The Marshall Plan was a remarkable piece of economic diplomacy. Europe’s infrastructure was destroyed by massive allied artillery and bombing campaigns. Its countries’ economies were in ruins. However, it’s mistaken to think the billions of dollars the U.S. spent and lent in Europe was just a gift to a needy continent. Among other things, it was a strategic attempt to outflank and out influence the Soviet Union in the reconstruction of Europe and to prevent the spread of Communism.
But there’s more to the Marshall Plan. It was also a calculated economic plan that stipulated through loans, the purchase of U.S. goods by local governments and businesses, provided by U.S. merchant ships. The beauty of it was that it worked politically and economically in both Europe and the United States, as the U.S was transitioning from a wartime economy.
So, why is there talk of a Marshall Plan for America today? The pandemic has had a significant impact on the U.S. economy. According to a recent U.S. Labor Department report, of the 25 million jobs lost by April of this year, the country is still short of recovering the 10 million jobs from the nation’s full prepandemic employment of 152 million, and these figures are prelude to the expected damage to the economy from the Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hanukkah surge in virus infections. The nation needs to put people back to work, end the nation’s growing food insecurity problems, and address the nation’s seriously deferred infrastructure needs.
How is it possible then for a nation so divided by partisan politics to execute on a massive recovery plan? Harry S. Truman was president of the United States when the Marshall Plan was put together. He said it was possible with the right kind of leadership. “America was built on courage, on imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand,” and furthermore he said, “It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.”
Then there is this remarkable coincidence with 2020. The Marshall Plan had bipartisan support in a situation where Republicans controlled Congress and Democrats controlled the White House.
In a discussion this past week with small business leaders in Wilmington, Delaware, President-elect Joe Biden remarked that, “When people are out of work for too long, you know, that makes it a hell of a lot harder for them to get back into the workforce.”
A recent Brookings Institution report seemed to confirm that sentiment when it reported: “As time has passed, an increasing share of unemployed workers have no expectation of being recalled: the fraction of the unemployed on temporary layoff has declined from about 80 percent in April to about 40 percent in September, while the fraction of the unemployed whose previous jobs have been permanently eliminated has increased from 10 percent to about 40 percent.”
Here’s some good news. A new bipartisan stimulus bill proposed by 25 Democrats and 25 Republicans in both the House and Senate is in the works and it could be a ramp to a Marshall Plan for America. The $908 billion package includes enhanced unemployment benefits; billions for state, local and tribal governments; extensions to the Paycheck Protection Program; support for small businesses and the airlines; money for the distribution of the vaccines, testing and tracing; health care provider relief; rental assistance; food security; childcare; student loan relief; broadband expansion; and possible short-term federal protection from coronavirus-related lawsuits. There even seems to be some bipartisan support for a second stimulus check.
To put the economy back on track and to put people back to work we need to do two things — one, put the virus in a box and two, formulate an economic Marshall Plan development program that includes a myriad of infrastructure projects including projects in the development of alternative energy, broadband expansion and 5G development, low-cost loans for small business development, reconstruction of and investments in the nation’s public health care systems, universal community-college education for those seeking job training programs, just to name a few emergent ideas.
Five-star General George C. Marshall was actually secretary of state when the Marshall Plan was formulated in 1947. At that time he said: “It is logical that the United States should do whatever it is able to do to assist in the return of normal economic health in the world, without which there can be no political stability.”
I’d like to take the liberty of expressing those same sentiments, except to change one word: “It is logical that the United States should do whatever it is able to do to assist in the return of normal economic health in the nation, without which there can be no political stability.”
Bill Sims is a Hillsboro resident, an author, and runs a small farm in Berrysville with his wife. He is a former educator, executive and foundation president.