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Scholars Being Justified In Using The Term Golden Age To Describe The Economic History Of Western Europe During 1950 1973

2059 words - 8 pages

Scholars Being Justified in Using the Term Golden Age to Describe the Economic History of Western Europe During 1950-1973

‘Nothing in the history of Western Europe resembles its experience
between 1945 and 1968.’

Milward, European rescue, pg. 21

In the quarter of a century that followed the Second World War, the
achievements of the European economy were so impressive that the
period was often referred to as the ‘Golden Age’. Since 1913 Europe
had experienced two world wars plus the great depression and trade
wars of the 1930’s, the economy had been stunted and growth was well
below trend. In the early post-war years between 1945 and 1947
recovery was frustrated by shortages of food, labour, raw materials
and the need to reastablish both financial and political institutions.
However this gave Europe a clean slate so to speak and the opportunity
for rapid growth through the correction of previous mistakes. Between
1950 and 1973, the real GDP of western Europe grew more than twice as
fast as the secular trend, fluctuations in this growth were mild and
inflation rates were seen as socially acceptable. But more importantly
in the long run, ‘by the end of this period the perpetual possibility
of serious economic hardship, which had earlier always hovered over
the lives of three-quarters of the population now menaced only about
one-fifth of it.’ ¹

This period in our economic history has often attracted the attention
of scholars from varying fields of interest and its ultimate causes
less than satisfactorily explained. In this short essay I will give a
brief account of this period; try to evaluate some explanations of the
‘Golden Age’ and finish with a broad conclusion to whether this period
in economic history is really deserving of the term ‘Golden’.

Post war Europe had seen the same widespread destruction of capital
and the accumulation, year after year, of arrears for repair,
maintenance and replacement. Also innovations in technology which
became available had to be set aside till after the war. This saw a
widening of the gap between developing American industrial practice
and the backward technology of wartime Europe.

What made a significant difference was quit simply the Marshall Plan,
the willingness of the United States to supply Marshall Aid across the
depression, which was now being threatened by the dollar shortage.
This allowed Europe to maintain the pressure of demand without a
series of balance of repayments set backs. Employment was maintained
long enough for output to recover and for exports and investment to
keep the ball rolling, and so protect Europe from any danger of a
relapse.

Post war Europe however did not relapse but between 1950 and 1973 saw
the highest rates of economic growth in the world. This was due to the
economic circumstances Western...

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