Taxes, Lawyers, and the Decline of Witch Trials in France

Start Page



How is rule of law established? We address this question by exploring the effect of increases in fiscal capacity on the establishment of well-enforced, formal, legal standards in a preindustrial economy. Between 1550 and 1700, there were over 2,000 witch trials in France. Prosecuting a witch required local judges to significantly deviate from formal rules of evidence. Hence, we exploit the significant variation across time and space in witch trials and fiscal capacity across French regions between 1550 and 1700 to show that increases in fiscal capacity were associated with increased adherence to the formal rule of law. As fiscal capacity increased, local judges increasingly upheld de jure rules, and the frequency of witch trials declined.

Full text not available in ChicagoUnbound.