By 1979, Britain and the rest of Europe faced economic hard times. Britain's Conservative party, led by Margaret Thatcher, won power and set out to roll back the welfare state. Thatcher privatized government-run industries, curbed the power of labor unions, reduced the size of the government bureaucracy, and cut back welfare services.
Other nations in Western Europe, including France, the Netherlands, and Belgium, rebuilt after the war, helped by Marshall Plan aid. Like Britain, these Europeans powers had to give up their overseas colonial empires. France faced bloody conflicts in Vietnam and Algeria, which it tried to hold on to in the face of nationalist demands for independence.
The Scandinavian countries of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark created extensive socialist welfare programs. By the 1990s, rising costs revived debate about how much people were willing to pay for the welfare state. Yet many peoples saw these social programs as essential to a democratic society.
Postwar Italy faced many challenges, including a multiparty political system that led to frequent changes of government. Corruption and financial scandals shook the government. Despite these problems, Italy made impressive economic gains.
British miners protest the closure of a government-operated coal mine. Many British industries were once again privatized under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Europe's postwar recovery was helped by economic cooperation. In 1952, six nations—West Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, and Italy—set up the European Coal and Steel Community. It eased barriers to trade in coal and steel, which spurred economic growth. Later, these nations formed the European Community to expand free trade. Over time, it ended tariffs, or taxes on imports, and allowed workers and capital to move freely across national borders.
In 1993, the European Community was renamed the European Union (EU). Since then, it has expanded to include 28 nations, including Britain, Ireland, Denmark, and other European countries. The EU set up a common currency, the euro, which is used by 17 European nations. The EU became a powerful economic force and promoted regional trade and peace by replacing destructive competition with an amazing degree of cooperation.
What are some advantages and disadvantages of the welfare state in Europe?
In 1945, Japan, like Germany, lay in ruins. It had suffered perhaps the most devastating damage of any nation involved in World War II. Tens of thousands of Japanese were homeless and hungry.
The war had a deep impact on the political system of Japan. Under General Douglas MacArthur, the American military government set two main goals for the occupation of Japan: to destroy militarism and to ensure democratic government. Japan's armed forces were disbanded. War crime trials were held to punish those responsible for wartime atrocities.
In 1946, Japan adopted a new constitution, which set up a parliamentary democracy. Although the Japanese emperor lost all political power, he remained the symbolic head of the nation. Japan renounced war and banned any military forces, except for its own defense.
To build Japanese democracy, American occupying forces backed changes to the economic and social systems. They opened the education system to all people and emphasized legal equality for women. A land-reform program bought out large landowners and gave land to tenant farmers, erasing lingering traces of feudalism in Japan. Other reforms protected the rights of workers.