A must read this and ties in with Michael Burkes’ post on the cancelling of Greek debt. It’s from Albrecht Ritschl, professor of economic history at the London School of Economics and a member of the advisory board to the German ministry of economics. This is the shorter version.
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.
So does Greece, does Southern Europe need a Marshall Plan? Is Sinn right to say that Greece has already received one-or a 115-fold one, as he argues? The answer to first question may be yes, in the limited sense that a sweeping debt relief programme is needed. The answer to the second question is a resounding no. Greece has clearly not received a Marshall Plan, and certainly not 115 of them. Nor has anyone else. As far as historical analogies go, what Southern Europe received when included in the euro zone was closer to a Dawes Plan. And just like in Germany in the 1920s, the Southern Europeans responded with a borrowing spree. In 2010 we didn’t serve them a Marshall Plan either, but a deflationary Young Plan instead.
This latter-day Young Plan is not even fully implemented yet. But we see the same debilitating consequences its precursor had around 1930: technocratic governments, loss of democratic legitimacy, the rise of political fringe parties, and no end in sight to the financial and economic crisis engulfing these states, no matter how many additional aid packages are negotiated. Woe if those historical analogies bear out.
Europe should learn from history. But it needs to learn fast. There might be no recovery unless debts are reduced to manageable proportions. That is what ended the Great Depression in Europe in the 1930s, and that is what in all likelihood is needed again.
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