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Chapter 4 The Missionaries of the Marshall Plan
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Chapter 4
The Missionaries of the Marshall Plan

In the summer of 1949 a team of sixteen French businessmen, engineers, and workers arrived in the United States to begin a six-week tour of plants manufacturing heavy electrical equipment. These were the first "missionaries" sent, under the auspices of the Marshall Plan, to study the secrets of American prosperity. The United States government, acting first through the Economic Cooperation Administration (ECA), the agency that administered the Marshall Plan, and later through its successor, the Mutual Security Agency (MSA), conceived and helped fund such visits. By the end of the program the French had sent some 500 missions and 4,700 missionaries on tour through American factories and farms, stores, and offices. France alone supplied over one-quarter of all trainees sent to the United States from Marshall Plan countries.[1]

The subject of this encounter is these missionaries' assessment of the American economy, especially its prodigious prosperity in the early 1950s. The voices are those of French businessmen, technicians, and workers who visited the United States as well as those of some French and American officials.

What struck these visitors most was the affluence of the average citizen in the United States. It was apparent that there was a distressingly wide gap between the standard of living of an American and a French worker. The parking lots reserved for employees of the Ford plant, for example, seemed like "immense lakes" to the French. One such visitor, who had a flair for precision, counted 75 automobiles in the parking lot of a


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factory that employed only 130 people. This prosperity, the missionaries were instructed, resulted from the efficiency or "productivity" of American labor. A Studebaker cost a Detroit autoworker nine months of wages, while a Parisian autoworker could not afford a simple Citroën because it would cost two and one-half years of work. The difference between American and French standards of living had its origin in a "productivity gap." The lag in productivity was merely the postwar way of formulating an old problem—why the French economy lagged behind best practice as defined by the United States. In the 1920s the problem had assumed the character of a need to adopt measures of rationalization, or scientific management. But in the 1950s the problem was defined, measured, and publicized as a gap in productivity. As an economic indicator, productivity has several technical meanings, but after the war it most often referred to the efficiency of economic inputs, in particular to the economy's total output measured in man-hours of labor, that is, labor productivity.[2]

This gap, this index of relative economic inferiority, appeared at a moment when the American economy was emerging from a stupendous wartime performance and French recovery was barely under way. The prosperity of the later 1950s and 1960s was not yet visible as the missions crossed the Atlantic. America was bursting with self-confidence and promise; the French economy was struggling with postwar reconstruction. These were the heady days of the Marshall Plan, when American officials sought to persuade Europeans that free enterprise and high wages should replace the Old World's bad economic habits.[3]

After a brief account of the Franco-American effort at closing the productivity gap through the policies, institutions, and operations of the Marshall Plan's technical assistance program, of which the missions were one element, this chapter focuses on how French experts assessed the sources as well as the costs and benefits of American affluence and, in turn, critically assessed their own economy and society.[4]

Productivity was not among the early priorities of the Marshall Plan (officially the European Recovery Program, or ERP, which ran from 1948 to 1952). Initially the Economic Cooperation Administration allocated only a modest sum for technical assistance for Europe.[5] It was not until 1950, when the ERP had run nearly half its course, that American officials became convinced that Europeans had to be shown how to run their factories and farms. At this point the ECA faced a series


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of problems. It had to find new ways to make Western Europe self-sufficient and ready for trade liberalization before dollar aid terminated. And the fight against communism seemed to hang in the balance. Up to then European workers—the social stratum most sympathetic to Soviet propaganda, especially in France and Italy—had not benefited from reconstruction; economic hardship seemed to offer a breeding ground for communism. In addition, Washington had decided, even before the beginning of the Korean War, to encourage European rearmament. Once the war began on the Asian peninsula, the ECA faced the dilemma of mounting a massive rearmament program on the continent without sacrificing an already precarious standard of living. In the eyes of ECA officials, raising productivity was the answer to all these problems.

In January 1950 the ECA formally invited the French government to participate in an expanded technical assistance, or productivity, program. Although technical assistance had been part of Marshall Plan aid from the beginning, now it was to be extended to include the creation of national productivity centers, exhibitions of American machinery and products, visits by American consultants, and more missions.[6] American officials had been distressed by the slow progress made by the French in mounting a productivity drive. Paris in the early days of the Marshall Plan did not seem to take the program seriously. The head of the ECA office in France complained: "It is disturbing to find so little evidence of any determination on the part of the French to develop the concerted and vigorous productivity program so essential both to permit improvement in the standard of living and to support the requisite military defense effort."[7]

The situation deteriorated further in 1950–51: the hot war in Korea continued, rearmament strained the fragile European economies, labor's condition worsened, and the Communist party heated up its anti-American campaign. Trade unionists told ECA officials that the Marshall Plan might have helped industry but had not brought higher purchasing power to workers.[8] ECA labor advisers calculated that real wages had fallen below prewar levels and that the Communists were successfully exploiting the workers' misery.[9] Richard Bissell, assistant deputy administrator of the ECA, recommended program reforms that would bring labor tangible benefits in order to strengthen non-Communist trade unions as a way of assuring long-term French political and military stability. Such reforms would also move France toward trade liberalization and economic integration.[10]


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In the summer of 1951, with the end of the Marshall Plan in sight, Washington notified the Europeans of further modifications in the technical assistance program when ECA's successor, the Mutual Security Agency, took charge. French officials learned that more funds would be made available, but that the focus of assistance would shift "not exclusively but principally" to defense production.[11] "Defense" was broadly defined by the MSA to include maintaining the standard of living. A further condition of technical assistance was that its benefits must be shared with workers and consumers. The MSA was looking for projects that would rapidly demonstrate the benefits of productivity to society at large. Bissell described the new policy this way:

Coca-Cola and Hollywood movies may be regarded as two products of a shallow and crude civilization. But American machinery, American labor relations, and American management and engineering are everywhere respected. The hope is that a few European unions and entrepreneurs can be induced to try out the philosophy of higher productivity, higher wages, and higher profits . . . . If they do so, restrictionism can be overcome at merely a few places, the pattern may spread. The forces making for such changes are so powerful that, with outside help and encouragement, they may become decisive. It will not require enormous sums of money . . . to achieve vaster increases in production. But it will require a profound shift in social attitudes, attuning them to the mid-twentieth century.[12]

Boldness, not sensitivity, would be common among ECA officials dealing with Europeans on the matter of productivity. The Americans were especially impatient with French and Italian industrialists whose conservative and restrictive ways seemed to obstruct progress toward competitive markets. In the summer of 1951 a top ECA official publicly attacked French and Italian business for their "feudal mentality."[13] The head of the French national employers' federation (Conseil national du patronat français, or CNPF) protested the charge and characterized the speech as the "greatest single boost to Communist propaganda in France during the past year."[14]

The Fourth Republic reluctantly followed the wishes of the Americans. It is fair to say that without the ECA there would have been no French productivity drive. In 1950, after much procrastination, the government of Georges Bidault created a Comité national de la productivité (CNP) composed of representatives of employers' associations, trade unions (syndicates), and the state; it included some outside experts as well. The under secretary of state for economic affairs, Robert Buron, a strong advocate of productivity, presided over the new center.[15] While the CNP


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set policy, the actual executor of the program was a semiofficial agency, the Association française pour l'accroissement de la productivité (AFAP). It used subsidies from the French and the American governments to send missions and publish their reports.

Even though the productivity gap had been recognized five years before by planning experts like Jean Monnet and Jean Fourastié, the French program took form only in 1950–51. This delay occurred for several reasons. The ECA itself had been slow to give priority to technical assistance, and both the magnitude of the gap and the appropriateness of the American model were difficult to demonstrate. A prevailing perception that America was an economically privileged nation seemed to make the American experience irrelevant. Only gradually did the French recognize that American know-how was relevant and that true recovery, including an end to inflation, depended on raising productivity as well as production. In addition, they had the political problem of mounting a French program that would be viewed as independent of American aid. Officials were worried lest the program appear to be American-controlled and thus arouse domestic opposition, especially from the Communists. The republic wanted to avoid appearing subservient and validating thereby the Communists' accusations. Thus the government rejected an ECA proposal to establish a joint Franco-American productivity center modeled after the Anglo-American Council on Productivity, which brought American experts to help administer the program in Great Britain. One top French official recorded his aversion for any "foreign interference," no matter how friendly, in the program and scolded the Americans for harboring the illusion "that the French problem could be solved by simply applying methods used in the United States."[16] Similarly the commercial counselor in Washington informed ECA directors that "a purely French program" constructed to avoid political disorder and assure a national consensus was "the sine qua non of a real collective effort."[17]

In fact the Fourth Republic had reservations about the entire Marshall Plan because it infringed on French independence and fed Communist polemics. Thus, the French government refused to honor its obligations to publicize Marshall Plan aid. This refusal prompted protests from the ECA and even from the American Congress. American officials believed that the Communists were winning the propaganda baffle over the Marshall Plan and that the French people, including direct beneficiaries of aid, were ignorant of what the United States was giving.[18] When pressed by the Americans to mount a massive publicity campaign, the


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French resisted. A top official advised the prime minister in 1948 that "a campaign that escaped his authority would risk, if it failed to take account of our population's legitimate sensitivities, damaging the nation's amour propre . . . and, in the end, run counter to its own purposes."[19]

Without doubt the most important cause of government procrastination was the Communists. Early on, the Communist party had taken aim against the Marshall Plan. And after some hesitation the largest trade union federation, the Confédération générale du travail (CGT), which was under Communist control, decided against participating in the productivity program. This refusal robbed the CNP program of vital support and opened it to political blackmail. At the national level the CGT enrolled about half of all unionized labor and at the sectoral or firm level frequently dominated the work force.

From the outset the CGT had been the principal obstacle to a productivity program. Before the Marshall Plan began, Jean Monnet and his staff at the national planning agency had undertaken preliminary productivity studies, but their efforts remained sterile until 1948. As soon as the Americans decided to sponsor technical assistance through the ERP, the problem of the Communist-run trade federation surfaced. Monnet's planners insisted that excluding the CGT would cripple the program. But the minister of industry, supported by business and the non-Communist trade unions, argued that the CGT would wreck the program if it were included.[20] The government, itself divided on the issue, muddled through by creating a complicated set of provisional committees that screened the American-funded productivity missions from possible sabotage by the CGT. As a result the French program limped along from 1948 to 1950, sending only three missions in 1949.

The objections of the CGT and the Communist party to the program were virtually identical. The CGT insisted the drive was aimed at releasing resources to aid rearmament and at weakening the CGT.[21] From the party's perspective the productivity drive was being run for and by the Americans. Its accomplices were the CNPF and the "syndicalist gangsters," that is, the non-Communist unions.[22] The drive, according to the Communists, intended to fortify NATO's offensive capacity and divide the working class by coopting the "secessionist" syndicates with crumbs of capitalists' excess profits. According to this analysis, low productivity levels resulted from the inferiority of French capital equipment, a weak industrial structure, and Malthusian capitalists. Without profoundly altering these conditions, raising productivity could come


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9. Productivity, drive defeats Stalin. (Economic Cooperation Administration, P/TA, OD, CSF, box 5)

only at the expense of the health, dignity, and standard of living of workers.

Like so many other postwar Franco-American encounters, the productivity program fell victim to Cold War political controversy. The ECA/MSA promoted the drive during the Korean War to facilitate Western European rearmament and to combat communism in France and Italy (see fig. 9). The Communist party and the CGT responded by obstructionism. In the National Assembly the Communists sought to halt subsidies to the program and the CGT retaliated at the plant level. On occasion their resistance was passive—CGT workers would walk out of films being shown at factories when they spotted the credit, "This film is presented to you by the Marshall Plan."[23] Sometimes the CGT could be more aggressive. Returning labor-missionaries were ostracized as capitalist hirelings. In 1952 the ECA sent a traveling exhibition entitled "The True Face of the United States" featuring a portable cinema and displaying posters, photographs, and other information about American efficiency and affluence (figs. 10, 11). When the exhibit reached a small town in the Cher, the local CGT union called out its members to protest. Some five hundred demonstrators hurled debris and overturned the exhibit's canvas top before gendarmes intervened. The following day the mayor, afraid of further incidents, canceled authorization for the exhibit.[24] Together the Americans and the Communists turned the drive into a political ideological struggle.


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10. Traveling exhibition for the American way visits a provincial French town, 1950. 
(Archives nationales, F60ter 394)

11. Display from traveling exhibition demonstrates that high productivity
means Americans work fewer hours to acquire consumer goods than
Europeans. (Archives nationales, F60ter 394)


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One can hardly overestimate the importance of the Communists' opposition for the stance of French labor. The CGT's attacks aroused the historic suspicions of labor toward any form of industrial rationalization. Non-Communist syndicates were extremely cautious about participating in the American-sponsored program.[25] These so-called free unions, the Confédération française des travailleurs chrétiens (CFTC), Force ouvrière (FO), and Confédération générale des cadres (CGC), joined the CNP only reluctantly and after setting conditions for their participation.[26]

These free unions faced a double dilemma. First, they were intimidated by the power and fervor of the CGT and the Communists. Cooperating with the Americans made them appear like tools of foreign capitalist interests rather than advocates of French workers. Second, they harbored grave doubts about the entire scheme. In the short run it threatened unemployment and in the long run seemed to offer fewer benefits to labor than to employers. Employers had a bad record as far as the unions were concerned. And, CFTC and FO representatives reminded The ECA, workers were suspicious because after 1945 the employers and The government had asked them to roll up their sleeves and raise output, but as of 1950 they had received few benefits.[27] As one old-timer plainly (and ungrammatically) summed up the situation for an ECA official: "Tell them in the United States that we're not against the Marshall Plan. Tell them that us workers would just like to see a little more of it."[28] Still, rather than spurn an offer made by the ECA and their government that might bring benefits to workers and fortify their unions, these syndicalists gingerly elected to try out the program.

But French employers did not make participation easy for the unions. The CNPF may have proclaimed its unqualified support for the program, but in fact organized business fought a rear-guard action against it. Trade associations did their best to limit the purview of the CNP and make certain the program did not become a gambit for either state dirigisme or trade union interference in their prerogatives.[29] The head of the small employers' federation, Léon Gingembre, who had been stung by American criticism of French business, stated his objections directly to the ECA. He complained of "the complete lack of understanding you have of the mentality of our country in general and of small- and mediumsized business in particular.[30] Other than establishing some personal contacts, he concluded, on the basis of the first mission, that "there was little else to retain." Gingembre's federation abstained from subsequent missions. Far more important than Gingembre's defiance, the major


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trade associations were to earn a reputation for manipulating and obstructing the program.

After the Marshall Plan ended in 1952, the MSA channeled technical assistance toward improving the standard of living as part of a broadly defined defense program for Western Europe. American aid became openly tied to promoting free enterprise and strengthening non-Communist trade unions, especially in France and Italy. Controversy over this program led to the withdrawal of the non-Communist syndicalists and the collapse of the CNP. In 1953 a Commissariat général à la productivité, with Gabriel Ardant at its head, replaced the CNP. At this point interest in the missions faded and Ardant turned his attention toward other means of promoting productivity. The subject of this encounter, however, is the missions.

It is hardly surprising that the AFAP, the operational arm of the French drive, had difficulty in assembling its first missions to the United States. CGT members stayed away, and American immigration policy that refused entry to anyone with a Communist affiliation, present or past, discouraged many labor officials.[31] It was also difficult to get funds from the budget to cover the French government's share of the costs.[32] At the same time employers controlled the selection of delegations, largely because they contributed heavily to mission expenses and were allowed to choose the participating firms. French procedures for selecting delegations did not satisfy the ECA, which complained that the initial missions underrepresented labor and marginalized the role of the trade union federations.[33] ECA officials believed that unless the syndicalists were more involved in selecting labor delegates, American unions would object and the delegates would appear as "stooges"—just as the Communists pictured them.[34] Organized business exacerbated the problem on occasion by choosing delegates from among relatives or other workers who had no standing in the union and were reputed to be management's cronies.

French officials were perplexed about what they viewed as a complicated and delicate matter.[35] On the one hand they wanted a broad range of views. But on the other, the abstention by the CGT and the testiness of the free unions as well as the CNPF made selection procedures difficult. Moreover, it was not easy to obtain a broad range of private firms since only those employers who volunteered and contributed to expenses were represented. Adjustments in procedures during 1950–51


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improved team selection in the eyes of the ECA without ever fully satisfying the Americans.

In 1950, after a slow start the year before, some forty missions comprising over five hundred visitors toured the United States and the pace accelerated in the next two years. By the end of 1953, when activity began a long decline, some three hundred missions and twenty-seven hundred visitors had journeyed across the Atlantic to study everything from hybrid corn to antitrust legislation.[36] Some teams were highly specialized, such as delegations of consulting engineers; others, composed of employers, officials, technicians, and workers, studied either specific sectors like coal mining or broad intersectoral topics like industrial relations, accounting, marketing, or personnel training. About two-thirds of the missions studied industrial problems; most of the rest focused on agriculture. Relatively few were devoted to retail trade, crafts, and service. The French tertiary sector drew the fewest participants into The program. In theory a team of a dozen members had two employers, six engineers or foremen, and four workers or employees, though some teams were to include only technicians or workers. In practice management, broadly defined, may have occupied almost half the posts.[37] The missions spent about six weeks on average visiting factories, farms, stores, universities, and research centers; they talked to government officials, labor leaders, trade association representatives, research scientists, farmers, plant managers, engineers, and workers. Most teams covered a limited geographic region like the Midwest, but collectively they roamed over the entire continent. Some of the hundreds of reports they filed were published by the AFAP in as many as ten thousand copies. This effort was designed to administer a shock, to make the French eager to adopt American techniques, and to "produce and foster this 'virus' of productivity."[38]

The record left by these missions tells us both how The French perceived the American economy circa 1951 and how they assessed their own way of life. Yet the published mission reports should not be taken at face value. The AFAP prepared them as it did its radio programs and films—as clements of a propaganda campaign. They were to be useful in a technical sense, but they also preached the productivity gospel. These documents were rarely candid about the missionaries' ambivalence. They often "homogenized" the views of the teams, making those of business and labor indistinguishable, for example. More complete and accurate accounts of the missions' impressions, however, can be found in other records.[39]


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The wonder about American prosperity and the self-assessment expressed in these reports were not uniquely French but had, to some degree, a European character. British and Italian productivity reports made similar evaluations of American management, human relations, and markets because all the official reports reflected heavily what the ECA intended.[40] The contrast in economic practice was between Europe and the United States—though there were some peculiar Gallic twists to what these Europeans found.

Despite the laudatory tone of the French reports it would be a mistake to regard the missionaries as naive or uncritical. The cross-Atlantic travelers did not always accept what the Americans claimed about their economy or find the American way of life entirely admirable. Even some of the prime propagandists expressed doubts about America's self-image, as a land of entrepreneurial pioneering, competitive markets, and cooperative trade unions. Skeptics voiced misgivings about the "reality" of the American economy and detected disturbing features in the American way of life. They were unimpressed with American manufacturing techniques, disliked consumer society, or believed nothing could be transferred because American success came entirely from its natural endowment.

Nevertheless, most of those who left a record of their perceptions were profoundly and positively impressed with the American way of life and sought to emulate it. Converts were apt to idealize American ways (fig. 12). These enthusiasts consciously or unconsciously found in the United States everything that was missing in France. They believed Americans possessed the basic human virtues, as one prominent employer put it, of honesty, self-discipline, mutual respect, as well as commitment to work and service. No wonder, he thought, there was so little friction in industrial relations and such high output.[41] Another industrialist described French factories as mirror images of what he found in the States. American plants, even older ones, were clean, orderly, quiet, and well illuminated, while at home there were many "dark, dingy factories, with filthy floors and horrible noise . . . which seem more like prisons than places where men have to spend a third of their lives."[42] Some employers found a natural paradise for business across the Atlantic and thus, of course, avoided criticizing themselves for the shortcomings of European business.[43]

The clean and efficient plants as well as the "lakes" of private cars and the "forests" of TV antennas proved the productivity gap was not the figment of some statistician's calculation. It was the missionaries' task to


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find the causes of this lag and identify what could be borrowed or adapted to end it. They also wanted to know whether such transfers would put the French way of life at risk. For in this collective examination of conscience the stakes were far higher than manufacturing techniques. The entire social and economic environment in which business and labor functioned was at issue. This self-appraisal tells us what thousands of French businessmen, technicians, and workers held dear about their way of lite and what they thought to cast off in order to come closer to the American way of life.

The major analytical issue for the productivity teams was to discern what were the "givens," or natural advantages—the non-transferable features—of the American economy. America was called an "economic aristocracy" among nations because of its privileged endowment. The essentials of this privilege were the continent's wealth of natural resources, especially power, and the enormous size of the market that stimulated the mass production of a narrow range of standardized products and afforded economics of scale. Every mission report attributed some portion of America's productivity to such "natural" advantages. A few credited such advantages with sole responsibility for America's success and concluded little could be reproduced in France. The report of the electronics industry, for example, discerned numerous advantages enjoyed by American manufacturers and concluded that there were some, but not many, feasible reforms.[44] The head of the CNP itself, Robert Buron, in assessing the factors responsible for American productivity estimated only SO percent were capable of "fruitful adaptation."[45]

In spite of the general recognition that much of America's economic eminence derived from special conditions, most missionaries allowed for a considerable measure of transferable practice. As we shall see, many of the visitors construed what was "importable" in narrow technical terms and confined themselves to borrowing manufacturing techniques. But the most striking finding of the missions was that human factors were the key to America's performance. This impression was, of course, precisely what the ECA wanted the Europeans to conclude. According to the author of an early synthesis, "The great discovery and the great surprise to French investigators was, without question, the role that human factors played in American productivity. Most of the reports give them top priority."[46] To the degree that productivity was a matter of attitudes and will—such as a "scientific" approach to management or more open and trusting relations between employer and employee—


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12. French images of American mores, drawn 
from literature of the productivity drive: Even 
small American entrepreneurs engage in mass 
production (top left); Inventive Americans find 
solutions to every problem: "Well, Miss Forrest, 
if you plan to stay half-dressed like that, you'll 
have to build a higher wall" (center); Economics 
govern how Americans think: "Well, well! Supply 
is greater than demand!"(bottom). (Claude Foussé, 
Traits caractéristiques de la prospérité 
américaine [1953], 47, 21, 19)


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then Gallic imitation was feasible. This was the 50 percent to which Buron referred. Accordingly the missions, encouraged by the AFAP and the Americans, focused on human factors. Yet the peculiarly hospitable social "climate" in which American productivity flourished was to prove exceedingly difficult to import. That causes were human or psychological or even institutional, the French were to discover, did not make them more readily adaptable.

If for analytical purposes we set aside the part of productivity attributable to America's natural endowment, including market size (which the missions believed they could not recreate), and the part attributable to specific manufacturing techniques (which the missions freely borrowed), then what remained and what the productivity enthusiasts judged essential to closing the gap was a small number of items all more or less attributable to management and industrial relations. The emphasis on these factors tells us what the French believed was most backward about their economic ways and forms the crux of their self-assessment.

It is no exaggeration to claim that the French discovered "management" during the Marshall Plan.[47] Management, the teams learned, was not the same as direction .[48] First, an American manager, like a true chef, was recruited not only for his knowledge and capacity to command but also for his ability to persuade, rather than impose his will, on his subordinates. In addition, management was not a matter of experience or aptitude alone; it was a function of continuous training and proper organization. Management was more a learned technique than it was a "business sense" or a "gift of command." American managers, the French observed, were trained at universities or professional schools. It is no surprise that the Harvard Business School was a major attraction for the productivity teams. And training was practical, specialized, and continuous. "American employers know that running a company is a learned skill and they do all they can to improve their education. Management, the technique of direction in all its forms, is a scientific discipline."[49] What was also distinctive about management was that American firms were highly structured, often using a staff-and-line system, with precisely defined functions and responsibilities symbolized by an organization table. Authority was decentralized or delegated. And order was provided by the use of collective (committee) decision-making and organization. Finally, American management was "open." There was easy communication among supervisors and subordinates; information was freely transmitted up and down the managerial hierarchy and


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throughout the entire enterprise so that even the production worker was kept informed.

Unlike the French patron, American managers never seemed overworked. They readily executed their tasks because of sound organization, adequate staff, and the heavy use of office equipment. The French were astonished at seeing a telephone on every desk. At the top American managers were able to focus on policy. They emphasized forecasting and supervision (contrôle ). In the first instance they had detailed statistical data available to them on almost every facet of the economic environment; they stressed functions like market research and product design and development. In the second instance the comptroller, or chief financial officer, used budgetary or accounting techniques to monitor company operations instead of merely documenting the past as in France. Thus American managers left nothing to improvisation. They relied on neither genius nor routine. They were flexible without improvising because they carefully studied and prepared for the new; change too was part of the system. Management was method. And insofar as management was a result of training, organization, and attitude, it could be transmitted.

Implicit in this affirmation of American management was a critique of French direction (see fig. 13). The mission reports directly or indirectly criticized French business for its heavy centralization—for its Napoleonic type of president-directeur-président-directeur-général (PDG) who refused to delegate responsibility. The typical PDG acted without the advice of his subordinates; was unaware of the grievances of his personnel; and failed to inform his staff of the company's market situation. French managers tried to be expert in all functions and assumed too many tasks. They were overloaded with questions of detail and had no time to reflect.

American consultants confirmed the existence of a "management gap." To the Americans their Gallic hosts seemed to possess a pool of "bosses as good as those in the United States, but their knowledge of techniques of industrial management is less advanced."[50] American specialists criticized the chef d'entreprise not only for hoarding authority but also for neglecting long-term planning, marketing, and advertising. The chef d'entreprise, the Americans observed, often blamed the state for difficulties caused by his own mismanagement. Moreover, as a basis for recruitment, French business relied too heavily on academic degrees, personal character, and experience whereas Americans insisted that management was a learned skill that must be continuously honed through training and tested by competition.


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13. How Americans imagine the office of a European business, according to
Marshall Plan literature. (Rapports France-Etats-Unis no. 38 [1950]: 14)

What the Americans also singled out for criticism was "the old tradition of secrecy." In comparison the American firm was transparent. French visitors were astonished at the openness of American business. Americans freely allowed foreigners access to every aspect of their enterprise including manufacturing techniques, organizational struc-


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ture, sales figures, wage rates, and profits. Nor did they hide this information from their employees. Given the behavior of the French missionaries themselves after their return home, the critique of secrecy leveled by the American consultants seems apt.

Above all American management, in the eyes of French converts and American consultants, seemed inherently dynamic compared to the conservative patronat . The latter lacked either an "enterprising" or a "methodical" spirit and preferred cartels to competition, paternalism to industrial democracy. One American adviser liked to tell a story about French "Malthusianism":

A prominent French industrialist, who had obtained considerable credit in order to purchase new machinery, asked me for advice. He could select either a type of machine that was antiquated or one that was entirely modern. Despite my advice he chose the first, being afraid, he told me, of acquiring excess productive capacity.[51]

In contrast, American managers sought the new. They were stimulated from outside the firm by competition and from inside it by a promotional system that rewarded merit. "The great American principle is that, whatever an individual's background or academic degrees, the best deserves the best position."[52]

The emphasis on managerial deficiencies did not mean, however, that the missions paid less attention to the technical aspects of manufacture. Quite the contrary. Missions particularly appreciated the generous deployment and use of machinery at near full capacity. "Overall, American factories are better outfitted than ours; it must be added that in general they also make better use of their equipment."[53] Especially striking were the profusion of power hand tools; the use of machinery for the transport, handling, and storage of materials and products; and the extravagant consumption of power throughout the production process. To a lesser extent the productivity teams praised the skillful design of American plants. Most every industrial mission also applauded the dependability and high quality of American suppliers. One experiment demonstrated that the mere use of American raw materials in a French textile mill significantly raised productivity. And the French penchant for tardiness, which at times interrupted the flow of production, inspired a jibe in Washington. "They say that when you give a cocktail party you invite the French at 6:30 and the Americans at 7:30 so that everyone arrives together. This precision in keeping appointments is also the rule in making deliveries."[54]


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What the mission reports published about technical matters, however, and what in fact interested the missions were at odds. Published reports minimized the importance of manufacturing processes. And the productivity propagandists insisted that the missions were least impressed by this aspect of the productivity gap.[55] In fact we know many missions focused exclusively on technology—to the dismay of the AFAP. Visitors tended to select only those "elements that immediately satisfied a particular interest and disregarded everything else," according to one summary.[56] What was most readily available to the missions for copying was manufacturing technique. Such tinkering was also most likely to bring immediate gains to employers. But the productivity agency wanted to impress the French with the more "profound" aspects of the problem and tried to focus attention on such matters as management rather than machinery.

Marketing was one of the most noted weaknesses of French enterprise. Almost unanimously the missions perceived that they were behind the Americans in all aspects of distribution. CNPF leaders reported privately that they had little to learn from American firms at the technical level, but much to learn about selling.[57] French business lacked market studies, adequate advertising budgets, attractive product packaging, self-service retail outlets, and consumer credit. If techniques of conducting market research were familiar to the visitors, Americans employed them more extensively and more systematically. In the world of advertising, the French believed they were superior in "graphic imagination"; but American advertising firms were more effective because they were less constrained by their clients. Indeed to the French business ear the term "marketing" was revolutionary not because it was Anglo-Saxon but because it shifted priority and prestige from production to sales.[58]

The goal of American marketing was new: it aimed at creating consumer society. "Americans have had the merit of finding the way to make their entire population live comfortably."[59] Americans had discovered that the motor of economic life was not fulfilling elementary needs but stimulating the desire to live better. Demand was virtually unlimited. French teams reported: "This message of 'Live better,' repeated by all advertisers trying to sell their products, constitutes the background noise for all of American life—a sound punctuated by the ring of cash registers throughout the country."[60] The strategy was to make everyone a consumer and the means were standardized products, market analyses, advertising, high wages, and consumer credit. The distribution of easy credit gave every American the capacity to purchase consumer durables,


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that is, cars, washing machines, television sets, vacuums, refrigerators. These were high-price items that required generous credit in order to tempt buyers. In the 1950s consumer durables were the most visible manifestation of the productivity gap. The trouble with France, as one report suggested, was that half its population was still outside the circuit of the economy. The peasantry and the industrial workers might contribute as producers, but they still did not qualify as true consumers, as eager buyers of consumer durables.[61]

French business, so it seemed, neglected buyers whereas in America "the consumer is king." The voyagers happened to tour the United States at a moment when retailers pampered customers and supermarkets were in their early ascendancy. Despite this solicitude for the consumer, it was noted, America had far fewer retail distributors than France and the Americans' monstrous advertising campaigns did not seem to raise costs excessively. But the "cultural" and even ethical aspects of advertising were more bothersome, as one report observed: "There is no point insisting on the heavy, obtrusive, and aggressive character of American advertising. Don't they say that it is the art of making someone buy something that he doesn't want with money he doesn't yet have?"[62] Thus the massive marketing of products made some visitors skeptical about the claim that in America the consumer was king—perhaps she or he was more a victim.

Another feature of American management that attracted much attention, but which the French (and even some Americans) viewed with skepticism, was the so-called human-relations technique. Even before the war American researchers like Elton Mayo had demonstrated that psychosociological factors were more important than physical conditions or wages in determining labor's performance. Such findings generated the human-relations method of management, whose principles were open communication and respect for employees and whose symbol was the personnel office. The assumption was that high productivity depended on mutual comprehension by management and labor of each other's contribution to output. The human-relations approach to management personalized intrafirm relations; managers were to recognize that there was an individual in every worker and that relations among employees could be improved through a combination of goodwill and skill. In fact, it encompassed a bewildering variety of techniques. It evoked images of worker and employer shaking hands or caring lunch together. Human relations was one reason why the French likened American enterprise to a "glass house."


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French missions were amazed at the lengths to which Americans went as they tried to promote "team spirit." From the careful "orientation" of the new worker to the sponsorship of company sports teams, American business created a sense of community that in turn fostered easy rapport between management and workers. The French were flabbergasted at the sight of employees addressing employers by their surnames or volunteering suggestions on how to improve operations. One company inspired such suggestions by sending holiday greeting cards that read, "Merry Christmas to all . . . and to all . . . Good Ideas!"[63]

On occasion the Americans seemed to have gone too far in cultivating such easy rapport. One mission reported a visit to Barber-Greene, a small enterprise in the Midwest that made material for road construction.[64] This company was unusual in that it applied the principles of a Christian idealist named Melvin Evans. Evans himself related to the French visitors the story of a foreman whose family problems had harmed his work and his health. The company psychologist counseled this worker and soon his output improved. Evans said this example illustrated his contention that the secret of happiness lay in four conditions: job satisfaction; a comfortable home life; leisure; and faith in God. The visitors manifested "some anxiety, for the French temperament appears to be badly suited to such incursions into one's private life." Nevertheless, after seeing the success of the company, the mission supposedly became "really enthusiastic." Its members were amazed at witnessing the company president, in the presence of the union delegate, provide information about profits, dividends, and wages. Workers said they liked their jobs in the company—and four out of five owned an automobile. The missionaries concluded that given the small scale of operations and the company's "climate of cooperation," it should be a model for French enterprise.

Some of the teams were skeptical about the soundness of the human-relations approach and its relevance to France. Visitors detected a certain cynicism in this form of human engineering. They reported the comment of one American expert, "this fraud that they call human relations," and expressed doubts that in itself human relations could alter behavior.[65] One American manager supposedly joked:

Sociology has shown that men seem to produce better if they are happy, and we try hard to make them happy. But if experiments proved that men produce still better if they are furious, we would work it out so that they could be furious all the time.[66]


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The missions recognized that the purpose of human relations was to create an open and cooperative climate for work; they saw that this technique served to persuade workers to accept the system of free enterprise and to fortify social peace. But American trade unions, the French noted, had reservations about the technique and argued that some employers used it to substitute "psychotherapy" for high wages. To the skeptics such techniques invaded privacy and concealed the manipulation of labor. Rumors of the "confessionals" at Western Electric, where employees exposed their innermost feelings in group interviews but were subject to unseen observation by supervisors, portended the worst. Even enthusiasts disapproved of some aspects of this human engineering. The signs that reminded everyone to "Keep Smiling" suggested workers should mask their true feelings in the interest of solidarity.

Most missions refused to see human relations as either readily adaptable or as a panacea. France was different. The French generally lacked team spirit. French firms had less internal cohesion, and workers feared exploitation so keenly that there was a veritable sense of class struggle. The teams believed that France had a different, and less supportive, social and economic environment. In contrast Americans had the sense of working in a dynamic economy with the highest standard of living in the world, and American workers possessed the security afforded by strong trade unions and profited from the easy informality and apparent sincerity of social intercourse that inspired confidence. Only by taking into account these differences could these new managerial methods be introduced to France. The missionaries warned that the consequences of adopting American human relations techniques might be "unintended, most often mediocre, and sometimes harmful."[67]

Looking outside the firm, French visitors found an extremely competitive, yet supportive, economic environment in the United States. Missionaries gaped at the price war waged between Macy's and Gimbel's in 1951 that drove down the price of home furnishings by 50 percent. Americans took enormous pride in their flee enterprise system, which, they claimed, was largely free of either government controls or internal restraints. The American industrialist was caught between the anvil of competition and the hammer of wage pressure that constantly forced him to find ways of raising productivity. The missionaries were told that Americans enshrined their worship of competition in antitrust legislation. It was no coincidence that the ECA/MSA was doing its best to open the Western European economies by condemning the continent's fondness for cartels. But the obvious existence of


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oligopoly in many industries clashed with America's self-image and aroused the skepticism of some French teams about claims of perfect competition.[68] Nevertheless, witnessing the relatively high competitive levels of the American economy reminded the visitors of their own sluggish markets at home.[69]

In America the entire national economy was, much like the individual firm, transparent. Statistical economic data, gathered by governmental and private sources, was at everyone's disposal. The display at the Department of Commerce that recorded each new birth captivated the missions. To one observer, Gallic reserve explained the lack of a French counterpart: "French enterprises like statistics as much as Americans do, but they don't like to provide them."[70]

Even more important for explaining American prosperity than this competitive and transparent economic environment was the social context in which American enterprise functioned. Americans, including American workers, agreed on the virtue of free enterprise and they made productivity a national goal. Productivity was "more than a technique; it is a social reality."[71]

The key, according to this analysis, was a cooperative labor force. From the perspective of the CNP, which was directing the drive, labor would determine the success or failure of its campaign. Business, it was assumed, would more readily follow the Americans' lead. Thus much of the drive aimed at selling French workers on the benefits of the American way.

The primary attraction was the affluence of the American worker. The symbol of prosperity was the automobile parked in the working man's driveway. Experts concluded that the living standard of the skilled American worker was far superior to that of the comparable French worker and probably even to that of the majority of French middle managers and professionals like lawyers. The source of such affluence was high productivity. This causal relationship was the crux of all the reporting about the United States. A rising level of productivity not only lowered costs and increased profits, but it also cut prices and generated higher wages. Productivity paid the bill for the workers' automobiles and television sets. High wages, in turn, "deepened" markets for sellers by raising the purchasing power of workers. American wage earners, it was said, realized this vital relationship and thus willingly supported efforts to raise their productivity.

What remained to be overcome in France was labor's fear that productivity was simply a new scheme of exploitation hatched by capi-


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talists. The promise of American-style affluence was one avenue of persuasion. Another was the argument that Americans work "better" but not "harder." The old charge that the assembly line subjected the worker to speedups seemed baseless when one knew American factories. French trade union delegates found that American factory work was no more advanced than their own.[72] The abundance of power hand tools and other forms of machinery reduced human effort. According to one estimate, only 3 percent of all energy used in American manufacturing was derived from manual sources.[73] American workers simply worked more efficiently. And the pleasant ambiance of plants, like the Johnson and Johnson factory—clean, brightly illuminated, ventilated, and automated—was a vision of what could be in Europe.

Even more appealing than the character of physical labor was the mutual trust that existed among all employees. One CFTC official reported, "What distinguishes American economic life from ours is a different state of mind rather than technique."[74] American workers, unlike their French peers, were committed to raising output because they knew the employer would share the benefits with them. Sympathetic syndicalists observed an absence of social class and class conflict.

The United States is really a country without the psychology of class. Americans believe that payment in respect and consideration is as important as payment in wages. The absence of this notion of class explains the behavior of the American worker. The worker, whose labor movement is completely pragmatic, stripped of all ideology (too much so to my taste), has only one worry—that of always getting more.[75]

More skeptical French trade unionists reported that American unions might not cry class struggle from the rooftops but also recognized that their American peers won nothing without a fight.[76] And one missionary complained privately that high American productivity was the result of "ruthless action on the part of management [and] the gigantic war effort."[77]

In the eyes of the syndicalists, American trade unions seemed unbelievably powerful and respectable. The well-furnished offices, technical staffs, and large dues-paying memberships astonished the European visitors.[78] So did the appearance of American labor leaders sporting bow ties and smoking cigars. These former street fighters now controlled funds valued in the millions of dollars, played golf with politicians, and attended classes with managers at the Harvard Business School. American trade unions also enjoyed collective bargaining and closed shops and


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operated independently of employers, the government, or political parties.

The American labor movement supposedly shared fully in the "religion of productivity." David Dubinsky, head of the International Ladies Garment Workers' Union, told the French, "We have a vital interest in employers' profits and thus in the efficiency of production" because high wages come from high productivity just as high profits do.[79] American workers, Dubinsky said, didn't fear technological unemployment because it was vain to oppose progress and they knew sooner or later that new jobs would be generated. Trade unions in the United States appeared pragmatic to French non-Communist syndicalists, but "life there is not a bed of roses; they quarrel and strikes are tough battles. But when a truce is signed, both sides respect it." Industrial peace came by settling precise issues, like wages, and if conditions changed, the two sides restarted discussions instead of resorting to extreme measures. Above all, both sides never doubted the other's good faith. "They believe in their sincerity. In extreme circumstances they tell each other that they are maladroit, never that they are corrupt or worse."[80]

This idealized perception of American labor relations prompted syndicalists to issue an indictment of their situation. American workers, inside and outside the factory, did not feel "this haughtiness, this self-importance, this contempt or lack of understanding that too often characterizes . . . employers here."[81] As one labor mission concluded:

It's not a question of wanting to introduce brutally and mechanically the methods of American trade unions into France. . . . Nor is it a matter for us of accepting or admiring everything that we found there. We do think, nevertheless, that it would be desirable to see our French labor movement secure for all our fellow workers a situation comparable to that which exists in America.[82]

The New World was far from perfect. And in many respects, at both the technical and the human levels, French industry could instruct American industry. Yet every mission concluded that imitation of some American methods was both possible and desirable. A synthesis of mission reports concluded, "The essential condition for the success of the productivity crusade is the dissemination of an atmosphere of confidence and loyalty."[83]

This conclusion points up an issue that seemed to underlie the entire campaign. Raising productivity, in the eyes of the true believers, required a new French revolution. For those missionaries who earnestly sought to introduce American ways, the question seemed to be, were the French of the 1950s willing to accept radical social and economic renovation in


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order to raise productivity? To import American methods implied an overhaul of French direction and labor relations because the American model was built on mutual trust and respect, open and honest communication, and the delegation of responsibility. In particular, employers would have to make an equitable distribution of benefits gained from raising productivity, and labor would have to overcome its historic mistrust of the patronat . There would be no place for communism and class struggle. At the technical level, industrialists and engineers needed to recognize that productivity was not merely a matter of copying some technical recipes. For the real issue was learning how to generate a continuous flow of new techniques. At the macroeconomic level, producers and consumers would have to welcome a more market-oriented economy.

In fact the productivity drive, at least in the short run, failed to bring about a drastic overhaul of either the socioeconomic or the political status quo: markets were not opened and communism was not weakened. Much could be accomplished within existing French structures and without overturning habits. Productivity rates in France improved but without, at least immediately, this seemingly necessary socioeconomic revolution.

It is difficult to assess the impact of the productivity drive, and this issue has not been the principal objective of our analysis.[84] We know that productivity rose dramatically after 1953, with France leading most other Western European nations, and we know also that rising productivity was a major cause of the prosperity of the late 1950s and 1960s. Changes were introduced at the plant level that included everything from installing fluorescent lighting and conveyer belts to redesigning production lines. But how many of these changes came from the productivity movement? If such innovations were not inspired by the drive, they were at least similar to American practice, and they contributed to the stunning rise in productivity rates. And it seems likely, given the scope and energy of the drive, that it did communicate the productivity message to large numbers of businessmen, technicians, labor leaders, and officials. French business audiences, for example, were said to be so saturated with talk of American efficiency that they asked speakers to avoid the subject. But what does the implementation of the drive reveal about the French response to the American way?

Follow-up studies by the ECA in 1951 show a mixed response to the first efforts at introducing American-style productivity measures.[85] In a


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few instances eager missionaries revolutionized their firm's operations, but others either ignored what they had seen, encountered stiff opposition, or at most introduced piecemeal innovations that yielded little in the way of gains. Some plants with strong CGT unions obstructed anything that resembled productivity reform, but in other factories or offices such changes occurred despite, or with the compliance of, a CGT local.

Much later the AFAP tried to assess the impact of the program that it organized. Questionnaires sent to former participants in 1955–56 revealed only modest results.[86] To be sure, the experience of seeing the American way was a "shock" to everyone and stimulated a general effort to improve operations. Yet the poor response to the questionnaire led the AFAP to infer that perhaps as many as half the missions were "sterile." Among the respondents, however, there was virtual unanimity that the new knowledge gained in America had been applied in some manner. Significantly, however, these applications were only rarely labeled "productivity programs." Such programs were introduced de facto or carried a different appellation because productivity per se encountered such "distrust" that it was wiser to avoid such an identification.

About 30 percent of those attempting innovation encountered interference. The source of these objections was equally divided among boards of directors, managers, and workers—and in most instances the opposition was not overcome. In some cases the returning missionary, according to the questionnaires, faced indifference or even hostility among his peers, which isolated him and dampened his enthusiasm. In other instances once a firm had introduced change and gained a competitive advantage, it had little incentive and insufficient training to continue innovation. Sometimes efforts to raise productivity were blocked by hidebound suppliers and clients. Without cooperation at each stage of the manufacturing-marketing process, prices could not be lowered or competition enhanced. Thus productivity advocates were unable to demonstrate sufficient gains to cause their firms to abandon old routines.[87] In these circumstances, the AFAP concluded, results were inevitably limited.

Too many visitors, in the eyes of the AFAP, preferred copying technical aspects of American manufacturing rather than familiarizing themselves with broader American methods of management or human relations. While the teams perceived the social and psychological aspects of the problem, few, in practice, awarded them priority. The visits, the agency acknowledged, were usually too brief to master the more complex


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features of American enterprise such as management, organization, and marketing. From the AFAP's perspective there had been too much literal copying of American machinery and manufacturing processes and not enough learned about American methods to enable the French to find their own solutions to their problems.

Even witnessing the "glass house" of American business firsthand did not alter the closed character of the missionaries' own enterprises. Only one-third of the chefs d'entreprise (who responded to the questionnaire) had called on outside consultants for advice. The AFAP attributed this reluctance to the secretive ways and to a "certain misplaced amour propre" among heads of family firms.[88] Of these chefs d'entreprise only 3.5 percent would allow visits to their plants from competitors. Only 10 percent would accept visits from former mission colleagues!

When asked to quantify the gains made by their innovations, most participants replied that productivity had been raised but that they could not be more specific. Most often the respondents answered plaintively that productivity was "a matter of climate and nothing durable or definitive could be done in this area until the positions of trade unions, workers, and employers were fundamentally altered."[89] But such social changes were beyond the reach of the crusaders of the early 1950s and in this regard the failure of the foundry experiment is instructive.

During 1952–53 a controversy erupted over a pilot program in the foundry industry that revealed labor-management tensions. At issue was the extension of an experimental training program operated by the CNP and funded by the ECA in a handful of companies to another hundred foundries as well as to a small number of manufacturers of men's clothing and shoes. In fact, the foundry experiment was a small operation that had yielded mixed results after a year of operation. By late 1952 it could claim the introduction of productivity bonuses; the setting of wage levels that were slightly higher than those of regional competitors; and the virtual absence of layoffs (or none connected with the program).[90] Yet these pilot companies had not yet shown higher profits or lower prices.

In the fall of 1952 the syndicalists on the CNP asserted themselves. Labor support had always been tentative, but now the free unions—the CFTC, the FO, and the CGC, which had accepted the ad hoc arrangements between employers and workers in the original foundry experiment—demanded guarantees before expanding the program.[91] Workers who had been in the pilot program acknowledged an improvement in work conditions but complained that they rarely benefited from bonuses


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and, despite rare layoffs, the workers almost unanimously continued to fear unemployment.[92] The syndicalists had become frustrated by the refusal of the employers to bargain collectively; they were unhappy with their nominal role in formulating CNP policy, and worried that the pilot program might be detrimental to workers' interests. The non-Communist unions now insisted on formal agreements between employers' associations and trade unions in order to define the principles of the program and to elaborate guarantees that would cover a wide range of issues such as a share in productivity benefits, participation by trade unions, and job security. No longer satisfied with mere representation on the CNP, the free labor federations wanted to introduce collective bargaining to gain a real say in developing a national productivity program.

Employers were afraid of the drift toward autogestion (worker self-management) represented by the syndicates' demands. They knew the non-Communist unions were weak—in most of the pilot foundries the CGT was the largest syndicate and the other syndicates were often altogether absent. Thus business leaders in the CNPF and the trade associations saw no value in reaching an accord at the national level with syndicates who could not control the work force at the plant level. The free syndicates were playing a weak hand, perhaps trying to use the productivity program to strengthen themselves vis-a-vis-à-vis the rival CGT, and the employers knew it. Trade associations thus opposed any contractual agreements that would assure labor bonuses in advance, and the CNPF insisted that it could not impose collective bargaining and productivity contracts on either trade associations or on individual firms.[93] Individual employers might be willing to cooperate, but organized business was not.

The CNP eventually had to abandon the pilot program because of the rigidity of the trade associations and the united opposition of the labor movement, non-Communist and Communist. The agency could not bring employers and employees together to negotiate; the government refused to intervene. American officials tried, using their control of credits, to force contractual agreements, but failed.[94] The training program thus limped along in 1952 despite the syndicates' opposition, but the following year the FO resigned from the CNP/AFAP over this affair. The resignation of this non-Communist union led to a complete overhaul of the productivity program. Because organized labor and business could not resolve their differences, the state stepped in and appointed Gabriel Ardant as commissioner of productivity to take charge of a new loan-subsidy program.


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The foundry controversy demonstrated that when real stakes were at risk—in this case defining the goals, procedures, and benefits of a productivity program—the drive collapsed because organized business and labor disagreed. Weak non-Communist trade unions were unable to force collective bargaining on employers. A weak, and unwilling, CNPF could not impose its will on either the trade associations or individual firms. In this instance those missionaries who had warned that France lacked the "social climate" that Americans enjoyed were vindicated.

Nevertheless, the contentiousness of trade associations and labor federations did not prevent progress at the grass-roots level. Incremental gains occurred in individual firms despite the indifference, even the hostility, of the national trade unions and employers' associations. And in many cases individual firms and local unions worked together to implement the productivity program. The social climate was not uniformly hostile to productivity.

Private enterprise acted on its own, more or less with labor's cooperation, in an incremental way to raise efficiency. Organized business or labor federations often had little to do with this grass-roots change. What really raised rates were the thousands of firms who adapted by doing such things as standardizing their products, retraining their workers and managers, introducing market studies, and remodeling their plants.[95]

Whatever the actual effects of the productivity drive may have been (and the missions were only one part), officials began to take pride in the rising curve of national productivity rates by the mid-1950s. The gap was closing. By 1955–56 overall gains in productivity were unmistakable—advancing at an extraordinary rate of 5 to 6 percent per year. Outsiders began to notice French performance. If during 1955 some sixty missions still visited the United States, France was now the host to twenty-nine missions who arrived from other European and non-European countries. Emulating America ceased being an imperative. The inferiority complex that was so prominent in 1950 disappeared. Productivity seemed to be advancing spontaneously. Commissioner Ardant cautiously expressed the new confidence in 1956 when, after noting the multiplication of private experiments and a "new spirit," he stated:

Within this immense frozen ice field, which has characterized the French economy for thirty years, with its network of false protections, costly routines, and antiquated institutions, these are the first rumblings, the harbingers of renewal, which, if the French want, could shatter it. But it's not always easy to


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opt for life, to choose imagination and reflection, to prefer new, and thus risky, investments, over outmoded, traditional outlays. Every Frenchman carries within him a formidable old man who is difficult to exorcise.[96]

Clearly, the need for missions was over when officials in Washington quizzed Ardant during his 1956 visit about France's remarkable productivity rates.[97]

As a program, technical assistance under the Marshall Plan was only a modest success because of Gallic reluctance that American efforts encountered from almost every quarter and because of the Cold War.[98] In general French government, labor, and industry doubted that the American model could be readily transferred across the Atlantic. The Fourth Republic feared that the program might make Paris appear subservient to Washington; subservience was a sure formula for failure, given Communist surveillance of the republic's independence. The CGT refused to participate, and the non-Communist labor federations cooperated timidly before withdrawing their support. Trade associations harbored serious reservations and refused to enter into binding contracts with organized labor. Only individual enterprises and local unions proved willing to experiment. Yet, of all the handicaps that encumbered technical assistance in France, the most crippling was its subordination to Cold War politics. Together the Americans and the Communists converted what might have been a nonpartisan technical aid program into an issue of political ideology that took away much of its appeal.[99] The promise of higher wages, shorter hours, lower prices, increased profits, and more goods—in short the promise of the American way that would have benefited French workers, business, and consumers—was damaged, but not paralyzed, by an ideological contest.

In retrospect, the revelation of the postwar productivity gap prompted a self-examination of the nation's social and economic status quo. It was this reflection, rather than the drive per se, which has been the subject of this discussion. To ask why French productivity levels were low was to raise questions about why economy and society were resistant to changes à l'américaine. The gap was not merely a matter of manufacturing or selling techniques. It was also, as we have seen, a question of overturning old ways: an authoritarian style of organization; an embittered and distrustful system of industrial relations; and a protected economic landscape. But neither organized business nor labor were enthusiastic about adopting such measures because they judged these


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measures largely non-transferable, in many ways undesirable, or just unnecessary; nor did the French government fully back the cause.

At another level, the productivity gap posed cultural and philosophical issues. What sacrifices in Frenchness would catch-up entail? How should the French define prosperity and happiness in the postwar world? Was the American way the model?

The missionaries had their doubts: "What other civilizations consider as a concession to the less noble aspect of human beings—enjoyment of material wealth—becomes for American civilization, if not happiness itself, at least a step toward happiness."[100] Virtually every mission wanted to provide the French with a standard of living comparable to that enjoyed by Americans. Yet ambivalence lingered.

Americans, to the missionaries, had "a vigorous collective sense" and a willingness to accept discipline—on the job, in public, and as consumers. "This demonstrates that Americans are not only marvelously gifted to live in society, but also to produce and consume in large quantities practical objects of standardized quality."[101] Americans were conformists, who as a price for their comforts accepted mass-produced, aggressively advertised articles. They sought only superficial variety in order to sustain mass output and were content to buy the latest model of a product rather than, like Europeans, seek an exclusive or unique one. A synthesis of the teams' reports stated:

There exist in the United States a wide variety of climates, landscapes, and people. However, these people live in a city that recurs ten thousand times, inhabit a home that oddly resembles their neighbor's, own the same practical and comfortable furniture, eat the same simple, rapidly prepared, meals at the same time. The American populace gives the impression of a vast middle class.[102]

There was worry about giving up the "nice old habits" and a traditional sense of Frenchness. The head of one mission, reflecting on the sacrifice to collective norms that affluence required, observed that a factor in the American system was the "very simple tastes and habits" of the average American in certain areas such as food. Hot dogs and hamburger cost less than a cut of beef manicured by a French butcher. "When the American tries to leave this standardization, it costs him a fortune—which a Frenchman doesn't hesitate paying because it's his way of conceiving life." To this observer,

Everything depends on defining what one means by a "high standard of living." This expression does not have the same meaning on both sides of the Atlantic. If certain Frenchmen understand it as the Americans do, if they advocate the


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"American way of life," they must point out that it can only be attained by profoundly modifying the tastes and habits of our people.[103]

The missionaries of the 1950s worried about the sociocultural costs of importing the American way of life. They harbored an uneasy feeling that material comfort ought not to be the highest social priority—"it is difficult to achieve this material comfort without compromising one's moral stature."[104] Their anxiety was pointed up by their eagerness to emphasize that the United States was not a cultural wasteland. Missions stressed the well-endowed museums and universities. But there were doubts. Even Robert Buron found American intellectual conformity unacceptable. Yet he opted for the American way: "Who could, with good conscience, defend low wages in the name of culture and defend misery as an indispensable complement to the charms of individualism?"[105]

Among even the most ardent proponents of the American way, there was skepticism that the New World was a socioeconomic paradise and apprehension about the accompanying social and cultural costs entailed by Americanization. What is most striking is that even among those who most wanted to bring the American way to France in the 1950s, enthusiasm was restrained by ambivalence.


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