Friday, June 15, 2012

Germany, Greece and the Marshall Plan

by Albrecht Ritschl


June 15, 2012

Old myths die hard, and the Marshall Plan is one of them. In the New York Times of June 12th German economist Hans-Werner Sinn invokes comparisons with the Marshall Plan to defend Germany’s position against Eurobonds, the pooling of sovereign debt within the euro zone. His worries are understandable, but the historical analogy is mistaken, and the numbers mean little. All this unnecessarily weakens his case.

Mr Sinn argues against Germany’s detractors that Marshall Aid to postwar West Germany was low compared to Germany’s recent assistance, debt guarantees etc. to Greece. While Marshall Aid cumulatively amounted to 4% of West German GDP around 1950 (his figure of 2% is too low but that doesn’t matter), recent German aid has exceeded 60% of Greece’s GDP, and total European assistance to Greece is now above 200% of Greek GDP. That makes the Marshall Plan look like a pittance. And it strips all the calls for German gratitude in memory of the Marshall Plan off their legitimacy. Or does it?

What Mr Sinn is invoking is just the outer shell of the Marshall Plan, the sweetener that was added to make a large political package containing bitter pills more palatable to the public in Paris and London. The financial core of the Marshall Plan was something much, bigger, an enormous sovereign debt relief programme. Its main beneficiary was a state that did not even exist when the Marshall Plan was started, and that was itself a creation of that plan: West Germany.


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