Bankruptcy law and practice in 19th century France
In this paper, we try to measure the impact of the changes in French bankruptcy law in the 19th century focusing on the behaviour of economic agents as users of bankruptcy law for the sake of finding the best solution to their economic problems. Debtors used bankruptcy law in order to minimize their debt level when facing difficulties in servicing it, but they had to convince their creditors and/or the courts of their good faith, and faced the adverse effects of bankruptcy on their reputation and on the smooth functioning of their business. Creditors used bankruptcy law in order to force their debtors to pay, if they could. Judges - who in the French system of specialized commercial courts were elected entrepreneurs - applied the law within a specific economic context (both a specific local context and at a specific moment in the business cycle) which could affect them. The first part of the paper presents the evolution of French bankruptcy law during the 19th century in its historical context. The second part briefly describes the theoretical model we use in order to understand the choices facing debtors and creditors in the face of financial distress. The last part proposes some major stylized facts concerning bankruptcies during that period (based on contemporary official statistics) and tries to understand their relationship with the legal evolution described before.
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