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Restructuring the French Economy

Government and the Rise of Market Competition Since World War II

By William James Adams

At the end of World War II, experts on both sides of the Atlantic believed that France was doomed to economic stagnation. French culture and institutions, they argued, inhibited the changes in economic structure that sustained growth would require. But in spite of these predictions and the occasional volatility of the world economy, the French economy grew rapidly. Only the Japanese, of the major economies, has grown faster, and by 1975 the French standard of living matched that of West Germany. Restructuring the French Economy looks at the four decades of the structural changes that fostered growth and explores explanations of why such changes occurred. Drawing on many and diverse primary materials, including government statistics, judicial decisions, and professional memoirs, Adams examines three different explanations of France’s postwar economic success. The first downplays the extent of structural change during the surge of growth. The second emphasizes the importance of government policies to compensate for inadequate private initiative. The third suggests that European economic integration and French decolonization created enough market competition to push the private sector into its own restructuring. Adams stresses that if government initiatives worked well, they did so in an environment of strong market competition; if competition seemed to work wonders, it occurred only as a result of government actions. He also devotes considerable attention to the implications of his findings for U.S. policy concerning European protectionism and the health and growth of American industries.

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