US Foreign Policy

The Marshall Plan Still Resonates in the Arab World

in Program

By Ellen Laipson and Rob Havers: 

As Tunisia approaches its presidential election later this month, it’s important to take the long view on the changes that began with the Tunisian revolt in late 2010. In an earlier, more optimistic moment, many believed that a transformation toward a more open, inclusive and prosperous region was underway. Now as a new government is elected, there is a real opportunity to push for meaningful reforms that could stimulate economic growth and job creation. Whatever the outcome of the election, the new president would do well to draw upon the lessons of one of recent history’s big ideas — the Marshall Plan — to inform the building of a strong and durable state.

Perhaps surprisingly, the big ideas of the Marshall Plan of a half century ago continue to resonate in parts of the Arab world, although what these ideas mean to individuals can vary considerably. Pro-Western elites may still hope that large infusions of capital will help calm the turbulence in resource-poor, young countries. But the real meaning of the Marshall Plan is about changing the relationship between the private sector and the state. That work has to be done at home, creating more favorable legal and regulatory environments for entrepreneurship, reforming higher education to provide more useful skills to the marketplace, and dismantling the state-centered enterprises that are inefficient and risk averse.

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