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Bureaucracy, Collegiality and Public Decision Making: the Case of Eighteenth Century France

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Abstract

One of the most debated questions in the literature on modern bureaucracies is whether their formal, impersonal rules of decision endow them (rightly or not) with a specific autonomy vis‐à‐vis special interests. We study the case of the Bureau de Commerce, a small, modernizing agency within the illiberal Ancien Régime French monarchy, in charge i.a. of supporting private entrepreneurs. Decision making was founded on the articulation between a vertical administrative organization aimed at collecting information and consulting stakeholders, and two colleges of experts, which discussed cases on a consensual, peers’ basis. We ask whether the relative openness of this procedure led to outright capture by outside rent‐seeking interests, or whether the Bureau could balance them and reach relatively autonomous and consistent decisions. We analyzed how it handled and decided 246 submissions for privileges, or rents, made between 1724 and 1740. We show that the decision to reject, accept entirely or curtail individual submissions was shaped within the administrative procedure – rather than by cliques and clienteles. Each main and competing voice had a significant though differentiated impact on outcomes; and substantive arguments, for or against each application, also had a specific impact.
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hal-03460327 , version 1 (01-12-2021)

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Jean Beuve, Eric Brousseau, Jérôme Sgard. Bureaucracy, Collegiality and Public Decision Making: the Case of Eighteenth Century France. 2014. ⟨hal-03460327⟩
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