Thursday, 13 October 2005

Maggie Thatcher's birthday

Today is Margaret Thatcher's 80th birthday. This isn't really a libertarian issue, but she is one of the great figures of contemporary British politics, so it's worth a mention.

I was born in 1979, so I was a child for all of the Thatcher years. What I've learnt of her has evidently been acquired later in life.

From a libertarian perspective, Thatcher's term as PM was mixed. In an economic context, libertarians would have a fair amount of sympathy for her, even if the government still owned schools and the NHS. In terms of social freedoms, there is little to praise Thatcher, though one should remember that one aspect of "New Right" thinking is social conservatism.

IMO, Thatcher's economic record in itself is unimpressive. In her first term, the UK experienced the worst recession since the Great Depression and inflation reached above 20%. Thatcher's government even had to abandon a strict adherence to monetarist theories during the mid-1980's. Unemployment reached 3 million under Thatcher. In the mid to late 1980's, GDP growth may have boomed, nonetheless such growth was unsustainable and led to high inflation. The effects of this boom probably contributed to the severity of the early 1990's recession. The Major Conservative government generally continued Thatcher's policies and produced a far more stable macroeconomic situation. All New Labour have done is to maintain this economic strength, not create it.

Some believe that Thatcher would have lost the 1983 election, if it weren't for the Falklands War. During her first term, she was the most unpopular PM since records had began. Of course, a hard-left manifesto by the Labour Party also contributed to her landslide win in 1983. In regards to the Falklands War, I believe this was a war consistent with libertarian principles, whether from a paleo or neo-libertarian perspective. The Falkland Islands is sovereign British territory and I feel we had every right to respond to Argentinian aggression. Personally, I don't even know nor understand the basis of Argentina's claims to the Falkland Islands.

Overall, I think Thatcherism was necessary to correct the wrongs of the 1970's. The UK was labelled the "sick man of Europe", because of trade union unrest, IMF bailouts and other occurences. However, her economic record in itself isn't anything to praise from any good macroeconomic viewpoint. As a libertarian, I don't believe her free-market approach was a comprehensive as it should have been, since the state still owned the schools and the NHS.

In general, there are hardly any PM's in modern British political history who can be commended from a libertarian angle. Wilson's government in the 1960's made some socially liberal moves forward, such as legalising homosexuality and abortion, but that's about it.