In considering the requirements for the rehabilitation of Europe the physical loss of life, the visible destruction of cities, factories, mines, and railroads was correctly estimated, but it has become obvious during recent months that this visible destruction was probably less serious than the dislocation of the entire fabric of European economy. For the past 10 years conditions have been highly abnormal. The feverish maintenance of the war effort engulfed all aspects of national economics. Machinery has fallen into disrepair or is entirely obsolete. Under the arbitrary and destructive Nazi rule, virtually every possible enterprise was geared into the German war machine. Long-standing commercial ties, private institutions, banks, insurance companies and shipping companies disappeared, through the loss of capital, absorption through nationalization or by simple destruction. In many countries, confidence in the local currency has been severely shaken. The breakdown of the business structure of Europe during the war was complete. Recovery has been seriously retarded by the fact that 2 years after the close of hostilities a peace settlement with Germany and Austria has not been agreed upon. But even given a more prompt solution of these difficult problems, the rehabilitation of the economic structure of Europe quite evidently will require a much longer time and greater effort than had been foreseen.
There is a phase of this matter which is both interesting and serious. The farmer has always produced the foodstuffs to exchange with the city dweller for the other necessities of life. This division of labor is the basis of modern civilization. At the present time it is threatened with breakdown. The town and city industries are not producing adequate goods to exchange with the food-producing farmer. Raw materials and fuel are in short supply. Machinery is lacking or worn out. The farmer or the peasant cannot find the goods for sale which he desires to purchase. So the sale of his farm produce for money which he cannot use seems to him unprofitable transaction. He, therefore, has withdrawn many fields from crop cultivation and is using them for grazing. He feeds more grain to stock and finds for himself and his family an ample supply of food, however short he may be on clothing and the other ordinary gadgets of civilization. Meanwhile people in the cities are short of food and fuel. So the governments are forced to use their foreign money and credits to procure these necessities abroad. This process exhausts funds which are urgently needed for reconstruction. Thus a very serious situation is rapidly developing which bodes no good for the world. The modern system of the division of labor upon which the exchange of products is based is in danger of breaking down.
The truth of the matter is that Europe’s requirements for the next 3 or 4 years of foreign food and other essential products — principally from America — are so much greater than her present ability to pay that she must have substantial additional help, or face economic, social, and political deterioration of a very grave character.
The remedy lies in breaking the vicious circle and restoring the confidence of the European people in the economic future of their own countries and of Europe as a whole. The manufacturer and the farmer throughout wide areas must be able and willing to exchange their products for currencies the continuing value of which is not open to question.
Aside from the demoralizing effect on the world at large and the possibilities of disturbances arising as a result of the desperation of the people concerned, the consequences to the economy of the United States should be apparent to all. It is logical that the United States should do whatever it is able to do to assist in the return of normal economic health in the world, without which there can be no political stability and no assured peace. Our policy is directed not against any country or doctrine but against hunger, poverty, desperation, and chaos. Its purpose should be the revival of working economy in the world so as to permit the emergence of political and social conditions in which free institutions can exist.Such assistance, I am convinced, must not be on a piecemeal basis as various crises develop. Any assistance that this Government may render in the future should provide a cure rather than a mere palliative. Any government that is willing to assist in the task of recovery will find full cooperation, I am sure, on the part of the United States Government. Any government which maneuvers to block the recovery of other countries cannot expect help from us. Furthermore, governments, political parties, or groups which seek to perpetuate human misery in order to profit therefrom politically or otherwise will encounter the opposition of the United States.
Last night we were privileged to be invited to a NOLA bloggers’ Geek Dinner at dangerblond’s lovely home. The local bloggers (points to NOLA blogroll on the right) opened their kitchens and hearts to us and they opened quite a few beers, too, if our hangovers this morning are any indication.
I came down here not to talk but primarily to listen, and the one thing people have said, over and over, is that there has been, there is no plan for what needs to happen. I would ask, “What do you need now? What can we tell people to focus on, to do?” And people would pause for a minute, not because they couldn’t think of anything but because five things popped into their minds at once.
What strikes me, more than the devastation, is how deserted the streets are. In the world in which our government lives up to its ideals there is an army here, people on every corner, doing the work we did yesterday and the work ACORN’s been doing for months, so many people that it’s hard to get past in the street. People and houses and trucks with building materials, and we’re shoveling money into this place so fast we can’t count it all. We’ve had a draft maybe, at least a call for national service, to serve your country, to take care of each other.
You know how everybody says Democrats always want to throw money at problems? Well, I do. I want to throw money at this problem like you wouldn’t believe. I hear stories of officers in Iraq with cash to use to grease the wheels of government, to hand to somebody and just say, “Get it done. Fix it. Make it happen.” That’s what I’m talking about. It should be wildly expensive for us and absolutely free for them and anybody who wants to talk about corruption and Cadillacs and plasma TVs is going to get a faceful of a) my fist and b) a dissertation about how many hundreds of thousands of dollars we threw at Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress without ever thinking about whether they’d blow it on something we consider an unworthy use.
Jesus H. in a Humvee, the way we’ve made people here quibble over every little thing. The way we’ve judged and denied and pretended it’s about proving this need or meeting that benchmark, when we’re flying pallets of cash into Baghdad and nobody even says anything when most of it goes missing because presumably, that’s not something you question. This should not be something we question. This shouldn’t have to be a fight, not for people who’ve fought this hard already. Shovel in the money like we shoveled the drywall yesterday, and make whatever needs to happen happen. I kept going back to the Marshall Plan in my head, back to a time when this country had leadership and fortitude and knew what it could do.
Because it’s really a question of will. I can’t stand hearing “too expensive” when it comes to health care or shelter or rebuilding New Orleans levees properly to withstand another storm (because this wasn’t a natural disaster, it was a man-made one). Too expensive, people say, when $2 billion per week goes down the hole in Iraq. In two weeks in Iraq we spend more than the entire Road Home program has to give out, but it’s presumed that one is in our national interest and another is not. I look around me today, I think of the faces from last night, and I say, how can you possibly say this is not our national interest? If our national interest is not one another, then what is it, honestly?
“We used to be can-do people,” somebody — Scout? — said when we first got here. We are the nation that landed a man on the moon. We fought World War II. We have done the impossible, over and over and over again, we have turned back the inevitable, we have said, it’s not over. We have said, the most dangerous thing you can say to Americans is that there is something we cannot do. Because there is nothing we cannot do, if we want it enough, if we throw enough of ourselves at the problem. That we haven’t done so thus far says not that we can’t but that we, as a country, haven’t wanted to, and if that makes you uncomfortable, if that makes you scared, if that makes you ashamed, good. That means you’re paying attention.