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Published 2003 | public
Book Section - Chapter

No Exit: Notarial Bankruptcies and the Evolution of Financial Intermediation in Nineteenth Century Paris


In early nineteenth-century Paris, notaries and bankers competed for the business of financial intermediation. They did so in an environment full of uncertainty and risk, for between 1808 and 1855, 143 bankers failed, and 26 notaries declared bankruptcy (Table 3.1). On average, nearly 12 percent of all banking houses and 3 percent of notarial businesses (études) went belly up in each five-year period between 1815 and 1855 – large figures in financial circles. Surprisingly, it was the bankers who emerged victorious from this competition even though they were the ones who failed more often. Here, we study the notaries they vanquished, in order to learn more about the interaction between competition, asymmetric information, and financial regulation. To explain the initial institutional evolution of notaries and bankers, we stress the importance of clients' learning, at least up to 1843. Thereafter, we examine how government intervention eliminated notarial bankruptcies and produced a fundamentally different equilibrium. Our interest in how financial intermediaries and clients interacted is inspired by Lance Davis's research on the role of competition and government regulation in financial markets. Davis, it is true, works on different topics, comparing distinct markets or analyzing financial flows from one location to another. Yet he, too, stresses clients' learning and savers' heterogeneity (in his words, "rubes and sophisticates"), and his approach has a direct echo in our model with two types of clients.

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© 2003 Cambridge University Press.

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August 19, 2023
March 5, 2024