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Germany, Greece and the Marshall Plan, a riposte

Internet article by Hans-Werner Sinn,, 21.06.2012

In the New York Times, Hans-Werner Sinn of Germany's Ifo Institute for Economic Research argued that Greece has already received far more help than Germany received under the post-war Marshall Plan. In a guest post on Free Exchange, Albrecht Ritschl of the London School of Economics argued that it had not. In this guest post, Mr Sinn responds to Mr Ritschl's response.

I HAVE read with great interest Mr Ritschl’s criticism of my article in the New York Times, in which I argued that Marshall aid to West Germany was low compared to the outside world's recent assistance to Greece. I pointed out that aid from the European Recovery Program (ERP), commonly known as the Marshall Plan, amounted to 2% of German GDP over four years. Mr Ritschl asserts that my figure does not include the debt relief programme.

I will certainly not contradict the fact that Germany’s debts amassed during the second world war as well as those existing before the conflict were forgiven. But usually historians attribute this to the London Debt Agreement of 1953 rather than to the Marshall Plan, although the Plan might have implicitly included such debt relief, as Mr Ritschl points out. I’m inclined to doubt that those who allude to the Marshall Plan have in mind war debt forgiveness instead of the post-war aid given to the European countries, including defeated Germany.

I kept to what is customary amongst historians and quoted the figures as historians usually list them. As an example of more recent research on the issue I would like to refer Mr Ritschl to his own work:

A. Ritschl und H. Berger, "Die Rekonstruktion der Arbeitsteilung in Europa. Eine neue Sicht des Marshall-Plans in Deutschland 1947 – 1951", Vierteljahreshefte für Zeitgeschichte 43, 1995, p. 473 – 519, Table p. 479.

The table on page 479 shows in the ERP row exactly the figures on which I based my assertion. There is no footnote or any other explanatory text in Mr Ritschl’s paper saying that the ERP also included forgiveness of war debts or of other, earlier debts. Mr Ritschl appears to have now changed his mind somewhat. I beg to be excused for my not being able to follow forthwith every new twist in his opinion on the matter.

The same seems to be occurring among his historian colleagues. I would like to call Mr Ritschl’s attention to an article by historian Jan-Otmar Hesse of the University of Bielefeld (“Es gibt keine ökonomische Wunderheilung”, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of 12 March 2012, p. 12). He mentions the same figures as those shown in Ritschl and Berger. According to those figures, the Marshall Plan represented 0.5% of Germany’s GDP for four years, a total of 2%. Mr Hesse shows that, applied to the Greek case, that would amount to €4 billion today. That is the figure I also used in my article with the NYT. Admittedly, different percentages would result if the Berger-Ritschl figures were based on another exchange rate and took another year as base year. For example, the figures imply Marshall aid of 5% of Germanys GDP of 1952, if measured at the exchange rate of the new German currency. In the meantime I have reviewed a number of works by other historians who also share this view and have not adopted Mr Ritschl’s wider definition of the Marshall Plan. He is surely familiar with them.

The total of €460 billion amounts to 214% of Greek GDP for 2011. Dividing €460 billion euros by the Ritschl-Berger-Hesse figure of €4 billion, we have 115 Marshall Plans for Greece.

Mr Ritschl writes that Germany’s foreign debt before the war amounted to 300% of GDP. This I find surprising as during the London Debt Agreement of 1953 the negotiations referred to 30 billion deutschmarks, or 22% of the German GDP of that year (Ch. Buchheim, "Das Londoner Schuldenabkommen", L. Herbst, Ed., Westdeutschland 1945-1955. Unterwerfung, Kontrolle, Integration, Munich 1986, p. 219-229). This figure includes the pre-war debts, the clearing debts, the post-war debts and Marshall aid. Perhaps the figure was not complete, perhaps the dismantling of Germany's industry should be added, which went on until 1951, and perhaps the forfeiture of reparations. Relative to GDP, the post-war Marshall aid was, however, only a tiny fraction of the relief thus far given to Greece.

Editor's note: This post was tweaked on June 21st at the request of the author. The new parts are in italics.

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