The Corner

National Security & Defense

Lets Us Hear No More of ‘Marshall Plans’

In response to Are There Any Women Writers?

We gave the nations of Western Europe more than $100 billion (in current dollars) to help them rebuild after World War II, and it was worth every penny, helping those nations stand back up and help us face down the Soviet threat.

Ever since, lazy foreign policy thinkers have sought to address all of our problems abroad by throwing gigantic sums of money at them.

Search “Marshall Plan for” and you’ll get page after page of hits. A Marshall Plan for Africa. A Marshall Plan for Ukraine. A Marshall Plan for the Middle East. A Marshall Plan for Haiti. Mexico? Check. Vietnam (back in the day)? Check. Yemen? Check. Somalia? Sure. East Timor? Yup. Albania? Why not? (“Marshall Plan for Elbonia” didn’t return any results.)

Problem is, they don’t work. We’ve already spent more on our Marshall Plan for Afghanistan than we did on the original one in Europe, and it’s been a complete bust. Brother Geraghty reports one facet of that failure: An Afghan power plant we spent one-third of a billion dollars on is running at 2 percent capacity. I’m surprised it’s running at all.

The reason the Marshall Plan worked was that Europe was already developed — urbanized, industrialized, with mass literacy and all the other features of modernity. It’s just that they (with our help) had blown up all their stuff, and the money helped buy new stuff.

But modernity itself is not something you can create ex nihilo with giant bags of money. You can’t just buy a ticket to “Get to Denmark,” in Fukuyama’s phrase; modernization is a long process of cultural, social, and institutional change, and some countries have a much, much longer way to go than others.

We can only hope this insight might someday lead our rulers to become skeptical of the Marshall Plan approach for domestic policy too, where it has proven just as effective. But I wouldn’t hold my breath.

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