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The Social Democratic Party’s Housing Construction Program for the Western Occupation Zones (May/June, 1949)

After the destruction wrought by Allied bombing and the influx of millions of refugees and expellees from the Communist sphere of power, the housing shortage was among West Germany’s most pressing problems. According to more recent calculations, in the fall of 1950, there was still a shortage of more than 4.5 million housing units. Within this context, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) called for a state-planned and organized housing program that aimed to create up to a million new housing units within four years. On April 24, 1950, the First Housing Construction was passed in West Germany; with its emphasis on social housing construction, it largely adopted the suggestions of the SPD.

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1. Why “Plan A“?

The task of planning is to get a picture of the economic possibilities for further development. Needless to say, it is always only a few important points that get considered. However, foregoing planning completely would mean venturing without a map or a compass into storms in economic development. No responsible economic policymaker could want that.

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2. Task and program

A social or economic construction program?

Plan A of the Social Democrats outlines a social construction program that is meant as the first step toward tackling the housing shortage. This program involves making 750,000 to 1,000,000 apartments available within four years. The recovery of our economy, especially boosting our export performance and spurring the development of primary industry, depends on an intensive housing construction program. Industrial production cannot be adequately developed without bringing the necessary workers to the production sites. That is also the only way for those who were driven from their homeland or bombed-out during the war to finally secure a decent living again. The social and economic sides of this program are so closely connected that they merely represent different aspects of the same goal.

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3. Housing construction within the framework of the economy

Competing investment purposes

It is not sufficient to demonstrate that the material preconditions for the implementation of a social housing construction program are in place. Likewise, demonstrating that the financing of such a program is possible is not sufficient justification for the necessity of its implementation. Rather, everything depends entirely on whether it is economically justifiable in the first place to accord housing construction a decisive role within the framework of overall reconstruction planning.

Mechanistic or organic economic thinking?

The highest commandment of economic policy must be to use the available labor, means of production, and raw materials in the most efficient possible way. Whether the available iron should be used chiefly in mining, transportation, machine building, the consumer goods industry, or in housing construction is a weighty question. However, these kinds of considerations still adhere all too closely to the well-worn pathways of mechanistic raw materials planning during the Third Reich. Never before in German history were so many humans available to wage war. It was only the raw materials that were in short supply and that had to be “planned out” in an increasingly rigorous manner. But even after the war, we have not really strayed from this lopsided thinking when it comes to raw materials; however, we must put people at the center of our thinking once again. We must finally realize that we are no longer working for war, but for peace. This change has also been implemented by the occupying powers through the Marshall Plan. This change in mentality, in and of itself, leads to a different understanding of economic planning. We no longer wish, as was the case during the war, to impose a brutal program on our economy from the outside; instead, we want to plan in peace for the peace and welfare of our nation.

The crucial economic imbalances

Economic health in this sense is the harmony of economic forces. If we ask from which side that harmony is disturbed most today, there can be only one answer: today, the worst grievances – in material, emotional, and moral terms – are found in the destruction of the livelihood of millions of people through the devastation of the war and the subsequent expulsions.

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