On the day of Mrs Thatcher’s funeral she will receive many plaudits and much abuse. I don’t think that there is any merit in rejoicing in the death of a woman who believed that she was doing the right thing to strengthen her country’s position in the global economy. And here’s the thing – that’s exactly what she did. If you believe that humanity is best served by a world split into countries that compete with each other for resources to try to achieve perpetual economic growth, and that will ultimately go to war with each other to achieve those ends, then you have to accept that what she did was exemplary.
When she came to power in 1979, the UK economy was nose-diving. There was a feeling of powerlessness as rising oil prices, inflation, unemployment, uncollected rubbish, unburied coffins, widespread industrial action and the three-day week saw us bailed out by the IMF with the proviso that we introduce austerity measures. To say that she turned things around is a huge understatement. Her union-bashing, tax cuts, privatisations and deregulation – especially in the financial sector – meant that incomes and GDP rose rapidly, until by the end of the 80s the UK was a magnet for people seeking work from all over the world.
Without her reforms, Britain would almost definitely be in the ‘precariat’ of Europe today, along with Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece. Instead, in traditional economic terms, we’re a powerhouse. Some say that Germany has managed to perform extremely well economically without similar monetarist brutality, but the fact is that they were never in such a dire economic position as 70s Britain.
The game that Thatcher was so good at is not the game that we should be playing in the first place. To praise her is like praising someone for being extremely good at clubbing baby seals, stealing cars or molesting children. Yes she was good at what she did. No, we shouldn’t be doing those things in the first place.
Thatcher’s heroes were economists – Friedman, Hayek, von Mises. She knew nothing of ecology, and her heroes, clever though they undoubtedly were, didn’t understand that economics is a subset of ecology, not the other way round.
We live in a world where:
a) ecologists are telling us that we’re in a mass extinction event. According to Edward O Wilson, the world’s most respected ecologist, we’re on track to lose half of all species of plants and animals this century, after which, unless there is a drastic change of direction, the ‘cascade effect’ will almost definitely remove most species on earth, including humans.
b) more and more countries are acquiring nuclear weapons, as bargaining tools in the global competition for dwindling resources and ideological dominance.
c) there are more people struggling to exist on less than $2 dollars a day than were alive 100 years ago.
Everything Mrs Thatcher did made these problems worse, as she handed more and more wealth and power to the corporate world. We’re all in the precariat now.
Unfortunately, most people who criticise Thatcher don’t criticise the system in which she was so successful. The trades unions want a bigger slice of the cake – but they don’t want to change the cake. The Labour Party wish they could have been as successful at the capitalist game as her, but without as much social upheaval, which is never going to be possible. Even radical socialists are hooked on the absurd quest for perpetual economic growth.
We advocate something different – putting ecology before economics, democratising global institutions and stabilising the global economy. If you don’t subscribe to this approach (and this means you, Radio 4 and the Guardian), then you’re in no position to criticise Thatcher’s ‘achievements’.
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