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From military architectural master to economic philosopher: Vauban and the enrichment of the country

Bouillot Céline, PHARE

How to ascertain the quantity of money a country needs? This question appears in France at the end of the 17th century by Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban. In the seventeenth century France faced an increasing public debt due to wars (Rowlands 2012). The usual solution proposed at that time to deal with public debt was to increase the quantity of money in the country through a positive balance of trade (Mun 1664; Locke 1691). However, in order to deal with the finance of wars, I show that the solution suggested by Vauban is quite unusual. Contrary to Colbert or the British position at that time, Vauban does not suggest to deal with the balance of trade but to increase the circulation of money. Vauban considers that France needs to increase the income of the State. In this framework, he suggested a fiscal reform. This proposal is quite surprising since the relation between a fiscal reform and the fluidity of money is not obvious. The issue is then to understand why Vauban, a military man, got interested in the taxation system. Commentators raised two questions about the economic writings of Vauban: one about Vauban’s school of thoughts (Daire 1843; Lohmann 1895; Gonnard 1943; Harsin 1928; Daniel 2004; Touzery 2007) and more recently one on Vauban’s contribution to economics (Halévy 1923; Braeuer 1951; Touzéry 2007; Ferrer 2008). All these commentators describe Vauban’s fiscal reform but they never question why Vauban wanted this reform. A first obvious answer could be that Vauban wants to finance wars. However I demonstrate that Vauban’s taxation proposal is part of a project of political economy. I show that if in his Projet de capitation sur le pied du denier 15 (1695) Vauban’s reasoning is based on war financing, it is not the case anymore with his Dime Royale (1707). Vauban’s aim is to enrich the country. The peculiarity of Vauban’s reasoning comes from the fact that it relies on the assumption of a self-sufficient kingdom (except concerning money).

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Keywords: Vauban, circulation of money, taxation, "useful" trade

Paper file