The Marshall Plan
This account has not mentioned the Marshall Plan. Can’t West Germany’s revival be attributed mainly to that? The answer is no. The reason is simple: Marshall Plan aid to West Germany was not that large. Cumulative aid from the Marshall Plan and other aid programs totaled only $2 billion through October 1954. Even in 1948 and 1949, when aid was at its peak, Marshall Plan aid was less than 5 percent of German national income. Other countries that received substantial Marshall Plan aid exhibited lower growth than Germany.
Moreover, while West Germany was receiving aid, it was also making reparations and restitution payments well in excess of $1 billion. Finally, and most important, the Allies charged the Germans DM7.2 billion annually ($2.4 billion) for their costs of occupying Germany. (Of course, these occupation costs also meant that Germany did not need to pay for its own defense.) Moreover, as economist Tyler Cowen notes, Belgium recovered the fastest from the war and placed a greater reliance on free markets than the other war-torn European countries did, and Belgium’s recovery predated the Marshall Plan.
What looked like a miracle to many observers was really no such thing. It was expected by Ludwig Erhard and by others of the Freiburg school who understood the damage that can be done by inflation coupled with price controls and high tax rates, and the large productivity gains that can be unleashed by ending inflation, removing controls, and cutting high marginal tax rates.