The question is not whether she was a good or bad person but whether capitalism works
“If you set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time, and you would achieve nothing.” This famous quote attributed to Margaret Thatcher explains why many regarded her as a conviction politician: a single-minded individual determined to exert their opinion regardless of what others think or the obstacles that may put in their way. This attitude to implement a vision in society led her to be viewed as an iconic figure and her policies to be seen as uniquely different.
Most of the discussion since her death has centred on the personality of Margaret Thatcher, with the country starkly divided. However, the question is not whether she was a good or bad person. If we scrutiny her policies, commonly termed Thatcherism, then manifestations of Capitalism are obvious. Looking at three prominent examples:
1. The rise of individualism. Thatcher promoted individualism, something to aspire for, over and above values of society. She was attributed to have famously said there is no such thing as society.
We witness the effects of this in today’s “broken Britain”. From family breakdowns, rising crime rates and anti-social behaviour, we live in a society where community values have eroded and individuals selfishly live for themselves at the cost of the society around them.
Yet these realities exist in almost every Western society – individuals shooting up school children in America, social breakdown across Europe are everyday realities and ugly fruits of individualism.
The real issue here isn’t that we are all just “Thatcher’s children”, but that this is a natural corollary of the capitalist view of society – the real architect was not Margaret Thatcher, but Jeremy Bentham!
2. Social inequality. Thatcher is famous for breaking up mining communities with her attack on the unions while leading an unprecedented period of wealth creation. However, closer scrutiny demonstrates that the mining industry was already in decline long before Thatcher was elected. The harsh realities of market economics, rather than Thatcherism saw to their death. Furthermore, despite Margaret Thatcher being credited with boosting Britain’s financial economy, it is this very sector that has today made the country near bankrupt and massively indebted.
In reality by her third term in office 28% of children in Britain were considered to be living below the poverty line. Today we have new metrics unimaginable during her tenure such as fuel poverty – fruits of her privatisations of the utilities.
Though she was a believer in the liberal free market, we find equally dogmatic adherents of the market in the New Labour party with the likes of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, as well as prominent politicians across the globe. Thus, today Capitalism crosses political colours and national boundaries.
This is more directly related to the expansion of global capitalism, rather than Thatcherism alone, and has been hastened by the collapse of communism.
3. Financial deregulation. Her tenure led to the re-shaping of the British economy to a service led function, with particular emphasis on the financial sector. A key policy directive was to deregulate this sector to make it easier for big banks to develop and sell dubious products. The irony of her death occurring at a time when the entire world is experiencing a depression brought on by the collapse in global finance is not lost.
Though these policies are attributed to Thatcher, in reality, they have been implemented not only in much of the Western world but even in the developing world under the notorious banner of the “Washington Consensus”. Hence this is an extension of liberal economics, the economics of the likes of Milton Friedman. These policies are the root of the economic misery today.
In reality, we can conclude that Thatcherism is just capitalism in a very poor guise. At the end of every political cycle capitalism is rebranded to extend its sell-by-date – whether in the guise of New Labour, or the Neo-Conservative movement in America.
Today, after over twenty years of global capitalism as the sole ideology in the world we witness a world economy on its knees and an unprecedented global depression. The fruits of Capitalism not Thatcherism!