This book develops new theory about the link between debt and democracy and applies it to a classic historical comparison: Great Britain in the eighteenth century which had strong representative institutions and sound public finance vs. ancient regime France, which had neither. The book argues that whether representative institutions improve commitment depends on the opportunities for government creditors to form new coalitions with other social groups, more likely to occur when a society is divided across multiple political cleavages. It then presents historical evidence to show that improved access to finance in Great Britain after 1688 had as much to do with the development of the Whig Party as with constitutional changes. In France, it is suggested that the balance of partisan forces made it unlikely that an early adoption of 'English-style' institutions would have improved credibility.
• New theory about a question of great interest in political economy: the link between representative institutions and credible commitment • Provides new historical investigation of a classic comparison: the politics of British and French state finance during the eighteenth century • Shows how game-theoretic models of politics can be combined with in-depth historical analysis
1. Introduction; 2. A model of credible commitment under representative government; 3. Historical background: sovereign borrowing in Europe before 1688; 4. Trends in French and British sovereign borrowing 1689–1789; 5. Partisan politics and public debt in Great Britain: 1689–1789; 6. Partisan politics and public debt in France: 1689–1789; 7. Stability of representative institutions in France and Great Britain; 8. Conclusion.
Review of the hardback: '… this stimulating study … raises some fundamental questions about our understanding of the eighteenth-century state … Stasavage has produced a work that will give historians of eighteenth-century politics and government finance much food for thought.' European History Quarterly
Review of the hardback: '… remarkably rich book … intelligent and innovative … a very comprehensive book on an interesting subject … I have learned quite a few interesting things on the evolution of public debt management over the centuries and I have a feeling that many of us who discuss the pros and cons of public debt today would gain some useful insights by reading this book.' History of Economic Ideas