This introductory chapter looks at the ways to borrow in France before banks opened their doors, and the big mountain of debt this shadow credit system raised, even by modern standards. Much of this capital was raised for agriculture and urban real estate, sectors critical in a developing economy that banks often shun because of the risks of farming and the long loan maturities of real estate lending. Until now, virtually no one has noticed this big debt, despite its size. In a way, it is like the dark matter that makes up some eighty-five percent of the universe but cannot be directly observed. Worse yet, they have simply assumed that what cannot easily be observed—private credit in the past or in poor countries today—was insignificant or simply not there at all.
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