In his illuminating discussion of the financial system of the regime, Joël Félix somewhat rehabilitates the ancien-régime financial authorities, who were vehemently criticized by contemporaries and historians. His analysis shows that there was not one reason — the fiscal issue for instance — but many reasons why the monarchy faced a financial crisis in 1787. It was not the first such crisis, for financial crises were barely avoidable in a regime engaged in frequent warfare with an inelastic taxation system. For this reason, credit was the most important aspect of finances in the eighteenth century. For whatever we may think about fiscal equality — and political equality — reforming the fiscal system with its many taxes was a long and painful task, and one that could not therefore respond to a short-term crisis. In many respects, French ministers were well aware of these problems. But although some of them simply preferred to perpetuate what was done before them, others believed they would be able to bring a solution to deficits and debts by making the most of a large and potentially wealthier country. So ministers usually overestimated their power, which was always challenged by fellow ministers. Moreover, they were powerless before a growing public opinion, the cultivated elements of which were requesting reforms that were not always politically acceptable or technically possible. In terms of general public opinion, however, most of it had little, indeed barely any, practical experience of administering finance and taxes. What opinions reveal to us was a basic hostility to increased taxation, a sense of inequality and the idea that reforms should bring relief from taxes. Yet, fiscal, financial and economic reforms always challenged the status quo and the crisis tested to its limits the ability of the king and his ministers to bring about a workable solution that would bring greater happiness to his subjects. And kings and ministers, though they would have liked to be able to reduce the burden on the poor, could not contemplate a France without privileges, that is to say, a world in which full equality existed. As a result, when the answer to the financial problems turned out to focus on fiscal equality, political equality remained a major issue. But fiscal equality alone would never be a sufficient reform, for old and bitter issues still remained, such as the control of government expenditures or the liberalization of the economy. Ultimately, the problem was political, in terms both of securing a consensus on potentially divisive decisions and of implementing them.
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