Mastering the Market
The grain trade, a crucial sector of the French economy, caused enormous concern throughout the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Bread was the staple of French diets, so harvest shortfalls triggered unrest. The royal government had only the most scattershot and ineffective means to draw foodstuffs into restless cities. Successive regimes developed strategies to dominate the baking trades, influence prices along vital supply lines, and amass emergency stocks of grain that could meet months-long demand. As free trade ideologies developed, French administrators at both the national and local levels sought to reconcile these ideologies with the perceived need to control the market. They created increasingly hidden, and effective, means to shape the grain trade. Thus, the French state played an instrumental role in establishing a viable form of free trade.