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The Marshall Plan: Fifty Years After

Author(s):Schain, Martin A.
Reviewer(s):Ritschl, Albrecht

Published by EH.NET (March 2003)


Martin A. Schain, editor, The Marshall Plan: Fifty Years After. New York: Palgrave, 2001. xiv + 297 pp. $59.95 (hardcover), ISBN: 0-312-22962-3.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Albrecht Ritschl, School of Business and Economics Humboldt-Universitaet zu Berlin (Germany).

This conference volume includes fourteen contributions, drawn from history, political science, and economics. This blend gives the book a distinct flavor and makes for interesting reading. The book chapters are organized around five major themes rather than country studies. The economic impact of the Marshall Plan, with contributions, inter alia, by Barry Eichengreen and Imanuel Wexler, is one of them. Security is another. Both leitmotifs are pervasive, and there is hardly any contribution where the two do not take center stage.

Michelle Cini traces the possible links between the Marshall Plan and the establishment of the European Economic Community a decade later. Given the limited enthusiasm of U.S. politicians for any Pan-European federalist designs, any such links could necessarily be only indirect. Cini cautiously leans toward Hogan’s (1987) hypothesis that the War Department’s preference for revitalizing Germany prevailed, even if this came at the expense of France’s security interests.

Security aspects and national policy responses to the Marshall Plan also reappear in the chapters by Jolyon Howorth (on Britain) and Robert Latham (on the Marshall Plan and NATO). Howorth’s is a critical analysis of Britain’s military euroskepticism and a defense of the French against the planned European Defense Community of 1951 — for good military reasons. Latham points out that it was probably NATO more than the Marshall Plan that shaped Europe’s long-run trajectory, combined with the intriguing observation that US leadership in NATO reduced the need for Europeans to really cooperate on thorny issues such as defense and supranational institutions.

Roy Gardner asks intriguing counterfactual questions, both to the passing of the European Cooperation Act of 1948 and to the Soviet response to the Marshall Plan. In a neat backward induction exercise, he argues that offering Marshall Aid to the Soviets was a dominant strategy for the US. Given the political strings attached, the US could safely assume that the Soviets would never accept. For the same reason (this link is not being made), increasing Soviet resistance to America’s designs for post-war Europe ensured a majority for the Economic Cooperation Administration (ECA) sooner or later. The paper becomes fascinating when it turns its lessons into prediction: the author forecasts that Europe will never get around to providing its own recovery plan for its candidate members in Eastern Europe. However, contrary to the prediction, this is what has just happened as this review is being written.

Barry Eichengreen’s paper is an exercise in versatility and adaptation. Both the linguistics and the texture of the argument speak to the political scientist. Despite the initial mimicry, the paper drives home a bold economic point: government transfers were only a palliative in the absence of international capital movements, and any comparison of the Marshall Plan with other stabilization programs that fails to include private capital flows is necessarily moot.

Rival designs for post-war Europe have been on the map since Milward’s (1984) claim that Europe’s post-war reconstruction was not of American design but rather followed a rival French concept. This is echoed in Irwin Wall’s contribution on French policy. Wall examines the use that France made of its Marshall funds for colonial adventures, pursuit of military grandeur, and finally, for the agony of its Algerian war. No doubt, not everything went according to plan. Allocation of the Marshall Plan’s counterpart funds, accumulated from retained local currency payments for US deliveries, often created its very own political economy in the recipient countries. Stewart Patrick’s version on a related theme provides the opposing view, as he identifies embedded liberalism as having infected and altered France’s political culture after World War II. Adopting the Monnet Plan for French economic reconstruction, France also imported institutions and a mindset formed in the U.S. during the New Deal, which changed its institutional balance decisively.

The volume closes with two nice essays on public opinion in France and the U.S., which are able to draw on data from the early days of opinion polling. Little of this is surprising: France’s communists supported the USSR, all others were distinctly less enthusiastic. The U.S. received high ratings for its aid, but not for its supposed intentions.

The benefits of the volume are obvious. Most of the papers adopt a unifying political perspective on the Marshall Plan. This nicely complements the older discussion of the economics of the Marshall Plan. It shifts the focus away from quantities and flows of funds to the importance of institution building and America’s long-term commitment to postwar reconstruction. Still, the separate literatures that exist on the topic have not been integrated here, and the volume edited by Eichengreen (1995) is as necessary as ever. Probably the best the reader can do is to consult both volumes alongside each other.


Barry Eichengreen, editor (1995), Europe’s Postwar Recovery. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Michael J. Hogan (1987), The Marshall Plan, Britain, and the Reconstruction of Western Europe, 1947-1952. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Alan Milward (1984), The Reconstruction of Western Europe, 1945-1951. London: Methuen.

Albrecht Ritschl has worked on inter-war Germany and post-war reconstruction. Recent publications include “Deficit Spending in the Nazi Recovery: A Critical Reassessment,” Journal of the Japanese and International Economy 16 (2002), 559-582; “Nazi Economic Imperialism and the Exploitation of the Small: Evidence from Germany’s Secret Foreign Exchange Balances, 1938-40,” Economic History Review 54 (2001), 324-345; and (with Helge Berger) “Germany and the Political Economy of the Marshall Plan, 1947-52,” in Barry Eichengreen, editor, Europe’s Postwar Growth Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Subject(s):International and Domestic Trade and Relations
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):20th Century: WWII and post-WWII