The Journal of Economic History



Cormac Ó Gráda c1 and Jean-Michel Chevet c2


How—and how well—do food markets function in famine conditions? The controversy surrounding this question may benefit from historical perspective. Here we study two massive famines that struck France between 1693 and 1710, killing over two million people. In both cases the impact of harvest failure was exacerbated by wartime demands on the food supply; we ask whether the crises were exacerbated yet further by a failure of markets to function as they did in normal times. The evidence, we conclude, is most consistent with the view that markets in fact helped alleviate these crises, albeit modestly.

Aujourd'hui ces matières paraissent d'une telle aridité qu'elles provoquent le vide, même au sein du parlement, si par hasard on les y discute…On ne voit plus des écarts de prix comparables à ceux des grandes années de famine de la fin du règne de Louis XIV: 1693 et 1709.Germain Martin (French historian) in 1908 1

c1 Cormac Ó Gráda, Department of Economics, University College, Dublin, Dublin 4, Ireland. E-mail:
c2 Jean-Michel Chevet, Institut National pour la Recherche Agronomique, 65 bd. de Brandebourg, 94205 Ivry-sur-Seine, France. E-mail:


1 [Today these issues seem so stupifyingly dull that they produce an empty house, even in parliament, if by chance they are discussed there…. One no longer sees gaps in prices comparable to those of the years of famine at the end of the reign of Louis XIV, in 1693 and 1709.] Martin, “Famines,” p. 150.