Counterparties: Thatcher’s economic legacy
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Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s longest serving Prime Minister, died today at the age of 87.
Thatcher famously said â€śthere’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are familiesâ€ť. The BBCâ€™s Stephanie Flanders sums up Thatcherâ€™s economic legacy by saying that before her, there was â€śno such thing as the consumer. When she left, politicians spoke of little else… she helped force the rise of the individual at the expense of the collectiveâ€ť.
Dylan Matthews says that Thatcherâ€™s economic policies were â€śheavy on union-busting, spending cuts, privatization and deregulation, undoing as much as she could of the social welfare stateâ€ť.
Matt Phillips reviews Thatcherâ€™s legacy as an inflation-fighter. When Thatcher left office inflation was running at 8%, down from more than 20%. That was due, in part, to reduced government spending — but itâ€™s also worth remembering that Thatcherâ€™s government predated the era of central-bank independence, so she (and her Chancellors) controlled monetary policy as well as fiscal policy. Her record on employment was more mixed. The UKâ€™s jobless rate was over 10% for the majority of Thatcherâ€™s leadership. It took nine years after she left office in 1990 for the rate to fall below 6%.
Thatcherâ€™s government also fought, at times literally, with labor unions, most notably with coal miners in 1984-1985. The strikes were wrenching, widespread, and deeply political in a way Americans have not seen for more than a generation. The miners had terrible, dangerous jobs, and fought unsuccessfully to keep them. Megan McArdle concludes that the Prime Minister â€śdestroyed an industrial system which had yes, provided workers with a secure livelihood, but yes, also done so at an unacceptable costâ€ť.
An inextricable part of that legacy, McArdle argues, was a transformation: â€śpost-1970s Britain has been a very good place for educated elites, and not very good for the post-industrial working classâ€ť. Former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown, on the other hand, thinks Thatcherâ€™s policies helped usher in current levels of poverty and inequality.
Thatcher was an early euro-sceptic, and, as Joe Weisenthal says, rather presciently saw how richer European nations like Germany would balk at bailing out poorer nations. During a 1990 Prime Ministerâ€™s Questions, she warned that the single currency would result in â€śtaking many democratic powers away from democratically-elected bodies to non-elected onesâ€ť. — Ben Walsh
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