When Buying Foreign Was in the U.S. National Interest

Historian Stephanie M. Amerian recently published an excellent article about the Marshall Plan and the U.S. government’s promotion of “buying European” in the years following the end of World War II.[1] It was of vital national interest for the citizens of the United States to spend money on European goods, to travel to European destinations, and to support the members of the European community of nations. If the U.S. didn’t spend its currency in Europe and on European manufactured goods, then a devastated Europe would not be able to purchase U.S. raw materials and finished goods.

Protectionism and isolationism had not been successful economic or political policies during Thomas Jefferson’s day when, as president, he supported an embargo as the means to pressure Great Britain. Nor had such policies been successful in combating the effects of recession, great or small, in the years between the Jefferson administration and WWII. The United States, while large and possessing a high level of self-sufficiency, was dependent on an international flow of trade as much as any other nation by the mid-twentieth century. Whether it was importing luxury items from distant lands or exporting raw materials to European manufacturing hubs, the United States had a history of benefiting from international trade and in defending the notion of free markets.

War had brutally destroyed infrastructure, manufacturing capability, and all but obliterated the purchasing power of the European nations. Consequently, U.S. manufactured goods and raw materials lost a huge portion of the international market due to the war. The United States, as a nation relatively undamaged due to the destruction of war, had the opportunity to lend a hand. Many politicians felt that in doing so, the United States could rebuild Europe following the U.S. model of capitalism and democracy. Economic support for Europe was seen as vital in preventing a third war from developing. Additionally, the United States was convinced that Soviet influence and expansion needed to be halted at Europe’s borders. Unfortunately, as the U.S. public became more aware of the Soviet threat, their support moved from lending a hand to supporting military buildup. Simply put, investment in military muscle could protect the United States and its friends but did not require knowledge of economic theory. Buying foreign might have made sense to the economist, but exporting the United States in all its various forms made sense to the common U.S. citizen.

 

Endnotes

[1] Stephanie M. Amerian, “‘Buying European’: The Marshall Plan and American Department Stores,” Diplomatic History 39, no. 1 (January 2015): 45, (accessed March 14, 2015), http://dh.oxfordjournals.org/content/39/1/45.

 

Further Reading

Belmonte, Laura A. Selling the American Way: U.S. Propaganda and the Cold War. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010.

Boyce, Robert. The Great Interwar Crisis and the Collapse of Globalization. Reprint edition. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

Hoganson, Kristin L. Consumers’ Imperium: The Global Production of American Domesticity, 1865-1920. 1 edition. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2007.

Mariano, Marco. “Isolationism, Internationalism and the Monroe Doctrine.” Journal of Transatlantic Studies (Routledge) 9, no. 1 (Spring 2011): 35–45.

“Embargo of 1807.” Thomas Jerfferson’s Monticello. http://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/embargo-1807.

 

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