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Louis Mandrin, the globalization of contraband


Starting from the example of the famous smuggler, Michael kwass engages in an analysis of the underground economy and taxation in the 18th century. It analyzes the behind the scenes of an often a little forgotten globalization and tries to put it in relation with the current situation when possible.

Mandrin, contraband and social justice

Louis Mandrin was born into a family of merchants from Dauphiné in 1725. This border region of Savoy is a blessed land for smuggling so, when life's bad luck threatens to sink his family into poverty, Mandrin does not hesitate not: he too will be a smuggler. There is nothing shameful or reprehensible in this for him. He is only contesting a situation which he considers unfair because it weighs on the poorest French people and handsomely enriches the farmers general. It is indeed these financiers who are responsible for enforcing the ban on Indian women in the kingdom and the state's monopoly on tobacco. By selling at a high price tobacco bought cheaply in America, they manage to make a large profit. Little by little, they convinced the king to let them act more severely towards the smugglers and they obtained the creation of the court of Valence which tried and condemned Mandrin in 1755.

The General Farm thus becomes a real state within a state which, through its militia and its court of unequaled severity, sows terror. All this creates a climate of tension and fermentation in which Kwass studies how he was able to participate in the revolutionary spirit. At the same time, the legend of Mandrin is being written. Playing the great lords, the smuggler, always elegantly dressed, takes care to distinguish himself from ordinary brigands. He does not rob the General Farm, he sells it under duress bales of tobacco, and sometimes Indian, at what he considers to be the fair price for him. On his death, a war of memories takes place, the monarchy seeking to put Mandrin back on the side of the world of crime.

Our opinion

This fascinating study will reconcile anyone with the history of economics and finance. By making us travel around the world, Kwass indeed leads us into a breathless investigation which very intelligently reintroduces social questions as possible origins of the French Revolution. We particularly salute the mastery of the work which reads like a novel while very finely combining questions of taxation, trade, diplomacy and even law. An essential work to better understand the kingdom of France in the 18th century.

Michael Kwass, Louis Mandrin, the globalization of contraband in the Age of Enlightenment, Vendémiaire, 2016


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