Rebuilding Europe: Western Europe, America, and Postwar Reconstruction

By David W. Ellwood | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
Managing the Shift to Peace

RECONVERSION AND THE USES OF ADVERSITY

Across Europe, the British authorities were undoubtedly those in greatest control of their national economic and social situation. In the first instance this meant they knew with greater precision just how precariously their financial and supply circumstances stood. Hence the Cabinet's decision in August 1945 -- when the end of Lend-Lease aid from America was suddenly announced, right after the Japanese surrender -- to maintain a vast range of production, distribution and consumption controls inherited from the war for a further five-year transition period.

'Almost all the European countries tried to plan their adjustment through a system of controls', recalled an American commentator in the early 1950s. Few of them were new: 'The war had left a heritage of currency controls, rationing controls, export-import controls. The earlier depression years had provided a tradition of tariff controls, quota controls, allocation controls.' 1 How many of them were necessary or useful was impossible to say. Wherever the state had broken down they were unenforceable. In the early years of emergency, rationing systems for food, raw materials and money were essential. But as political energies returned they were criticised for producing bureaucracy and demoralisation, stagnation and illegality.

Apart from the United States, only in Britain had there been systematic thought during the war about planning relief and reconstruction on an international scale. Such reflections as the 1942 Fabian conference in Oxford had correctly identified the key problems, their likely dimensions and the desirable principles of collective action for tackling them. Action which integrated the work of the suppliers and

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