Thirty Glorious Years: The French Economic Miracle
The period from independence to the 1970s is what economist Jean Furastie calls the prosperity period.Thirty glorious“. At the end of the Second World War, France was in ruins. Completely destroyed cities had to be rebuilt. To revive the dead economy, deep reforms were carried out with massive state intervention in the manufacturing sector, financed by the American aid provided under the Marshall Plan. Then we saw the economic growth of France, which experienced significant growth and a rise in the standard of living. we are talking about a miracle.
France on the way to the Glorious Thirties
France came out of World War II bloodless. In fact, there are about 600,000 dead. In addition, the country has suffered significant damage and the railway network has become almost unusable. Its economy is also in shambles. And because of the lack of financial resources, France is very weak.
The economic situation at liberation was disastrous. All the cities are in ruins. The battle for the railway greatly reduced the railway network. Similarly, most bridges are destroyed, telephone lines are cut. This disaster did not spare the production apparatus of France. For example, coal production fell from 67 million tons to 40 million tons. France jumped back fifty years. This situation is, of course, the luck of the black market and inflation.
To answer this problem, one of the first major decisions of the Salvation was to raise wages. We also invite all French people to join the production battle. This is the “Third Battle of France” where we talk about “reconstruction soldiers” and “rolling up their sleeves”. Freedom and the peculiarity of the economy of the Fourth Republic are characterized by the establishment of certain economic control, in addition to the call to modernize the country.
Thus, facing this constant inflation, the state cannot hesitate to intervene to rebuild and reform the country. For this, he uses the American Marshall Plan, whose goal is to ensure the reconstruction of Europe. This plan distributed about 13 billion dollars to 13 European countries. Although the USSR was affected by the Second World War, it refused American aid, which already heralded the next Cold War.
Reforms are synonymous with progress
At the end of the war and within the framework of a deep reform of the economy, two major innovations were born that benefited the French. The first is the creation of Social Security. Even if we are not starting from scratch and have a real legacy, this measure is more than a technical overhaul.
This is a real innovation. It is about creating and organizing real safeguards against risks and building a fairer society. Pierre Laroque is at the beginning of this reform, which responds to the need for solidarity and human dignity. Thus, employees are protected from work-related risks such as illness, unemployment, old age, and industrial accidents. Family allowances are also added to this. In addition, the decree of February 22, 1945 allows the creation of committees in companies with more than fifty people, so that the workers are closely connected with the life of the company.
These two reforms aim to strengthen social cohesion at a time when the country’s economy needs to be rebuilt. However, these economic reforms require different state intervention.
What tools for progress?
We see quite quickly that a certain number of reforms need to be implemented using various means to restart and rebuild the economy. In this sense, organizations whose mission is to investigate the evolution of the economy are created. Thus, in 1945 and 1946, respectively, the INSEE and the General Planning Commission were created, first to deal with deficits and then to rebuild and modernize France.
At the same time, the wave of nationalization gave the state new means of intervention. Thus, the most famous example of nationalization is the Renault factories. This event is mainly due to the collaboration of Louis Renault with the Third Reich. In the liberation, the factories were placed into sequestration, then the state, after seizing all its assets, liquidated the old company and created the National Council of Renault factories under the minister of production, industry. The state also nationalizes energy production. The French coal mines, EDF and GDF are created and a large part of the banking system comes under the control of the political authorities (Crédit lyonnais, Société Générale).
With this Fourth Republic, the economy was revived through state intervention. Thus, Jean Furastie makes what he calls the “Glorious Thirties”.
A period of economic progress
After the terrible economic depression of the first half of the 20th century and two world wars, France lost a lot of wealth. From the 1945s to the 1970s, France experienced a period of unprecedented growth.
Prosperity is measured by gross national product (GNP), but world GDP rose from 100 in 1950 to 270 in 1970. The post-war boom years were characterized by very strong industrialization of the country. The consumer goods and transport sectors are mainly benefiting from this boom. Basic industries (steel, textiles, basic chemicals) are developing poorly. One of the consequences of this growth is the significant mobilization of energy. Because oil is cheap and has a high energy content, it becomes the fuel for growth.
Another element of this economic power can be found in a profound change in the distribution of assets across the three sectors of activity. The former needs fewer hands, while the latter is experiencing an increase in numbers but benefits little from the increase. On the other hand, there is a real explosion in the third* and “white-collar” sectors.
Towards a consumer society
With these Glorious Thirties, France fully enters consumer society. Here he copies the American model, the American way of life. Since the 1950s, the French have equipped themselves with consumer goods. They discover the TV, the refrigerator, the washing machine or the car. Thanks to supermarkets in particular, they have increasingly easy access to these consumer goods.
In the 1950s and 1960s, consumption responded not only to the needs of the individual, but ultimately to social approval. It is also to confirm the social position. Daily life is therefore profoundly disrupted by this prosperous period. The family is also changed with the arrival of household appliances. “Moulinex liberates women” just as a refrigerator makes women “happy and satisfied”. Thus, this transformation of the family allows more time to be spent on children’s education, leisure time, and to consider women’s entry into the working life.
Thus, households enter the modern world where the family budget is changing. More money is spent on equipment, health, recreation.
Why this increase?
One of the main reasons for this economic growth is found in the supply-demand equation. During these thirty years, there is more demand and therefore more supply. This evolution is also the result of production methods such as Taylorism, Fordism, assembly line work where the skilled worker gradually gives way to the skilled worker who saves time and therefore money. These elements therefore allow us to produce more for less. Similarly, another explanation for this increase may be found in the longer duration of the studies. For example, there were four times more graduates in 1970 than in 1946.
There is economic growth because demand is increasing. Consumption increases because there are more consumers. In addition, purchasing power continues to increase. For example, in 1948, to buy a Citroën 2CV, it was necessary to work more than 2,600 hours, but in 1974, only 1,000 hours were enough. Finally, it should be noted that this period is the period of full employment, and it is at this point that an important wage reform intervenes: workers are paid monthly and no longer paid at the end of each week, which allows them to take time off work. larger sums for their consumption.
An economic boom that does not benefit everyone
It was during this period that the term Third World emerged, denoting countries that did not benefit from this growth. But even in the leading countries of the Glorious Thirties, rejectionist movements are emerging. In France, there remains some uncertainty stemming from poorly paid jobs. So there are those left out of growth, and slums exist until the early 1970s. During this period of prosperity, the Fourth World emerges.
Some are also interested in this increase. They criticize the idea of a life governed by economics. They refuse “Metro, work, sleep”. Thus, left-wing movements are reviving and offering an alternative to this world of consumerism. These suggest abandoning the modern world and joining the rural world, for example on the Larzak Plateau.
End of thirty glorious years
The idea that the mains supply will break the grid simply because of the first oil shock is unfounded: from the early 1970s there were first signs of an economic downturn; The energy crises of 1975 and 1979 only exacerbated the effects.
The fact remains that this period of the “Glorious Thirties”, whose name is somewhat mythical, remains the strongest period of growth that our country has known, especially if we compare it with the economic and social situation at the end of the 1990s. In thirty years, for example, this would be more than the growth experienced by France from 1830 to 1914.
– “The Glorious Thirties”, Jean Furastie. Fayard/Plural, 2011.
– France in the Glorious Thirties – 1945-1974 by Dominique Lejeune. Armand Colin, 2015.