In a non-democratic regime, are common people better off under indirect rule by local elites, or direct rule by a central authority? Conventional wisdom holds that people benefit from indirect rule, even in a non-democratic setting, as having access to local representatives brings certain advantages for those being ruled: these elites would likely be familiar with their needs; be able to speak for their interests to the central power; and be accountable to them in some curtailed form.
But, as Anne Degrave, an IAST research fellow and political scientist of historical political economy, shows, in her recently accepted paper, this conventional wisdom is not always true.
Using historical data from 18th century French popular rebellions and pre-revolutionary grievance lists, Degrave compared the grievances of peasants living in two different regions: in one region, the pays d’états, “representative” local elites had the right to consent to taxation, which involved tax collection and bargaining with the crown over its amount; in the other region, the pays d’élections, taxes were levied by central agents without the consent of any of the governed.
Degrave finds that peasants in indirect rule regions complained less about royal taxation, but more about the actions of local elites. There was also no discernable difference in living standards. Common people were thus not better off for the fact of having local elites who represented them to the central state in Ancien Regime France.
Paper titled : Local Rule, Elites, and Popular Grievances: Evidence from Ancien Régime France. Accepted at the Journal of Historical Political Economy.
To read more about Degrave’s work, visit her research page here: https://wp.nyu.edu/annedegrave/research/