Margaret Thatcher died Monday morning at 87. As the Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990, she revived Great Britain’s economy by beating back socialism and trade unionism. Iain Murray explains:
Politicians of all three main parties had come to believe that a high-tax society with public control of the means of production (“the commanding heights of the economy,” as Lenin himself put it) was the way forward for Britain. The result was a country where bureaucracy and trade unions ruled while enterprise and innovation stagnated.
It took weeks to get a new telephone. Getting a new heating system involved a visit to the local Gas Board “showroom,” with its pitiful selection of products. Britain’s once proud automobile industry had become a national joke, with workers striking for huge pay raises on a regular basis. The coal miners’ union had brought down one Conservative government and threatened to do so again. Just before her election, the “Winter of Discontent” strikes had led to weeks of garbage collecting in major cities and the dead lying unburied.
Mrs. Thatcher recognized the great error of socialism. As she put it, the trouble with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money. She proposed a twofold solution. First, stop spending other people’s money. Second, give them the opportunity to earn it. In short, she sought to reintroduce liberal capitalism to the country that had once been at its vanguard—from the repeal of the Corn Laws to the Industrial Revolution.
To achieve the first objective, she slowly but surely privatized nationalized industries (though, unfortunately, not the BBC), took on the trade unions and won, and reduced the size of the civil service. She achieved the second objective by lifting onerous regulations on Britain’s financial sector—one of her first acts was to lift capital controls—and implementing sound monetary policy. And she did all this in defiance of the received economic wisdom of the time.
At the polls, she defeated the error of socialism three times in a row (four if you include her Tory successor John Major’s 1992 victory). The result was vindication of the best kind, as the Labour Party, under Tony Blair, rejected a return to nationalization and instead recognized the truth that people did best under capitalism. [“The Lady Wasn’t for Turning,” The American Spectator, April 8]
Of course, there is a lot more worth knowing about Margaret Thatcher. Here is a smattering of readings and other resources:
• “Nine Things You Should Know about Margaret Thatcher,” by Joe Carter, Acton Institute PowerBlog, April 8;
• “Counterfactual: What Would Have Happened to the UK Economy Without Thatcher?” by James Pethokoukis, AEIdeas, April 9;
• “Margaret Thatcher, RIP” by Stephen Hayward, The Ashbrook Center, April 8;
• “Margaret Thatcher’s Compassion,” by Edward Hudgins, The Atlas Society, April 8;
• “Thatcher: Anecdotes from a Biographer,” by Walter Olson, Cato Institute, April 8;
• “Her Iron Road,” by Claire Berlinski, City Journal, April 8;
• “The Lady Who Changed the World,” The Economist, April 8;
• “Heritage Mourns Loss of Lady Margaret Thatcher, ‘Intrepid Warrior for Freedom,’” by Ed Feulner, The Foundry, April 8;
• “What Margaret Thatcher Can Teach Illinois,” by Kristina Rasmussen, Illinois Policy Institute, April 8;
• “Remembering Margaret Thatcher,” by Lawrence Reed, Mackinac Center, April 8;
• “How Margaret Thatcher Brought Economic Freedom to Britain,” by Ira Stoll, Reason, April 8;
• “Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013),” Margaret Thatcher Foundation [This brief biography contains lots of links to Thatcher’s speeches and writings, organized chronologically.];
• “Margaret Thatcher Put ‘Great’ in Great Britain,” by John Blundell, USA Today, April 8.
Writings by Margaret Thatcher
• “Margaret Thatcher: How I Privatised Britain and Rebooted the ‘Enterprise Society’” by Margaret Thatcher, Reason, April 8, reprinted from the Reason Foundation’s Annual Privatization Report, January 2006;
• Statecraft, HarperCollins, 2002 [An excerpt was published in The Heritage Foundation’s 2005 President’s Essay.];
• “The West Must Prevail” The Heritage Foundation, December 9, 2002;
• “The Moral Foundations of Society,” Imprimis, March 1995.
• “The Real Legacy of Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s Iron Lady,” The Heritage Foundation, January 13, 2012.
• “Female Force: Margaret Thatcher,” by John Blundell, Bluewater Productions, 2010;
• “How Margaret Thatcher Helped to End the Cold War,” by Theodore Bromund, September 28, 2009;
• “Achieving Change: What We Can Learn from Margaret Thatcher,” by John Blundell, December 31, 2007.