Anniversary Post: Four Year Marshall Plan Ends

Marshall PlanOn this day in 1951, the Marshall Plan ended. It had distributed over $13 billion to rebuild Europe after World War II. That represents over $130 billion in today’s money. And you have to think about it relative to government spending at the time. Federal spending at that time was roughly $45 billion. The Marshall Plan lasted for four years. So that’s something more than 7% of our federal budget. This is probably why people today think we spend so much money on foreign aid.

In fact, we only spend upwards of 1% on foreign aid. What’s more, most of it is military aid, which is hard to claim is us giving out of the goodness of our hearts. Furthermore, by far the biggest recipients of our aid are Afghanistan and Israel. Those are countries that most people think we ought to be giving money to — at least by the people most concerned that we are too nice to the other countries of the world. The UK gives over half as much in foreign aid than we do, even though our economy is six times the size. The entire European Union has the same size economy as we do, but gives almost three times as much in foreign aid. Think what you want to about the US, but we are a stingy country.

In a poll earlier this year, the average American thought that 26% of the federal budget went to foreign aid. No wonder Americans think we are exceptional! We are exceptional: in our minds. Americans have been convinced that all the money they pay in taxes goes to help unworthy others. They think this even while they get their Medicare and live in houses they own thanks to the mortgage interest deduction. They are totally unaware of just what a hellscape America would be without the government.

The thing about the Marshall Plan is that the money we spent didn’t just help Europe. It helped the whole world and arguably the United States most of all. But somewhere along the line, Americans got the idea that we were just too nice. And as a result, we’ve suffered for it. Now we are very clearly an empire in decline. Since I was a little boy, I’ve watched as our policies have shifted more and more away from forward looking innovation and toward backward looking efforts to hang onto the power that we once had.

The Marshall Plan was one of the shining achievements of this country. And it is one that we would never be able to accomplish now. That’s because we are weak minded people who only think of ourselves and only on the shortest of timescales.

6 thoughts on “Anniversary Post: Four Year Marshall Plan Ends

  1. I think you are painting with an incredibly broad brush there-America is as messed up as it is because of the fact we have, as Miz Molly Ivins said much better than me: a tendency to see any problem, saddle up to confront it and charge off in 360 directions when dealing with it. Even on this blog with mostly like minded individuals commenting there is some serious disagreement on how to handle a specific policy.

    There was a very small window of time that most of the entire nation was able to come together to do some extraordinary things but most of the time we don’t have that ability because we are fairly diverse as a country. Of course had that window been slightly longer the universal health care bill that Truman proposed might have become law. Fun fact, it was known as the W-M-D Bill.

    Anyway, it means that it takes a lot of painful effort to get things to go in a direction that helps everyone, not just some people. In the case of the ACA-it took Bill Halter *snickers* to get that passed.

    • I don’t disagree with you. I just don’t see what it has to do with this article. As I recall, my point was that Americans think we are a generous nation when we aren’t. And that being more generous would help us. It isn’t the poor who make this country stingy; it’s the rich.

      By the way, I just bought insurance on the California exchange. I make so much money that I had to pay almost nothing for it. And Covered California also offers dental insurance, which I got a great deal on. Given that more and more Americans have jobs like mine, this is a fantastic thing. And the fact that there are many states that want to deprive people of this is not just evil but stupid. They want the “gig” economy but they don’t want to support it. Anyway, I’m super jazzed about Obamacare at the moment. And $300 root canals! I think I need a half dozen. I may end up living longer than I had been planning!

      • The end was how it would never get passed today-and that is because today we don’t have the tiny window of a nation mostly united on policies like we did for about ten minutes after WWII. Our nation is stingy as a policy because of the fact we are diverse (and because who on earth votes for a congresscritter based on foreign aid) and it is hard enough to fight to get anything here at home. See the ACA you just mentioned.

        I did get insurance for next year and a subsidy since I make next to nothing on an annual basis despite my hourly being quite high. So I might be able to get the medication that will let me take a vacation from my emotions and simply feel nothing. I am quite looking forward to it.

        I am surprised you have to get so much dental work done though-I thought you mentioned once to me that you were super careful about your teeth.

        • I disagree. The Taft–Hartley Act was highly divisive and it passed in 1947. There just has been a big shift in the whole country. It isn’t just that conservatives would never got for the Marshall Plan now; it is that very few liberals would go for it either.

          I have always taken great care of my teeth — except for one period when I was extremely ill. But I’m lucky in that everything is fixable. My bone is in good shape.

          • To take both sides — there was, in the post-WWII period, a generally accepted sense that government COULD be guided by experts who knew what they were doing. Naturally, not everyone agreed at any given time or at any given point that the people guiding government were experts. Still, you didn’t have the standard mantra we do today that anything government does is inherently corrupt/misguided/ineffective/traitorous. Thanks, Ronnie!

            • I think a huge part of the problem is Fox News. Even when Reagan said that government was the problem, he qualified it: saying that in that particular crisis. But it is Fox News (and Rush Limbaugh and similar types before it) who are really to blame for pushing this idea that the government can’t do anything right — except of course send out Social Security checks and fight whatever war they currently believe absolutely essential.

              But let’s not forget that the late 1940s and early 1950s were the time of Joseph McCarthy and he was a hero of the Republican base for years after he died. The backers of Goldwater were big believers in McCarthy. The same battle lines existed then as now. But now we have a hugely influential media system that demagogues more than any major politician in American history.

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