The Great Debate UK

from John Lloyd:

The nuance behind the iron

There’s no time more apt for murmuring the ending of Brutus’s speech in Julius Caesar than the week of Margaret Thatcher’s funeral: “The evil men do lives after them/the good is oft interred with their bones.” No time better, either, to add that the “evil” that, in this case one woman, did is little examined by her detractors, who prefer to stick to a diabolical version of her 12-year rule.

Margaret Thatcher (narrowly) won the 1979 election because the Labour government of the 1970s, under Prime Ministers Harold Wilson and James Callaghan, had unsuccessfully tried to make a contract with the trade unions. In such a contract, pay would have been calibrated to productivity, and increases would be low in order to bring down high rates of inflation and to keep up investment in the socialized education, health and welfare institutions that disproportionately benefited the lower classes. It was the kind of social deal that the Germans and the Scandinavians had and still – in part – have: one that produces economies that, not by chance, have escaped the worst of the economic buffeting of the past five years.

But the attempt failed. The turn of 1978-79 was called the "Winter of Discontent" – another Shakespearean tag, this time from Richard III. Power failed; transport was constantly disrupted; hospitals and ambulance services closed. Most memorably, some gravediggers in Liverpool struck, and bodies piled up in a factory. All that Labour had held out as its usefulness to the nation – the ability to bring organized workers into a lasting, productive and stable agreement – was shattered. The party lost, but so did working men and women.

Thus, Britain’s large problems were given the free market, rather than the social democratic, treatment. That meant withdrawal of subsidies and widespread closures and unemployment. That was the prompt for much of the bitterness toward Hatcher, since not just jobs were lost but whole communities were rendered rudderless. Yet a victorious war against Argentina for possession of the Falklands, and a chaotic Labour Party, which had lurched to the left, saved Thatcher – and let her grow in stature, as the economy improved, and flourished.

from The Great Debate:

Thatcher: Master of the ‘unexpecteds’

The passing of Margaret Thatcher comes at a time when the great theme that shaped her years as Britain’s prime minister – the frontier between government and the private sector – is again the focus of serious public debate. Her historic achievement was to widen the frontiers of the “market” and, as she said, to have “rolled back the frontiers of the state.”

There is, however, a pendulum in this relationship between government and private sector. The role of government in the economy has expanded greatly since the 2008 financial collapse, along with government debt. So we will likely again see a struggle to rebalance the respective realms of state and market. And it will again be a battle.

We need data centres to thrive

–Cyrille Brisson is EMEA Vice President of Power Quality at Eaton. The opinions expressed are his own.–

Last month, British wholesale gas prices surged to a record high after one of the UK’s main import pipelines was temporarily shut by a technical fault, and continuing wintry weather led to delays restocking the domestic gas supply.

Dear Mark

–Laurence Copeland is a professor of finance at Cardiff University Business School. The opinions expressed are his own.–

Dear Mark Carney,

As you arrive in your new office, you will not be short of free advice, least of all from economists. Nonetheless, like a supporter of the away team valiantly trying to make himself heard above the roar of the home crowd, this is my feeble attempt to compete against the chorus of voices calling for ever more, ever larger doses of QE, ever lower interest rates and even more devaluation of the Pound.

from David Rohde:

A failure to lead at the U.N.

It is the world’s most important organization, yet remains one of the most dysfunctional.

This week a former United Nations employee described a pervasive culture of impunity inside the organization – one in which whistle-blowers are punished for exposing wrongdoing. James Wasserstrom, a veteran American diplomat, said he was fired from his job and detained by U.N. police – who searched his apartment and placed his picture on wanted posters – after he reported possible corruption among senior U.N. officials in Kosovo.

from Anatole Kaletsky:

If Europe wants Thatcherism, it must abandon austerity

Among all the obituaries and encomiums about Margaret Thatcher, very few have drawn the lesson from her legacy that is most relevant for the world today. Lady Thatcher is remembered as the quintessential conviction politician. But judged by her actions rather than her rhetoric, she was actually much more compromising and pragmatic than the politicians who now dominate Europe. And it was Thatcher’s tactical flexibility, as much as her deep convictions, that accounted for her successes in the economic field.

Governments in Europe and Britain today are obsessed with hitting preordained and unconditional targets: Inflation must be kept below 2 percent; deficits must be reduced to 3 percent of gross domestic product; government debt must be set on a declining path; banks must be recapitalized to arbitrary ratios laid down by some committee in Basel. In sacrificing their citizens’ well-being and their own political careers to these numerical totems, modern leaders often claim inspiration from Thatcher. And when voters turn against them, Europe’s leaders keep repeating Thatcher’s most famous slogans, “There is no alternative” and “No U-turn”.  But are these the right lessons to draw from Thatcher’s political life? A closer look at her economic achievements suggests otherwise.

How to ‘lean in’, Margaret Thatcher style

By Kathleen Brooks. The opinions expressed are her own.

Former UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s death at the start of this week has temporarily interrupted the coverage of Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg’s new book: ‘Lean In – Women, Work and the Will to Lead.’  However, Margaret Thatcher could be seen as one of the pioneers of ‘leaning in’, doing so some 60 years before Sandberg’s book was published.

Margaret Thatcher (love or loathe her) was not just a formidable political force, but she also managed to ascend to the highest echelons of the political establishment with two children in tow and nurture a marriage, all in an era when it was completely normal for women to give up any career that they had at the first flash of an engagement ring.

We are all Thatcherite now

By Laurence Copeland. The opinions expressed are his own.

As we remember the second greatest prime minister of the Twentieth Century, we quite rightly think first of her achievements. There is no need for me to recap those when they are being well covered in the Conservative press. They are best summarised by acknowledging, as some of the left wing press does, that we’re all Thatcherite now, and however much some folk might have their fun dancing on her grave, it’s a bit late now – she won, and their celebrations are in the end a tribute to the strength of the forces she overcame almost single-handed.

On the negative side, it has to be admitted that we are still haunted by her two big failures.

from The Great Debate:

Margaret Thatcher, an enlarger of British freedom

My immediate and lasting  memory of Mrs. Thatcher -- Maggie as we called her -- is sitting next to her in the late sixties at a dinner table as she scorched a bunch of City of London financial types. I was astonished. She wasn't yet the Iron Lady. She wasn't  in government. Labour was in power. She was  an obscure back bench Conservative MP, elected only in 1959, noticed in those sexist days (has much changed?) as much for her hats and aggressive hair style as for  her passionate defence of grammar schools under threat of closure from Labour.

What she did with the City of London men  was later characterised as a  "hand-bagging." A black Asprey bag she always carried was metaphorically wielded against people she saw as standing in the way of the greatness of Britain as Boudica, the leader of a British tribe, wielded a lance against the Roman occupiers. I suppose that as a new national editor (of The Sunday Times), and with normal male presumption , I had expected to lead the questioning of the ten or so big names and the table. I didn't stand a chance. Maggie pounded and pummeled them all by herself for an hour. I can't pretend this is verbatim but it went something like this: "All you people are interested in is moving paper around, making money not things. What are you doing for British industry? When are you going to help business stand up to  the unions?"  They murmured, they shuffled, they were outclassed. British elections -- six weeks to  a vote and no paid television ads -- have never been as corrupted by money as much as American, so she was not turning off a potential source of funding as an American candidate would fear to do. Still these were  men -- all men of course  -- who were influential and articulate and used to reverence not rebuke.

from The Great Debate:

In Venezuela, an election about the future is haunted by the past

Presidential elections will be held in Venezuela on April 14, pitting Hugo Chavez’s vice president and chosen successor, Nicolas Maduro, against Henrique Capriles, the opposition candidate who lost to Chavez in 2012. At stake: whether Chavez’s legacy will continue after his death.

Most analysts see Maduro as the favorite. Many believe the fear of losing the social and economic gains made during the Chavez years will be the most important motivator for voters if Maduro is elected. Others see Maduro gaining from sympathy votes after Chavez’s death. Still others see the electoral timetable as working against the opposition. A short campaign season — two weeks — could favor the government, which has more resources at its disposal. All these perspectives cite recent polling that puts Maduro at about an 18-point advantage over Capriles (see table below).

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