The French economy was radically transformed after World War II. Economic stagnation in the 1930s, caused in part by the conservative attitudes of businessmen and bankers, had resulted in France lagging behind its nearest neighbours in 1945 in terms of its degree of industrialization and modernization. A large proportion of the population still worked in agriculture (using very outdated farming methods), and small businesses, which were equally unproductive, proliferated. The traditional image of France was thus of a rural France profonde (depths of France) dominated by artisans, small shopkeepers and the peasantry. The economic history of France in the latter half of the twentieth century is thus, on the one hand, a tale of how state intervention helped to turn the economy around to make the country one of the top five industrial nations of the world, but on the other hand, the story of how the state was to become the scapegoat for the country's economic ills as the ideology of economic liberalism took hold in France.
After World War II, France's first priority was to develop its backward economy by modernizing agriculture in order to liberate the agricultural workforce for labour in the factories which themselves were to be made more productive and more efficient. This task was not left up to the market, however, which had come to be despised after the Great Depression. Instead, a consensus existed in the country around the idea that it was the responsibility of the state to plan economic development and to assist industrialists. It was at this time that institutions such as the Commissariat Général du Plan were set up. The 1950s and 1960s were therefore set to become the heyday of French state intervention in and protection of the economy, or dirigisme. Indeed, the years 1945 to 1974 are known as the Trente Glorieuses because economic growth rates were so spectacular during this period and social and economic change so dramatic. Equally, increases in real wages were significant and the living standard of the population rose accordingly. After the 1950s, industrialization and urbanization gathered momentum and consumption patterns altered. The consumer society was born. However, the extent to which state intervention brought about this situation is a debatable issue: some argue that similar levels of economic growth would have occurred even without so much state intervention because France's economic success was based on technological progress and a favourable international environment in which raw materials were cheap and competition was not as yet coming from the newly industrializing countries of the Pacific Rim.
All good things come to an end, however, and this spectacular success also came to a faltering halt. The first signs that all was not well came in May 1968. The strikes and demonstrations which took place during that month, especially among the younger generation, were an expression of the fact that French social