Chestnut Lodge Wargames Group

Nine Years War – Debt and Taxes

The Nine Years War isn’t a particular interest of mine but I read about it as background to my Ancien Regime megagame. Yes, most government expenditure is war related. During the period roughly 1688 to 1783 Britain’s expenditure on the military was roughly 65 – 75%. As a comparison, during the Great Northern War Russia’s was around 90%.
The only way this could be funded was by debt and eventually taxes. British debt before the ‘Dutch conquest’ in 1688 was effectively zero but by the end of the AWI it was over 200 million pounds. Something like 10% of military expenditure was spent on servicing the debt. While countries varied in their ability to borrow, usually due to their ability to wrest taxation from the hands of tax farmers and into the public realm where transparency could give greater confidence to potential lenders, eventually it was necessary to raise taxes. England was generally regarded as a heavily taxed country given that around 10% of national income was taken as tax. Portraying the problems of a state centralising and taking control over eg taxation (and administration generally) from vested private interests is quite a difficult one as it has to be quite a mechanical part of a game as there wouldn’t be sufficient for players representing those interests and for the government it’s an obvious strategy to pursue. I suppose it’s a question of resource – a government can only do so many things so if the number of actions in a turn is limited (as in my club versions of Barricades & Borders) so is administrative reform a priority over other activities? And such reform seems to require periods of peace and would likely be disastrous during a war so it would provide a good reason to not go to war. That’s something quite useful in games where wargamers are very good as portraying monarchs who cared little (not at all?) about the expenditure of the lives of their subjects and the misery that wars bring as they ego-trip through life. The other useful purpose for a period of peace is the opportunity to reduce military expenditure and tackle debt.
Strategic decisions about war were usually the result of:
i. Monarchs such as Louis XIV or Frederick the really average launching aggressive wars for their own self-aggrandisement or
ii. Fighting against those covered by (i) or
iii. Joining a war to preserve what a government regarded as the balance of power in Europe (though that was more the case after Louis’ wars as it was recognised that a large powerful state was a threat to others (and thus the later hostility to an expansionist France after the revolution).
iv. For commercial interests, such as the rivalries between Britain and Spain over access to South American markets.
The latter was the usual way in which a government played a role in expanding the economy by gaining access to areas for private trade and subsequently protecting it.
I don’t know if this is any help but may at least provide the starting point for a further discussion. I’ve never found a lot of material on the economic aspects of the period, the main volume being ‘The Sinews of Power’ by John Brewer. James – you’re welcome to borrow my copy if you’ve not read it.

Brian

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