Oral History Interview with
Plowden: Chairman, Economic Planning Board, Great Britain, 1947-53.
Edwin Noel Plowden & Douglas Allen
Allen: Plowden's Private Secretary during the above period.
June 15, 1964
By Philip C. Brooks
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]
These are transcripts of tape-recorded interviews conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of each transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that these are essentially transcripts of the spoken, rather than the written word.
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This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.
Opened March 1966
Harry S. Truman Library
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Oral History Interview with
Edwin N. Plowden & Douglas Allen
June 15, 1964
By Philip C. Brooks
DR. PHILIP C. BROOKS: I would like to ask you, since the period I'm primarily interested in is 1947-48, just what your situation was in 1947-48.
LORD PLOWDEN: I became Chairman of the Economic Planning Board and Chief Planning Officer in charge of the Planning Staff in the spring of 1947. Before the war I was in business, but I had gone back to business in 1946. After the coal crisis of the winter of '46-'47, the government decided to set up a planning staff in order better to plan the economy. They were driven, I think, to do this by the great economic dislocation as a
result of the very severe winter of 1946-47, and the shortages that were brought about by that and also which were there also as a result of the dislocation brought about by the war.
BROOKS: Mr. Allen, you were called in as Lord Plowden's secretary at that time, correct?
MR. DOUGLAS ALLEN: I was Lord Plowden's private secretary at that time. I had previously been in the Board of Trade, before that in the Control Commission for Germany.
BROOKS: And you remained in charge of the Planning Board for how long, Lord Plowden?
PLOWDEN: For about six and a half years. I left at the end of 1953.
BROOKS:Now, I know that you were not directly in Foreign Minister Bevin's office at this time,
but you were certainly in a position to be interested in any development of the kind of the Marshall Plan, and I'm curious to know when you first heard about the Marshall Plan as such? Did this come as a sudden thing or was there a good deal of background, so far as you're concerned?
PLOWDEN: Well, I think the Marshall speech came as a sudden thing, but there's no doubt that owing to the state of Europe, political and economic, and the tremendous dislocation brought about by the war, it was obvious that if complete breakdown in Western Europe was not to come about, something would have to be done and the only country that was in a position to do that was the United States. Therefore, I think most of us who were concerned with those affairs expected something to be done, but don't know what.
BROOKS: Now, I think from all the conversations I have had, that there were two important things about the Marshall speech, one of which was that the statement was made as formal American policy that the United States was willing to give this kind of economic aid. Secondly, in quite general terms, General Marshall said, that the Americans would like to have the European countries get together and cooperate both in stating their needs and in carrying out the program. Now did you expect that sort of thing?
PLOWDEN: I don't think so before the speech was made, because certainly so far as I was concerned, I hadn't thought coherently as to about how anything would be done.
BROOKS: A number of people I've talked to have said in essence much what you did, that the situation
was such that something like the Marshall Plan was very likely to come, but still expected that whatever came would be a matter of an individual aid from the United States to each country separately. In other words, that they had not really anticipated and they really were somewhat surprised at this proposal for economic cooperation, which apparently was very significant.
PLOWDEN: It undoubtedly was very significant. I don't think that I myself could claim to have thought about how aid would be given to any extent. I don't think the idea of cooperation was all that novel because a great deal of cooperation was going on and being talked about in the year before the Marshall Plan was announced. The novel feature was the combination of the aid element with the cooperation so directly. There had been a great deal of cooperation in getting
trade moving again; there were policies which were described at the time as policies for trade with the war-shattered economies. And so the element of cooperation in that sense was not new, but what was completely new was this very close relationship between the aid that the Americans were giving the country, and cooperation by the recipient.
BROOKS: Well, I have had this comment made to me here in England, that there had been extensive cooperation between the English and the Americans and some others in the conduct of the war and in the postwar settlement, but this argument that there was a good deal of experience and cooperation doesn't mean anything to the Germans, the Dutch, and the Italians, and various others. I wonder if this isn't really a turning point because this was the first time that on this basis on this scope you'd have this degree of economic
cooperation, and there really was no precedent for it at that time.
ALLEN: I think this is true. The cooperation had been limited to trade and such.
BROOKS: About the only concrete experience in economic cooperation, I think, was the Benelux Customs Union, which was still in gestation itself at this time.
ALLEN: I think that's perhaps a slight understatement. There were regular trade missions coming over from the European countries to this country seeking to persuade us to take goods on the basis of cooperation, goods which in the circumstances of the time, if one thought only in terms of imports that were needed, we would not have taken. Like the silk goods from France and similar national products, which were essential to French export trade, but would not
in the normal way of things, be regarded as essential to the import trade of the United Kingdom.
PLOWDEN: These were on a bilateral basis.
ALLEN: These were on a bilateral basis on a fairly small scale, but they were examples of cooperation which was going on and which was being sponsored.
BROOKS: I think this is something we shouldn't lose sight of -- we Americans, generally, and the scholars who are going to work on this subject. While we think the Marshall Plan represented a degree of cooperation that perhaps had not been realized, that there were some predecessor developments. It wasn't something completely out of the blue.
PLOWDEN: No, there was nothing comparable to it in the way of multilateral cooperation.
BROOKS: And many people on the Continent have said that this was really the forerunner of all the manifold -- I'm impressed by the complexity -- of all the international organizations that have been set up since that time, particularly in the economic field.
PLOWDEN: Well, I don't think that at the time any of us thought in those terms. The things that those that were concerned with economic affairs in this country were most aware of were the parlous state of the economies of Europe; the weakness of the economy of this country; the fact that the only place from which it was possible to get the essential foodstuffs and raw materials, and plant and machinery, was from the United States, and that none of the countries in Europe, least of all this country, was earning sufficient hard currencies, which was the synonym for the dollar at that time, in order to pay for them.
BROOKS: At that time, would you have thought that the degree of international cooperation that was called for was possible so closely after the war?
PLOWDEN: Well, certainly speaking for myself, I did not foresee the close cooperation that arose as a result of the Marshall Plan and OEEC.
BROOKS: Perhaps the simplest way to put that is, did you think the Marshall Plan would work?
PLOWDEN: I think that when you ask a question like that of someone who was so closely concerned with the economic problems of this country, as Douglas Allen and I were at that time, I would say we didn't think about how it would work, or what was going to happen in those terms. I think it's rather more fair to suggest that given the great need of the time, the fact that there was
an offer made on certain conditions, made it very likely that great effort would be made to meet those conditions in producing some degree of cooperation. What very few people could expect at that time, was the fruitfulness of that cooperation, the way it developed, and developed so quickly.
BROOKS: And would you say that the explanation for that would lay, to a great extent, in the seriousness of the situation, simply that people had to get together?
PLOWDEN: Well, it's partly that, and partly that the United States Government said to the European countries, you must get together and work out yourselves how this aid should be divided up.
ALLEN: I think that's right, and I would also give
as a partial explanation, the very great ability of the men who were brought together who were working on that early cooperation in Europe.
PLOWDEN: Yes, that was quite true.
BROOKS: Men representing all the various countries?
ALLEN: All countries, yes.