FROM JUNE 1947 to its termination at the end of 1951, the Marshall Plan provided approximately $13 billion to finance the recovery and rehabilitation of war-torn and postwar weary Western Europe.
In today’s dollars that sum equals roughly $100 billion, and as a comparable share of U.S. Gross National Product it would be in excess of $500 billion.
It was a mammoth sum, more than the United States spent to govern itself in the first fifteen years of the twentieth century.
More than the provision of dollars and aid, the Marshall Plan was the cornerstone of American foreign policy for much of those formative and consequential postwar years.
It was a monumental undertaking and—echoing Walt Whitman’s famous lines—it contained multitudes and contradictions.
For, after the war, Europe increasingly found itself looking across the Atlantic to the United States. The United States was the only power whose economy had flourished during the war. Europe needed the goods and natural resources abundant in the United States to fuel its recovery.
But, at the same time, Europe was not able to offer the United States goods or resources in return, nor could it draw on stores of investments or invisible earnings (like shipping or insurance).
Europe had a balance-of-payments problem with the United States: in 1946 Europe’s overseas trade debt was $5 billion and growing. It was known as the “Dollar Gap.” It was the key problem looming behind Europe’s incipient recovery and it was becoming dire.
From 1941 to 1945, American industry had mobilized its prodigious production capacity for the war effort.
By the end of the war, thirteen rationing programs were in effect, covering scarce commodities ranging from gasoline and shoes to sugar and red meat. Consumer goods such as refrigerators and automobiles were largely unavailable. Women were asked to leave the home and enter the workforce. By one count more than a quarter of American wives worked for pay during the war.
Americans were asked to save as never before. In 1940, personal savings amounted to around $4 billion. By 1945, it was $137.5 billion. All of this sacrifice was summoned after a decade-long economic depression.
from Behrman, Greg. The Most Noble Adventure: The Marshall Plan and the Time When America Helped Save Europe. Free Press. Kindle Edition.
Small but strong. The Women’s March took place all over the world this weekend. We had a small but vocal cohort in Florence and I felt proud to be a part of it.
We met in the Piazza in front of San Lorenzo. I thought about this important church and its history within the story of Florence, and felt honored to be there and to be living now, and to be a part of this beautiful city’s fabric.
My new friend, Jen, kindly knitted me a pink hat for the occasion!
Please, let there only be one Trump term.
I am betting this is a topic you have never thought about. Why would you?
But, I have become an expert on the topic, and I have news for you: you cannot find a decent pencil in Italy.
Now I am guessing that if you go to an art supply store, or an engineering store (are there such things?), you could buy a fancy pencil that would put my favorite ones from the US of A to shame.
But, I am talking about being a student here, in a language school for foreigners, and trying to take notes. Not an artist or a engineer.
I typically write with ink, because it flows so much better than pencils and I like a fine point. But, I had to take such fast notes and so many notes in language school, and so often made so many mistakes as I wrote Italian, that my ink written notes look like a scratch pad. More lines through words than just plain words. A mess.
So, I looked high and low for erasable ink pens. I found a bunch. They were all worthless. The points were too thick, the erasers were not good. I ended up tearing the paper. So, I went back to pencils. My notes had looked (and functioned) worse in the erasable ink than in plain ink crossed out. At least then my paper didn’t have rips in it.
Another issue is that when you think you have located a decent wooden #2 pencil here, it will not have an eraser on the end. Or, it will have an eraser that is made out of something like marshmallow fluff. It looks like an eraser, so you buy the pencil(s, since you might stock up when you think you’ve finally spotted a winner).
So, you take out your new pencil, which you must also carry a sharpener for as well. Because you will break the lead, many times. The lead isn’t that great. And, if you are like me and want a sharp point, well…you will need that sharpener. And you will need to empty it pretty often. And, in all likelihood, your lead will break many times while you are manually sharpening it, and before long your new pencil will be a stub, and worse, still not that useful.
And, by that point, you will have missed the entire discussion (in Italian) of the subjunctive tense. And so, now, how will you ever be able to talk about wishes, or hopes, or things like that?
Anyway, you finally get your pencil stub sharpened and you start writing furiously, maybe even trying to look at your neighbor’s notes (which will be in Korean or Japanese or German), while trying to find your sea legs in the subjunctive. And damn, before you know it, you have made another mistake but you feel a bit smug, since you have a new pencil, albeit a stub, with an eraser!!
You flip that sucker over and start to erase and the entire eraser breaks off at the line where the pencil meets the eraser.
So, the next day, in desperation, when you are walking to your yoga class in the Piazza della Republicca, you pass a tourist souvenir kiosk and you notice that they sell pretty Florentine paper wrapped pencils and they have erasers. Never in your lifetime did you think you could be so excited about the prospect of a new pencil.
You don’t have time to buy the pencil because you are already late for yoga, but visions of that pencil dances in your head in every down dog you do. You cannot wait to be done with yoga and back in the loggia by the Post Office to buy that pencil. You are obsessed. Plus, it’s pretty to boot and, hello, if you read my blog, you know beauty is at the top of my list, all my lists!
You buy the pencil and take it home and admire it and hope it will be the one. You sharpen it when you get home and try it out. You discover that the pretty Florentine paper is the only thing that makes this pencil different from the ones you’ve already tried.
So, when you go back to the USA to renew your Visa at the Italian Consulate in Chicago, you take a shopping list with you. And no one can believe it, but at the top of your list are #2 Pencils, with erasers at the end. And you feel very safe and secure, ready to go back and try the subjunctive again.
A long stroll down the north bank of the Lungarno today took me by the American Consulate.
After passing further west, past the consulate, I turned back and shot the consulate in its Florentine cityscape. You can see the American flag just over the head of the middle bike rider.