"In 1532, the Parliament of Paris had decided to arrest all beggars and force them to work in the city sewers, chained up in pairs...on 23 March 1534, an order was given to expel 'poor scholars and indigents' from the city...When Henry IV besieged Paris [1590?], the city had a population of less than 100,000, including more than 30,000 beggars. The new century brought an economic upturn, and it was decided to reintegrate forcibly all the unemployed who had still to find their place in society. A parliamentary act of 1606 decreed that in Paris all beggars were to be whipped in a public place, branded on the shoulder, and then thrown out of the city with their heads shaved. The following year another act created companies of archers to guard the gates of the city and refuse entry to any of the poor who tried to return."
It's not like the next few decades were any picnic, either.
Foucault is using this to create some perspective on the idea of madness, since they frequently fell into the categories of other poor. It's useful, particularly when he includes tidbits like this, after describing changes in economic structures, the decline of the guilds, etc. "New General Regulations removed the right of assembly for all associations, leagues and groups of workers...The parliaments showed a measure of leniency, the Normandy parliament for example refusing to judge rioters in Rouen. Perhaps for that reason the Church intervened, ruling that secret organisations of workers had the same status as witches' covens. A Sorbonne decree of 1655 proclaimed that to join the ranks of these orders was equivalent to sacrilege or mortal sin."
I'm not sure where I'm going with this. Certainly this in no way excuses the current right wing's infatuation with the policies of the decades before the Great Depression, but it does give a little perspective to things. If nothing else, it helps explain why certain people seem to think witchcraft and union organizing are both Evil. Tradition!