Abstract: European Welfare States and American Free Enterprise: Towards a Transnational Reframing of Postwar US Business Conservatism

Ben Zdencanovic

Abstract

Over the past several decades, historians of the 20th century US have been increasingly interested in the ways that a resurgent and politicized business community mobilized in the years following World War II to contain and roll back New Deal reform. The story told thus far, however, has largely been a national one; beyond gesturing to the Manichean effects of the Cold War on US politics, historians of postwar business conservatism have rarely been attuned to global or transnational forces. This paper shows that the postwar rise of the modern welfare state in Western Europe was often at the center of US business conservatives’ political campaigns against social reform and economic interventionism, and that the foil of Western Europe was often decisively shaped national-level social policy in fields such as healthcare and housing. The paper uses the case study of the National Association of Real Board’s campaign during the late 1940s against national public housing legislation. At the center of this lobbying campaign was the negative example of social housing in Britain and France, which decisively shaped the terms of the 1949 US Housing Act.