Free trade for all
Therefore, freedom for all
THE GENIUS of the Marshall Plan launched just as the Cold War began was that its offer of foreign aid and trade wasn’t extended only to allies but to the whole wide world. Which made it more than a geopolitical ploy. Rather it was a sincere effort to benefit nations all around the globe.
Just consider how free trade zones have benefited those countries that have established them, allowing each nation to export its best products from Swiss cheese to Japanese automobiles while at the same time encouraging each of its trading partners to sell its best offerings. That way all benefit, sharing in the fun and profit of entrepreneurial enterprise. Instead of adopting a fruitless policy of beggar-thy-neighbor, the United States chose to prosper them, and not coincidentally prosper itself as well. All of which amounts to being not just a good customer but a good neighbor. For commerce can be friendship in action.
The cooperative spirit of the Marshall Plan, it seems, is still very much alive. Especially when it’s served with a twist of the past’s best and most triumphant memories. United we stood behind a president named Harry S. Truman, while divided we might all have fallen. Our foes behind their iron curtain could offer only a policy of sullen silence while this country and the rest of the West cheered freedom on.
American isolationists didn’t have much of a chance in those heady days of internationalist triumph. The bipartisan coalition backing the Marshall Plan was headed by the late Arthur Vandenberg, once a leading isolationist who had seen the light. He opened the debate in the U.S. Senate by declaring: “The greatest nation on Earth either justifies or surrenders its leadership. We must choose … The iron curtain must not come to the rims of the Atlantic either by aggression or by default.” The U.S. Senate rang with cheers and applause for his words.
And the Senate approved the Marshall Plan, formally known as the European Recovery Program. Any opposition was scattered and, yes, isolated. Then, as the House dithered and dallied, popular pressure in favor of the Marshall Plan proved irresistible. The politicians might be divided, but not the country, which had seen the folly of protectionist policies all too clearly to return to the bad old days. Thus began a long and mutually beneficial alliance that despite occasional stresses and strains has overcome a variety of challenges—at least till now. And this challenge from an ahistorical administration will surely pass.
There were giants in the Earth in those days who bore names like Harry Truman and Dean Acheson. And while serious mistakes were made, they didn’t prove fatal. From then on, the fate of the American people and its allies was inextricably bound up with the free peoples of the world, who even now seem determined to grow ever freer.
The numbers tell a mighty success story for all those nations first bound together by the Marshall Plan. From 1947 to 1950, the gross national product of those countries benefiting from the Marshall Plan, including this one, increased 25 percent, their industrial production by 64 percent, and their agricultural output by 24 percent. Most of those countries not only recovered from the devastation of the Second World War but exceeded their pre-war levels of production.
One moral of this heartening story is that in unity lies strength, and in division weakness. But those who cannot remember the past, as one philosopher warned, are condemned to repeat it. So, please, let’s not return those bad old protectionist times. Once is enough.