Legal versus economic explanations of the rise in bankruptcies in 19th century France
This paper aims at giving an explanation of the changes in the number of bankruptcies during the second part of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. We wonder in particular whether changes in bankruptcy law, which are substantial during the period, suffice to explain the rise in the proportion of bankrupted firms. We first describe the main features and changes of French insolvency law and show that they contradict the evolution observed at the aggregate level. We then show that existing statistics, which include a regional dimension, allow for a better test of the impact of legal changes. We show that some legal changes had a significant impact, but not all. We also observe that regional variations in bankruptcies are huge and do not correspond to French economic geography, but may rather be understood as a diffusion process from the Paris Court towards the provinces. The major differences among regions also suggest that, even in a civil law country, the letter the law is much less important than local practices.
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