Margaret Thatcher, Polarizing Right-Winger

Margaret Thatcher, Polarizing Right-Winger

The major news media celebrated Margaret Thatcher upon her death.  They seem to praise her stubbornness and ability to move the UK to support her very conservative anti-union, pro-deregulation and privatization policies and talk of her impact on the UK.  David Brooks, a typical voice on the right who saw Thatcher as a hero of conservative politics, has this to say in his op-ed in the New York Times today, The Vigorous Virtues, New York Times (Apr. 9, 2013).

Margaret Thatcher was a world historical figure for the obvious reasons.  Before Thatcher, history seemed to be moving in the direction of Swedish social democracy. After Thatcher, it wasn’t. 


She lionized the self-made striver. …She championed a certain sort of individual …: “upright, self-sufficient, energetic, adventurous, indepedent-minded, loyal to friends and robust against foes.” (quoting Shirley Letwin)
… 

Today, bourgeois virtues like industry, competitiveness, ambition and personal responsibility are once again widely admired …. Today, technology is central to our world and tech moguls are celebrated.  Tony Blari and Bill clinton embraced and ratified her policy shifts.  Millions more have been influenced by her idea of what makes an admirable individual.

A.C. Grayling presents a much more realistic–and somber–view of Thatcher’s “contribution” to the UK in his op-ed, Thatcher’s Divided Isle, New York Times (Apr. 9, 2013).

It is hard to think of a more divisive figure in British politics than Margaret Thatcher. 

 … 

Her admirers laud her for breaking Britain’s once-powerful trade unions, and liberalizing the City of London’s financial services industry; these acts, they say, halted the country’s economic decline.  Her detractors blame her for destroying much of the country’s manufacturing base by refusing to aid struggling industries and effectively annihilating the mining sector by emasculating the National Union of Miners.  Her premiership will always be remembered for the bloody battles between workers and the police, and the high unemployment and sudden appearance of industrial wastelands that followed.  

Mrs. Thatcher left behind a changed and divided Britain.  She dismantled local government structures
 …
which meant that urban decay and the effects of unemployment were not adequately countered.  …..[S]he did little to advance the cause of women generally. …She was also unfriendly towards homosexuals. … 

She began the deregulation of banking that led ultimately to Britain’s contribution to the global financial crisis of 2008.  She reversed the trend of greater social integration and diminishing of the wealth gap that had characterized Britain in the three decades after 1945.  Postwar convergences in class and wealth disappeared and former divisions resurfaced as consumerism and social incivility followed quickly on her brusque reorganization of British society. …

This much is quite clear:  Thatcher wanted to break unions, privatize public resources, and deregulate industries.  She pushed the same ideological conservative manifesto that Ronald Reagan did in the USA. Reagan’s legacy (and Thatcher’s) regretably lives on today as we face daunting inequalities of opportunity and resources, inequalities that underlie a host of other problems in society.  It traces back to the use of Friedman’s Chicago School “free market” theories to push lower taxes for the wealthy, expanded use of more regressive taxation and less supportive social insurance programs (the calls for a VAT or national sales tax to replace income taxation, the demands for Social Security cuts and Medicare premium increases, etc.), treating government as “the problem” rather than an essential part of the solution, unquestioning admiration of the wealthy few as “responsible” “job creators”  and an accompanying trend to treat the poor and lower income (Romney’s “47%”)  as irresponsible bums living off so-called “entitlements”.  The result is the expansion of harmful extremes of inequality from coupling regressive tax policies  with wealthy corporatists’ capture of elective officials (think Citizen’s United) and hence of legislative policies.

cross posted with   ataxingmatter

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