The Industrial Revolution in World History

By Peter N. Stearns | Go to book overview

11
The Industrial Revolution in the Past Half Century

The advance of industrialization was not high on the world's agenda after World War II. Europe's industrial economy was in shambles. The Soviet Union seized experts and material from its new satellites in Eastern Europe to try to rebuild. American aid assisted the recovery process in Western Europe, and American occupation forces directed political and economic reforms in Japan. For a brief time, however, only the economy of the United States seemed poised for further industrial growth. Many experts judged that Western Europe would become permanently dependent on American economic leadership. Simply rebuilding warshattered economies seemed challenge enough. Outside the industrial world, political, not directly economic, issues predominated as a surge of independence movements led to rapid decolonization. Economic inequalities formed a backdrop to these struggles, and newly independent states quickly turned to hopes for economic development. But the initial priorities lay elsewhere.

Yet in fairly short order, the postwar world ushered in a third phase of international history--a phase societies are still grappling with in the 1990s. Key political events helped trigger important new developments. Decolonization did not magically generate industrial revolutions in the new states, and vast economic inequalities persisted, even deepened, among various regions of the world. Several major new governments, however, free from direct colonial control, launched new economic programs that expanded their manufacturing sectors. The Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States had a massive impact on industrial activities in these two superpowers; it also helped stimulate industrialization in a few nations particularly drawn into Cold War rivalries. Western Europe reacted to the shock of World War II and the ensuing Cold War by seeking to reduce economic and political nationalism and by committing governments to industrial planning; this was the framework for the surprising economic resurgence of the region as Western Europe

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