Introduction to economic history (Unit 7)


Post war prosperities

This unit examines the aftermath of World War II. The period has been termed the “Golden Age of Capitalism”, and was accompanied by economic prosperity from the end of the World War II in 1945 to the early 1970s, when the Bretton Woods monetary system collapsed. The term “Golden Age” is used to describe a period in history remembered for its prosperity and happiness. There was a high and sustained level of economic growth and high levels of productivity growth, particularly in Western Europe and East Asia, with a reduction in unemployment rate. This however resulted in the birth of new international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank as part of the Bretton Woods monetary system, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) amongst others. It also contributed to the end of colonialism as many new nations were granted independence. The period also saw the adoption of new strategies for international cooperation, including the strategy for the First United Nations Decade of Development and the Marshall Plan for the reconstruction of Western Europe in the 1960s.

In the aftermath of World War II, living conditions in areas that had been theatres of war were extremely bad. Attempts at reconstruction of war torn areas left several governments running at a deficit.

Furthermore, it was during the period that the United Nations General Assembly called upon all Member States to intensify support for measures required to accelerate progress towards self-sustaining socioeconomic growth and social advancement in developing countries. This was contained in its resolution 1710 (XVI) 0f 19 December 1961, under the strategy for the First United Nations Development Decade. One of the results of this was the unification of the international community which was evident in their call for collective actions to support the development of less developed countries. The successes and failures of the different national strategies implemented by less developed countries were the basis for thoughtful reflection within the domain of development economics; and analysis of those successes and failures contributed to the refinement of existing theories and guidelines and the generation of new ideas and practical guidance.

From an assessment of the period, it is evident that the post-war period witnessed series of economic trends –a growing gap between industrialized and developing countries, high population growth coupled with a low level of food production in developing countries, pervasive poverty and high income inequalities, high volatilities of commodity prices and a deterioration in the terms of trade of developing countries, and lack of financing for the economic development of developing countries– it was also accompanied by the adoption of laudable economic strategies such as the Bretton Woods monetary system and the Marshall Plan, amongst others which contributed to the development of the economies where they were introduced.



Course credits:

Broadberry S., The Economics of World War I: A Comparative Quantitative Analysis, Coventry: United Kingdom, 2005.

Britton A., Monetary Regimes of the Twentieth Century, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press:

Crafts, N., “Forging Ahead and Falling Behind: The Rise and Relative Decline of the First Industrial Nation”, Journal of Economic Perspectives, 1998.

China’s Economic Rise: History, Trends, Challenges, and Implications for the United States, for Congressional Research Service:  June 25, 2019.

Dike O.K., Trade and Politics in the Niger Delta, 1830-1885: An Introduction to the Economic and Political History of Nigeria (Oxford; recently re-published in Ibadan by Bookcraft, with a foreword by G. Austin, 1956-2011).  

Feinstein, C.H., Temin, P. and Toniolo, G., The European Economy Between

the Wars, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Harrison Mark, The Economics of World War II: An Overview

Koehler Benedikt, Abulafia David, Bateman Victoria, Bowen Huw & Crafts Nicholas, An Introduction to the History of Capitalism 600-1900 AD, London: Legatum Institute, 2015.

Olson, M., The Economics of the Wartime Shortage: A History of British Food

Supplies in the Napoleonic War and in World Wars I and II, Durham, NC: Duke

University Press, 1963.

Pamuk, S., “The Ottoman Economy in World War I”, in Broadberry, S.N. and

Harrison, M. (eds.), The Economics of World War I, Cambridge: Cambridge

University Press, 2005.

Hopkins, A.G., ‘The New Economic History of Africa’, Journal of African History 50, no.2, 2009. 

Jerven M., “Historical Patterns of Economic Growth in Africa: A Review”, African Economic History Working Paper Series, no. 28, Norwegian University of Life Science 2016.

Post-War Reconstruction and Development in the Golden Age of Capitalism, “World Economic and Social Survey,” Chapter II, 2017.

Rostow W., The Stages of Economic Growth, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1960.

Shirley B.M., The Asian Tigers from Independence to Industrialisation: October 2014.

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