Free trade for all

There­fore, free­dom for all

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EDITORIAL PAGE -

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.

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