the game" and in the "political equilibrium" can have important effects on the monetary phenomena that are critical to the study of inflationary finance. We find that the new regime had a structural effect on the demand for money that substantially weakened the link between real money balances and inflation, and that failing to account for this effect results in substantially different estimates of the seigniorage-maximizing rates of inflation. If we ignore this effect, we find that the seigniorage-maximizing rate of inflation was 35% per 10 days, but once we incorporate the effect of the new regime, this rate falls to 19%. Lastly, we also find that the new regime increased the volatility of inflation, suggesting that the previous regime was more effective at anchoring the public's inflation expectations. Taken together, these results lend credence to the constitutional perspective's primary theoretical insight.
Keywords: Constitutional Political Economy, Demand for Money, Inflationary Finance, French Revolution
JEL Classification: D72, E31, N13
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation