The Reconstruction of Western Europe, 1945-51

The Reconstruction of Western Europe, 1945-51

The Reconstruction of Western Europe, 1945-51

The Reconstruction of Western Europe, 1945-51

Excerpt

This book was written only because I wanted to write a quite different one. My intention was to write a history of the greatest economic boom in European history, of that unique, ugly and triumphant experience of the 1950s and 1960s which changed so utterly the scope of human existence and expectations as well as the consciousness of the people of western Europe. But as soon as I really began it became clear that this extraordinary boom had one other attribute as unique as the remarkable length of time over which the growth of output, incomes and wealth lasted. No one knew when or why it had started, and I soon discovered that neither did I. It was in fact not only one of the most unexpected events in western Europe’s history, but remains one of the most unexplained.

As the huge armies of America and the Soviet Union met amongst the endless rubble of what had been Europe’s largest economy and over the corpses of a government which had mocked the long history of European civilization and culture, no matter how heroic the sentiments expressed scarcely anyone could have believed that the small, shattered nations of western Europe were on the brink of the most prosperous, peaceful and one of the most creditable periods in their history. European capitalism, which many of its staunchest adherents had feared in the 1930s to be in its death throes, was not on the point of expiry but on the brink of more than two decades of remarkable vigour and success. But, although for very many people the immediate post-war years were a time of great hardship, one conclusion of this book is that the great boom started in 1945. What is much more difficult to explain, however, is why it was not interrupted and how it eventually took the form it did. Why did it not come to the savage halt to which the short, fierce post-war booms after the Napoleonic wars and, except in Germany, after the First World War had led? How did a boom whose origins lay in an intensely nationalistic reconstruction of capital goods industries and the national infrastructure turn, without apparent interruption, into an export-led boom in increasingly open economies driven forward by high levels of consumption?

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