Thatcher died. And, more significantly, continued to be dead. Lots of people were outwardly delighted and wanted the world to know, triggering a discussion about where freedom of expression ends. I think that, although people have the right to express whatever feelings or opinions they want, reveling in the death of a human being can only hurt their cause (for those who have a cause that wasn’t handed to them.) This post isn’t about the freedom of expression debate, though. It is about a more general problem, one that is very pervasive: misdirection of feelings.
Thatcher may well have had some terrible opinions. But (ironically given the contextual debate about freedom of expression) she, as a human being, had the right to hold them and even express them. Her enemies should withhold their celebrations for the death of her genus of policies.
Thatcher was a very effective firewall. The best figure-heads are. And that is still the case right now, after her death. She is taking the heat of a flame war, while her terrible ideas are still being enacted right now. In being angry with Thatcher, anger is being wasted on a corpse.
I believe that, since the second world war, there has been implemented a world-scale strategy to concentrate wealth and control into the hands of a minority. It would seem logically unavoidable to conclude that the fundamental motivation for this redistribution is greed. I’m sure it is. However, I have never considered Thatcher to be greedy. I assumed her estate to be small. Maybe that is wrong. Maybe she was mega-rich, but very good at hiding it. I could go and find out (as some are), but I won’t for now. Let’s imagine for a second that you want to concentrate wealth into your own pocket. You need to coerce the government in order to achieve that. Subsequently, you need to talk the people into granting you the necessary powers. “Let me run your country so that I can take all your cash” isn’t an effective party slogan. Further, any sign of greed in your efforts would expose your tyranny. So, what you need is someone who happens to believe a series of ideas that parallel yours but does so for ideological reasons. This person, by virtue of the party system, will rise to the figure-head position and become party leader (expedited by capital, of which you have plenty.)
This is where something interesting happens. Your party suddenly appears basically virtuous. Anyone trying to link your policies to simple greed can be countered by pointing out that “our great leader isn’t motivate by greed, our motivations are pure and moral.” So long as we subscribe to a political system more obsessed with personality than concerned with implications of policies we will be vulnerable to this tactic.
We are told that Thatcher saved the country. I’m not really sure what we are supposed to believe we were saved from. She released us from the clutches of the trade unions (a standard tactic for totalitarians coming into power throughout history), whose strikes were crippling our economy. Great. Except she also eliminated a lot of the industry in which those strikes were happening. Closed mines are no more productive than mines under strike. It’s standard practice in Central America, for example, to neutralize unions by closing the factories in which they action.
Thatcher was in favour of people exerting control over capital via shares. Everyone should be able to buy shares in the companies for which they work, thereby having a say in the management of our economic concerns. She also gets a lot of praise for allowing the public to buy shares in newly privatized companies, like British Gas in 1986. This article reckons the value of those shares rose by a factor of 12. Yay, privatization. If she was so in favour of everyone having a share of the control of our capital, why was she so against unions? She called unions undemocratic, but was in favour of control being afforded according to wealth? Remember, she wasn’t just against unions in practice i.e. when they’re corrupt, she was against them in principal. She didn’t take on corruption, she took on the unions. The reason they were in favour of share control over unions rights is that shares have to be bought. Their prices can be manipulated.
The brunt of the Thatcher government’s fiscal policy was austerity. Cutting state spending. The problem is, that she didn’t. Spending as a proportion of GDP dropped by around 10% during her office, as an absolute figure I think it went up. According to IFS, in real terms public spending decreased only twice (year-by-year) during the Thatcher government. Overall, in real terms, spending grew. Ironically, falls in public spending happened as a result of a reduction in social benefits as a result of people getting jobs not slashing benefits.
Both Thatcher and Reagan undertook an aggressive reconfiguration of the economy, reducing production and manufacture and rapidly expanding the financial sector and what is laughably called international ‘trade’ (or at least accelerated this process) and extending the state to protect the rich while preaching fairy-tales about free markets from the gospel of neoliberalism. The UK also became the second biggest arms dealer in the world during Thatcher’s premiership. So after all this, who was our state spending in service of? GDP increased, but was it as a result of bloating our financial sector (which went on to help almost destroy the world economy)? Many have also pointed out that Thatcher’s policies’ survival during those years is largely the result of an oil windfall from the North Sea, one that any government would have had access to at that time. This seems to put their fiscal achievements into a slightly pathetic light.
Also, backtrack three paragraphs. She sold off assets, which belonged to and had already been funded by everyone, and gave a few people (who could afford it) the opportunity to buy parts of them. She sold something that belonged to us, back to us. Actually, in the BG case, 62% of it. Something like 50 companies were privatized or sold. This supposedly slashed the governments costs, as they no longer needed to cover the cost of those assets, yet they achieved no real reduction in state spending, even after a massive windfall worth well over £100 billion. That was half our GDP in the 80s. What exactly did they do with this cash? Perhaps she needed some for her side projects helping tyrants overseas.
Thatcher died while staying at the Ritz hotel. She was visiting friends. Friends that include the owners of the hotel, the Barclay brothers. Media magnates. She made lots of such friends because she was willing to help them out during her privatisation rampage. This included placing friends in the control layer of the media (another tactic of the totalitarian) resulting in very favourable coverage of her efforts, which puts her re-election into context.
Thatcher embodied the mantra of neo-liberal economics preaching: “poor people don’t work because they’re paid too much and rich people don’t work because they’re paid too little”. She aggressively cut benefits, having detrimental effects on public health while making sure the rich (probably working in the financial sector) had publicly funded support. This was all exacerbated by unemployment being pushed to historic levels.
Right now our coalition government is engaged in the same rhetoric and policies. The financial sector has continued to grow since the Thatcher years. The public is being continuously excluded from having any say in how their country is run while providing the funding for it. Ridiculous fiscal measures are being pushed through, in contradiction of the wishes of the people, justified by ludicrous economics doctrines that have no basis in fact. Austerity is being used as a pretext for tyranny. Our economy was almost destroyed because of the actions of a tiny group of people, most of which got away with it, and yet the media is cohesively trying to pin our fiscal problems on their victims, benefit claimants. Again, the problem is that poor people are paid too much and need encouragement in the form of taking from them, even though the majority of those on benefits work, and the majority of those who don’t have worked most of their lives. Public spending is being cut at a time when it’s most important. Public sector institutions, like the NHS or our education system, are being forced to corporatise, again under the pretext of ‘efficiency’ making them progressively less effective and undervaluing them, while vultures circle waiting to get their greedy hands on them at a bargain price.