Notes on Thatcherism

It is the most negative spin on Thatcherism, the notion that she encouraged a climate of selfish, uncaring greed.

Margaret Thatcher, the Conservative British prime minister from 1979 to 1990, was an outspoken devotée of Hayek's writings. Shortly after Thatcher became Leader of the party, she "reached into her briefcase and took out a book. It was Friedrich von Hayek's The Constitution of Liberty. Interrupting [the speaker], she held the book up for all of us to see. 'This', she said sternly, 'is what we believe', and banged Hayek down on the table." [1] After winning the 1979 election, Thatcher appointed Keith Joseph, the director of the Hayekian Centre for Policy Studies, as her secretary of state for industry in an effort to redirect parliament’s economic strategies. Likewise, some of Ronald Reagan’s economic advisors were friends of Hayek. [2].

Hayek wrote an essay entitled Why I Am Not a Conservative [3], (included as an appendix to The Constitution of Liberty) in which he disparaged conservatism for its inability to adapt to changing human realities or to offer a positive political program. His criticism was aimed primarily at European-style conservatism, which has often opposed capitalism as a threat to social stability and traditional values. Hayek identified himself as a classical liberal, but noted that in the United States it had become almost impossible to use "liberal" in the older sense that he gave to the term. In the U.S., Hayek is usually described as a "libertarian", but the denomination that he preferred was "Old Whig"

Having heavily influenced Margaret Thatcher's economic approach, and some of Ronald Reagan's economic advisors, in the 1990's Hayek became one of the most-respected economists in Eastern Europe. There is a general consensus that his analyses of socialist as well as non-socialist societies were proven prescient by the breakup of communist Eastern Europe.

It is the widely held view of Thatcherism, and the attitudes she encouraged, that her critics would say she amply demonstrated herself when she made the famous quotes about "no such thing as society" and that the Good Samaritan could only engage in his act of kindness because he was rich.

It is a view of her legacy that persists to this day. There is, of course an alternative view.

That is, that the first woman prime minister grabbed Britain by the scruff of the neck, took on vested interests such as the unions and shook industry, business and ossified institutions until they squealed.

She pioneered privatisation, encouraged enterprise, freed people and business from an over-intrusive state and promoted self-reliance and family values.

In the 1930s Hayek enjoyed a considerable reputation as a leading economic theorist but his models were challenged by followers of John Maynard Keynes who argued for more active government intervention in economic affairs. The debate between the two schools of thought remains unresolved today, with Hayek's position gaining currency since the late 1970s.

"Thatcherism" is characterised by a free market economy, monetarist economic policy, privatisation of state-owned industries, low direct taxation but conversely higher indirect taxation, opposition to trade unions, nationalism, centralism, as well as checks on the size of the Welfare State and local government. "Thatcherism" may be compared with Reaganomics, Rogernomics and Ruthanasia. She was deeply in favour of individualism rather than collectivism, with a mantra for self-help.

Mrs. Thatcher believed in economic liberalism and claimed in 1983 that "We have a duty to make sure that every penny piece we raise in taxation is spent wisely and well. For it is our party which is dedicated to good housekeeping—indeed, I would not mind betting that if Mr. Gladstone were alive today he would apply to join the Conservative Party"

Changes to the power of the trade unions were made gradually, unlike the approach of the Heath Government, and the greatest single confrontation with the unions was the NUM strike of 1984 to 1985 in which the union eventually had to concede. Whether these confrontational tactics ultimately benefited Britain or not, they destroyed the post-war consensus of British politics. In 2001 Peter Mandelson, a member of parliament belonging to the British Labour Party closely associated with Tony Blair, famously declared that "we are all Thatcherites now".

Thatcherism as a form of Government

Another important aspect of Thatcherism is the style of governance. Britain in the 1970s was often referred to as "ungovernable". Mrs Thatcher attempted to redress this by centralising a great deal of power to herself, as the Prime Minister, often bypassing traditional cabinet structures (such as cabinet committees). This personal approach also became identified with a certain toughness at times such as the Falklands, the IRA bomb at the Conservative conference and the Miner's Strike.

Sir Charles Powell, the Foreign Affairs Private Secretary to the Prime Minister (1984-91, 96) described her style thus, "I've always thought there was something Leninist about Mrs Thatcher which came through in the style of government - the absolute determination, the belief that there's a vanguard which is right and if you keep that small, tightly knit team together, they will drive things through... there's no doubt that in the 1980s, No. 10 could beat the bushes of Whitehall pretty violently. They could go out and really confront people, lay down the law, bully a bit".[5]

Collectivism versus Individualsism: Some consider an early example of collectivist political philosophy to be Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Social Contract, which maintains that human society is organized along the lines of an implicit contract between members of society, and that the terms of this contract (e.g. the powers of government, the rights and responsibilities of individual citizens, etc.) are rightfully decided by the "general will" - that is, the will of the people. This idea is part of the philosophical foundation of democracy.

Monetarism is a set of views concerning the determination of national income and monetary economics. It focuses on the supply and demand for money as the primary means by which economic activity is regulated. Monetary theory focuses on money supply and on inflation as an effect of the supply of money being larger than the demand for money.

Monetarism today is mainly associated with the work of Milton Friedman, who was among the generation of liberal economists to accept Keynesian economics and then critique it on its own terms. Friedman and Anna Schwartz wrote an influential book on the monetary history of the United States, Monetary History of the United States 1867-1960, and argued that "inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon." Friedman advocated a central bank policy aimed at keeping the supply and demand for money at equilibrium, as measured by growth in productivity and demand. While most monetarists believe that government action is at the root of inflation, very few advocate a return to the gold standard. Friedman for example views the gold standard as highly impractical. The former head of the United States Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, is generally regarded as monetarist in his policy orientation.

Critics of monetarism include both neo-Keynesians who argue that demand for money is intrinsic to supply, and some conservative economists who argue that demand for money cannot be predicted. Supply-sider Jude Wanniski declared monetarism a failure because it assumed that the velocity of money is roughly constant [1]. Joseph Stiglitz has argued that the relationship between inflation and money supply growth is weak for ordinary inflation, as opposed to hyperinflation (meaning perhaps more than 10% year-over-year) which is almost universally regarded as an effect of government spending at a time when output growth can not absorb it (See inflation by government spending). In an interview with Milton Friedman (published in the Financial Times 6 Jun 2003) Milton Friedman even seems to repudiate the monetary policy of monetarism and is quoted as saying "The use of quantity of money as a target has not been a success," ... "I'm not sure I would as of today push it as hard as I once did."

Though monetarism is commonly associated with conservative economics and economists, not all conservatives are monetarists, and not all monetarists are conservative

She supported the US bombing raid on Libya from bases in the UK in 1986 in defiance of other NATO allies. Her liking for defence ties with the United States was demonstrated in the Westland affair when she acted with colleagues to prevent the helicopter manufacturer Westland, a vital defence contractor, from linking with the Italian firm Agusta in favour of a link with Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation of the United States. Defence Secretary Michael Heseltine, who had pushed the Agusta deal, resigned in protest at her style of leadership, and remained an influential critic and potential leadership challenger. He would, eventually, prove instrumental in Thatcher's fall in 1990.

The UK was widely seen as the "sick man of Europe" in the 1970s, and some argued that it would be the first developed nation to return to the status of a developing country. Instead, the UK emerged as one of the most successful economies in modern Europe. Most people today realize that this was due to Margaret Thatcher's policies.

Critics of this view believe that the economic problems of the 1970s were exaggerated, and were caused largely by factors outside any UK government's control, such as high oil prices caused by the oil crisis, leading to the high inflation which damaged the economies of nearly all major industrial countries. Accordingly, they also argue that the economic downturn was not the result of socialism and trade unions, as Thatcherite supporters claim. Critics also argue that the Thatcher period in government coincided with a general improvement in the world economy, and the buoyant tax revenues from North Sea oil (although this is sometimes a double-edged sword; see Dutch disease), and that these were the real cause of the improved economic environment of the 1980s rather than Margaret Thatcher's policies.

Perceptions abroad broadly follow the same political divisions. On the left, Margaret Thatcher is generally regarded as somebody who used force to quash social movements, who imposed social reforms that disregarded the interests of the working class and instead favoured the wealthier elements of the middle class and business. Satirists have often caricatured her. For instance, French singer Renaud wrote a song, Miss Maggie, which lauded women as refraining from many of the silly behaviours of males – and every time making an exception for "Mrs Thatcher". She may be remembered most of all for declaring: "There is no such thing as society" [7] to reporter Douglas Keay, for 'Womans Own' magazine, 23 September 1987 [8],going on to emphasise the importance of families and individuals in the fabric of British life. On the economic and political 'liberal' right, Thatcher is often remembered with some fondness as a conservative who dared to confront powerful unions and removed harmful constraints on the economy, though many do not openly claim to be following her example given the strong feelings that highly ideological Lady Thatcher and Thatcherism elicits in many.

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Mind is the closest thing to our Reality...Be careful how you use it. Businessman, yogi, teacher, addicted to laughing...