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In “A cheap empire”, the researcher and economist comes to renew the colonial economic history and demonstrates that thanks to the tax, France did not have to invest much to grant itself an empire covering an area twenty times greater. to that of the metropolis.
As much as the controversies and stink balls on the consequences of colonization are permanent, as much the books analyzing the motivations and the economic balance sheet of the French empire are rare. A cheap empire (Seuil) by Denis Cogneau, professor at the Paris School of Economics and director of research at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS), fills this gap. Since the 1980s and Jacques Marseille’s book (French colonial empire and capitalism. story of a divorce, 1984), whose conclusions Cogneau calls into question, the economic history of colonization, like the history of global inequalities, had in fact been neglected. They have again aroused the interest of researchers since the 2010s, in the wake, in particular, of Thomas Piketty.
For fifteen years, Denis Cogneau and a team of economists have built an unprecedented database, drawing on “huge archive” left by the colonial administration from 1830 to 1962: taxation, demography, education, capital flows, military recruitment… One will look in vain for the “benefits” of colonization in this research, which calls into question many evidences. No, France did not have to invest a lot to obtain an empire covering an area twenty times greater than that of the m