French Revolution or Industrial Revolution? A Note on the Contrasting Experiences of England and France up to 1800

Sharp, P. R. and Weisdorf, J.

At the end of the eighteenth century, England and France both underwent revolutions: France the French Revolution, England the industrial revolution. This note sheds new light on these contrasting experiences in the histories of England and France by looking at the evolution of real consumer prices in London and Paris in the centuries leading up to 1800. While in London building workers were facing low and stable consumer prices over the period, leaving plenty of scope for a demand-driven consumer revolution (in particular after 1650), their Parisian counterparts had to engage in a year-long grind to maintain a decent living, and often had to cut consumption to make ends meet. The exercise conducted in the present paper gives a quantitative and economic underpinning to the notion that the French revolution did not arise out of nowhere, but rather had its roots in centuries of hardship amongst working class people as they struggled to make a living.