1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Boisguilbert, Pierre le Pesant

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BOISGUILBERT, PIERRE LE PESANT, SIEUR DE (1676–1714), French economist, was born at Rouen of an ancient noble family of Normandy, allied to that of Corneille. He received his classical education in Rouen, entered the magistracy and became judge at Montivilliers, near Havre. In 1690 he became president of the bailliage of Rouen, a post which he retained almost until his death, leaving it to his son. In these two situations he made a close study of local economic conditions, personally supervising the cultivation of his lands, and entering into relations with the principal merchants of Rouen. He was thus led to consider the misery of the people under the burden of taxation. In 1695 he published his principal work, Le Détail de la France; la cause de la diminution de ses biens, et la facilité du remède.... In it he drew a picture of the general ruin of all classes of Frenchmen, caused by the bad economic régime. In opposition to Colbert's views he held that the wealth of a country consists, not in the abundance of money which it possesses but in what it produces and exchanges. The remedy for the evils of the time was not so much the reduction as the equalization of the imposts, which would allow the poor to consume more, raise the production and add to the general wealth. He demanded the reform of the taille, the suppression of internal customs duties and greater freedom of trade. In his Factum de la France, published in 1705 or 1706, he gave a more concise résumé of his ideas. But his proposal to substitute for all aides and customs duties a single capitation tax of a tenth of the revenue of all property was naturally opposed by the farmers of taxes and found little support. Indeed his work, written in a diffuse and inelegant style, passed almost unnoticed. Saint Simon relates that he once asked a hearing of the comte de Pontchartrain, saying that he would at first believe him mad, then become interested, and then see he was right. Pontchartrain bluntly told him that he did think him mad, and turned his back on him. With Michel de Chamillart, whom he had known as intendant of Rouen (1689–1690), he had no better success. Upon the disgrace of Vauban, whose Dîme royale had much in common with Boisguilbert's plan, Boisguilbert violently attacked the controller in a pamphlet, Supplément au détail de la France. The book was seized and condemned, and its author exiled to Auvergne, though soon allowed to return. At last in 1710 the controller-general, Nicolas Desmarets, established a new impost, the “tenth” (dixième), which had some analogy with the project of Boisguilbert. Instead of replacing the former imposts, however, Desmarets simply added his dixième to them; the experiment was naturally disastrous, and the idea was abandoned.

In 1712 appeared a Testament politique de M. de Vauban, which is simply Boisguilbert's Détail de la France. Vauban's Dîme royale was formerly wrongly attributed to him. Boisguilbert's works were collected by Daire in the first volume of the Collection des grands économistes. His letters are in the Correspondance des contrôleurs généraux, vol. i., published by M. de Boislisle.