• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

ONE WEEK TO DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!

We are inching along, but not as quickly as we (or you) would like. If you have already donated, thank you so much. If you haven’t had a chance, consider skipping the coffee this week and drop CounterPunch $5 or more. We provide our content for free, but it costs us a lot to do so. Every dollar counts.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Margaret Thatcher a Freedom Fighter?

Margaret Thatcher’s face stares out at me from the front page of the April 13th edition of the Economist magazine, just below the words, “freedom fighter”. Not the words that typically sprung to mind when thinking of her, I read on. “The essence of Thatcherism”, it writes, “was to oppose the status quo and bet on freedom”. Her battles with the left, particularly the miners, led to great advancements for the country. It backs up its assertion with some statistics:“The inflation rate fell from a high of 27% in 1975 to 2.4% in 1986. The number of working days lost to strikes fell from 29m in 1979 to 2m in 1986,” and “the top rate of tax fell from 83% to 40%.” Are these really freedoms? They sound rather more like achievements that benefit what the Occupy movement would call the 1%. So, for whose freedom did she fight for?

Certainly not Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress Movement, whom she labelled “a typical terrorist organization” as late as 1987. Nor for Northern Irish Catholics, either. Thatcher proposed a “Cromwell Solution” to the Northern Irish question, that involved the forced expulsion of the Catholic population from the country. Nor for the people of Chile; Thatcher defended dictator and torturer Augusto Pinochet during his extradition battle, thanking him for “bringing democracy to the country.” This was a democracy where parliament was shut down and tens of thousands were killed, imprisoned and tortured. Economically, the result was soaring unemployment and poverty and falling industrial production. Purchasing power dropping to just 40% of what it had been in 1970, coupled with a rise in wealth and power for a small section at the top of society.1 Friedrich Hayek, one of the chief architects of what happened in Chile, recommended the country as a model for Thatcher to follow. She agreed Chile to be an “economic miracle”, but lamented that Britain’s “democratic institutions and the need for a high degree of consent” made “some of the measures” taken “quite unacceptable”.2

The Economist states that the ideas of Hayek, an Austrian economist, had a profound influence on her ideology. Hayek argued for the removal of the government from nearly all affairs of daily life, leaving individuals to compete in a free-market sea. Central planning was inferior to the free-market, as it impinged on the absolute freedoms of the individual. Deregulation and privatization were the panaceas to the country’s problems. Thatcher famously carried around copies of Hayek’s work, pulling them out and stating “this is what we believe”.

This free-market sea conjured up visions of the hypothetical world of Adam Smith, where individual shopkeepers and artisans competed freely against one another, pursuing their comparative advantage. “Britain”, Smith is alleged to have said, “is a nation of shopkeepers.” Thatcher’s father was no different. Growing up in the depths of the depression, the young Margaret saw her father’s grocery business prosper. By all accounts, he was a remarkable man who worked incredibly hard. He was simultaneously a personification of the industrious merchant and a great influence on his impressionable daughter. Unfortunately, his success may have been the worst possible message to send to her, as she grew up believing that, if he could, anybody could make it. She appeared not to have grasped, however, that, while anybody could make it through the depression, not everybody could.

Neoliberalism, the economic movement Thatcher became closely associated with, traces its philosophical roots to the work of objectivist philosopher, Ayn Rand. In a 1959 interview Rand gave a summary of her position. “Man’s highest moral purpose is the achievement of his own happiness…I challenge the moral code of altruism, the precept that man’s moral duty is to live for others.” Going further, she stated that, “I consider helping others evil” and that “love should be treated as a business deal.” Her ambitious goal was to revolutionize human relations and turn morality on its head. Shunned by academia, she found an audience in the business community, where her central messages of self-interest struck a chord. Thatcher echoed Rand’s vision when she insisted that “there is no such thing as society, only individuals”. This part of Thatcher’s vision for Britain was what most outraged Glenda Jackson, M.P. Amid a chorus of jeers from her opponents, she gave a speech during the debate on Thatcher’s tributes:

“The basis to Thatcherism, and this is where I come to the spiritual part of what I regard as a desperately wrong track that Thatcherism took this country into is that we were told that everything I had been taught to regard as a vice, and I still regard them as vices, under Thatcherism was in fact a virtue: greed, selfishness, no care for the weaker, sharp elbows, sharp knees, [was] the way forward.”

Boris Johnson, Conservative Mayor of London, leapt to Thatcher’s defence, stating that she was a “liberator”. Like the Economist, he went on to explain how she liberated the people: by freeing millions of people to buy their own homes and buy shares in British companies like British Telecom and British Gas. Also like the Economist, one can’t help feeling that these are primarily freedoms for the 1%. Johnson’s comments come off as rather crass, considering the housing and heating crisis the country is going through.

There are 120 million bedrooms in the UK, and only 60 million people. Yet we face a huge shortage of social housing and some of the highest house prices in the world. The UK builds the smallest new homes in Europe. In fact, the average luxury flat today is smaller than the minimum requirements for council housing in the 1960’s. Furthermore, more than 5 million households had to make the agonizing choice between food and heating this winter, as they could not afford both.

The pressing problems the country faces today trace back to Thatcher’s privatization of social services and the deregulation laws of the 1980’s. Like Pinochet, she presided over a period of great growth in inequality and poverty. Her legacy is the financialization of the economy, where traditional British industries like shipbuilding and metalworking, and the cities that grew up around them, were cast aside. The increased economic power of British banks brought increased political power, as the financial sector began to sponsor all three major parties. The entire political discourse moved to the right. The socialist values of Labour were forgotten, replaced by the “third way” of Tony Blair and New Labour. Thatcher was once asked what her greatest achievement was. She replied “Tony Blair and New Labour”. From her perspective, she was probably right.

Thatcher’s neoliberalism swept the globe. “Reaganomics” won in the United States, and the West forcefully pushed their idea of the “free-market” on the globe, through institutions like the World Bank, IMF and the World Trade Organization. Deregulation meant big businesses have used their power to buy out competition and achieve monopolies. In the UK, just four corporations, Tesco, Asda-Walmart, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons, control most of our food supply. The irony is that Thatcher’s policies have made industrious entrepreneurs like her father she so admired, a dying breed.

Her legacy began to unravel in 2008, when the financial crisis showed that unregulated markets lead to catastrophe. Likewise, Britain’s mountainous debt can be traced back to her huge tax cuts for the wealthy. The Economist insists that “now especially, the world needs to hold fast to Margaret Thatcher’s principles”. But just this week, a new study has found that the justification for austerity was based on “bogus maths.” One can’t help noticing that the Eurozone countries who most eagerly bought into the promise of a financialized economy, the UK, Ireland, Spain, Iceland, were hit hardest when the house of cards collapsed, whereas those countries who maintained their less glamorous manufacturing industries, like Germany, Scandinavia and Switzerland, have suffered the least. Meanwhile, in Latin America, movements challenging the consensus have swept to power.

Johnson concluded his remarks by stating that “this country is very much in her debt”. No, this country is very much in debt, thanks to her. She destroyed the productive manufacturing base of the country and unleashed the forces of finance. She was not the first to espouse this ideology, and certainly was not the last, but her strident zeal and contempt for large sections of the society made her a “figure of hate” to many.

Ding dong indeed.

Alan Macleod can be reached at: alan_macleod11@hotmail.com.

Notes

1Grandin, G. Empire’s Workshop, p.170

2Grandin, p. 172

More articles by:
bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
October 21, 2019
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Wolf at the Door: Adventures in Fundraising With Cockburn
Rev. William Alberts
Myopic Morality: The Rehabilitation of George W. Bush
Sheldon Richman
Let’s Make Sure the Nazis Killed in Vain
Horace G. Campbell
Chinese Revolution at 70: Twists and Turns, to What?
Jim Kavanagh
The Empire Steps Back
Ralph Nader
Where are the Influentials Who Find Trump Despicable?
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Poll Projection: Left-Leaning Jagmeet Singh to Share Power with Trudeau in Canada
Thomas Knapp
Excuses, Excuses: Now Hillary Clinton’s Attacking Her Own Party’s Candidates
Brian Terrell
The United States Air Force at Incirlik, Our National “Black Eye”
Paul Bentley
A Plea for More Cynicism, Not Less: Election Day in Canada
Walter Clemens
No Limits to Evil?
Robert Koehler
The Collusion of Church and State
Kathy Kelly
Taking Next Steps Toward Nuclear Abolition
Charlie Simmons
How the Tax System Rewards Polluters
Chuck Collins
Who is Buying Seattle? The Perils of the Luxury Real Estate Boom
Weekend Edition
October 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Trump as the “Anti-War” President: on Misinformation in American Political Discourse
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Where’s the Beef With Billionaires?
Rob Urie
Capitalism and the Violence of Environmental Decline
Paul Street
Bernie in the Deep Shit: Dismal Dem Debate Reflections
Andrew Levine
What’s So Awful About Foreign Interference?
T.J. Coles
Boris Johnson’s Brexit “Betrayal”: Elect a Clown, Expect a Pie in Your Face
Joseph Natoli
Trump on the March
Ashley Smith
Stop the Normalization of Concentration Camps
Pete Dolack
The Fight to Overturn the Latest Corporate Coup at Pacifica Has Only Begun
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Russophobia at Democratic Party Debate
Chris Gilbert
Forward! A Week of Protest in Catalonia
Daniel Beaumont
Pressing Done Here: Syria, Iraq and “Informed Discussion”
Daniel Warner
Greta the Disturber
John Kendall Hawkins
Journey to the Unknown Interior of (You)
M. G. Piety
“Grim Positivism” vs. Truthiness in Biography
Christopher Fons – Conor McMullen
The Centrism of Elizabeth Warren
Nino Pagliccia
Peace Restored in Ecuador, But is trust?
Rebecca Gordon
Extorting Ukraine is Bad Enough But Trump Has Done Much Worse
Kathleen Wallace
Trump Can’t Survive Where the Bats and Moonlight Laugh
Clark T. Scott
Cross-eyed, Fanged and Horned
Eileen Appelbaum
The PR Campaign to Hide the Real Cause of those Sky-High Surprise Medical Bills
Olivia Alperstein
Nuclear Weapons are an Existential Threat
Colin Todhunter
Asia-Pacific Trade Deal: Trading Away Indian Agriculture?
Sarah Anderson
Where is “Line Worker Barbie”?
Brian Cloughley
Yearning to Breathe Free
Jill Richardson
Why are LGBTQ Rights Even a Debate?
Jesse Jackson
What I Learn While Having Lunch at Cook County Jail
Kathy Kelly
Death, Misery and Bloodshed in Yemen
Maximilian Werner
Leadership Lacking for Wolf Protection
Arshad Khan
The Turkish Gambit
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail