The Fruits of Civilization (23-7-4) France


Owing to a scarcity of coinage, deflation gripped Europe from 1780, disrupting trade and business. France’s precarious fiscal situation in the face of the recession resulted in the notorious Revolution of 1789.

The new government set about printing paper money, at first judiciously. But the unrest did not abate, and so France provoked the Revolutionary Wars (1792–1802), as much to distract its people from the internal political and economic tribulations as from the supposed threat of invasion.

So much paper money was printed as to provoke severe inflation, creating an economic crisis that peaked in May 1795, with starving Parisians rioting in the streets.

In 1796, France’s currency reverted back to silver and gold coins. Deflation was dodged by France’s success in its military ventures, which resulted in inflows of precious metals from abroad.

Beyond the meteoric rise of Napoléon Bonaparte, the French Revolutionary Wars had lasting consequences: spreading revolutionary principles over much of Europe and the Middle East, inciting the rebirth of professional armies, and the emergence of total war, which defined future conflicts, most immediately the 1st World War.