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Was the performance of the French economy in the 1930's entirely a question of mistakes in economic policy?

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Was the performance of the French economy in the 1930's entirely a question of mistakes in economic policy? When evaluating the French economy in the 1930's what quickly becomes evident is the plethora of writings available on the subject and consequently the challenge facing anybody looking to disentangle the numerous interpretations offered as to how the French economy performed and also why it performed as it did. Writings focussing on the causes of the economic performance of the French economy in the 1930's generally fall into two broad camps. The first camp, which is favoured amongst economists, argues the performance of the economy was inextricably linked to the economic policies that the government chose to adopt. The second camp, which historians are more likely to ally themselves with, sees the performance of the economy being caused by a more deep seated problem in France, that of the countries structural weaknesses which can be traced back long before the 1930's. It shall therefore firstly be necessary to examine France's economic policies in the interwar years to ascertain if these policies had a bearing on the performance of the economy in the 1930's, before moving on to evaluate other possible factors for France's economic performance. These factors range from her demographic problems, the problems of agriculture and confidence of the bourgeoisie to the worldwide economic depression. Finally, after an attempt to unravel these intricate factors, a conclusion will be made. Any writings specifically relating to French economic policy in the 1930's usually centres on the French reluctance to devalue the franc Poincare until the Popular Front government of 1936. ...read more.


It was not solely economic policy that affected the performance of the French economy, France had several structural problems to contend with and this subsequently leads anyone assessing French economic performance in the 1930's to refute the assertion that her performance was entirely the result of mistakes in economic policy. Firstly, France had a demographic make-up not ideally suited to the economic problems facing her in the 1930's. Virtual stagnation in population growth and the heavy losses of the younger male population during the first World War resulted in the immigration of some 2 million people, but this could not prevent the number of under-twenties falling from 34 per cent to 31 per cent in the period 1911 to 1936 and the proportion of over sixties rising from 12 to 14 per cent.15 An ageing and stagnant population acted as a restraint on the economy because of, for example, the higher number of pensions issued while the decline in numbers of young males reduced France's industrial capacity. Secondly, the political inertia that gripped France played a negative role in the performance of the French economy. The political system and the way in which politics was conducted in France were not well suited to making quick decisions and being able to coherently follow these policies through. S. B. Clough argues that a sense of antagonism had developed within French politics, complicated by the great number of political parties, the harsh and hostile partisan press, the necessity for coalition government, and consequent parliamentary inefficiency, resulting in the periodic inability of the state to perform its functions and amongst these state functions was, of course, economic ...read more.


French life in the 1930's that this problem plagued France and played a pivotal role in affecting the performance of the French economy. Furthermore, it was this crisis of confidence that bred many of the other factors that negatively affected France's economic performance. In conclusion, the economic policies of the French governments in the 1930's did have a bearing on the performance of the economy. A closer integration into the international markets and economies along with a quicker decision to devalue the franc could have promoted a better economic performance. Although it is understandable the difficulties the French government faced in conducting the correct economic policy given the often inefficient nature of French politics and also the necessity to appease the electorate, this still does not retract from the fact that French economic policy was, on the whole, inadequate. However, France's economic performance was far from being entirely the result of mistakes in economic policy as structural problems played an equally if not more significant role in France's difficulties in grappling with the economic problems they faced. These structural factors are somewhat harder to quantify but the implications they had on the French economy were far reaching and deep-seated, furthermore without these weaknesses, mistakes in economic policy may have been avoided or at worst better remedied. In any case the advent of the economic depression served to shore up these underlying structural problems and this created the crisis of confidence that engulfed all of France, finally it was within this negative framework that mistakes in economic policy were made with the consequent negative effect this had on the performance of the French economy. ...read more.

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