What were the social effects of World War II

The economic and social consequences

The immediate impact of World War II on the European economy is devastating. The destroyed communication networks hinder the transport of raw materials and finished products. The irregular supply of industries and damage to the production apparatus lead to a production standstill, which reduces purchasing power while the demand for numerous goods increases. Even in the victorious countries, food continues to be rationed after the end of the war, and the black market leads to dangerous social injustices. Crime, juvenile delinquency and prostitution are developing. The simultaneous rebuilding of houses and apartments, businesses and transport routes threatens to stifle the national economies. Under these circumstances, people are mostly preoccupied with everyday problems and can hardly think of a distant future. The coal shortage in the particularly severe winter of 1946/1947 triggered general strikes and mass demonstrations.

Inflation and the devaluation of the currency, which bring back memories of the economic crises and stock market crashes after the First World War, prompt European politicians to take drastic measures. The persistent gap between the demand and supply of civilian consumer goods is driving up prices and increasing internal and external budget deficits. The states borrow to finance reconstruction and to overcome social injustices. In 1944, Belgium launched a gigantic program to rehabilitate the franc by severely restricting the currency in banknotes and deposits. Key sectors of the European economy are being nationalized and modernization and infrastructure plans are gradually being implemented. While unemployment is high in large parts of Europe, some countries are paradoxically faced with labor shortages in key sectors for economic recovery. Although thousands of German prisoners of war are deployed, large-scale labor transfer programs are being launched, primarily to meet the needs of agriculture and the coal and steel industries. In these difficult circumstances, France and Belgium conclude a protocol on cooperation and immigration with Italy, whereby Italy receives the coal it desperately needs in its economy in exchange for thousands of Italian workers who are unemployed in their homeland. Between 1946 and 1955, more than 500,000 Italians emigrated to the countries of Western Europe.

In order to promote exports and fight unemployment in the context of general economic growth in Europe, Great Britain devalued the pound sterling by 30.5% of its value in gold in 1949. This brutal cut quickly has a domino effect on the weaker European currencies. The Netherlands, the Scandinavian countries and Finland devalue their currencies to the same extent as Great Britain, Germany by 25%, France by 22% and Belgium by 12.5%.

Disappointment spreads through the misery and calls for more social justice are loud. Inadequate wages and salaries lead to numerous strikes, especially in France and Italy. The social security systems are exposed to severe burdens due to the high number of disabled people, widows and other war invalids who claim a pension. Thus the whole of society bears the high social costs of the war. In continuation of some programs developed during the war or following a cooperative tradition, the European states take measures to strengthen social security and thus lay the foundation for the modern welfare state.

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