Sunday 14 April 2013

What did Margaret Thatcher do? Fixed the economy, stupid...


Politics is very simple; and great politicians (the epithet 'great' meaning that they did something constructive to turn a tide, as contrasted with most politicians who do nothing and/or make matters worse) - such as Margaret Thatcher - typically do one positive thing.

(Making one large and complex thing is enough for greatness - one achievement is infinitely more than none! Construction is vastly more difficult than destruction. Creation is much rarer than scavenging and parasitism.)

Then positive thing Mrs Thatcher did was to reverse decades of British economic decline.


This decline would almost-certainly have led Britain into an Argentinian-style (no irony intended) mega-economic collapse (about a century ago Argentina was - I understand - one of wealthiest of countries per capita). I have read economic and social analysts writing in the middle to late 1970s, and this fate was regarded as all-but inevitable for the UK. 

Yet it did not happen. Margaret Thatcher diagnosed the problems, publicly repented of the policies of the past, told Britain what it needed to do ('roll back' socialism), explained that short term prosperity had to be sacrificed to the longer term, took the necessary measures and -

Sure enough, things did get worse, there was a period of sharp recession and exacerbated decline.

But Mrs Thatcher held the line until the battle was won, and the impending economic collapse was not just averted but reversed.

Then Britain had a period of strong economic growth.


Many economists had diagnosed Britain's problems; several politicians knew what needed to be done; perhaps several of these politicians could believe that these things could be done and might even have started the job of fixing the economy...

But only Mrs Thatcher could see-it-through in the face of a level of orchestrated vilification and misrepresentation from the Leftist intelligentsia and organized labour (and most of her own party) which was astonishing at the time and in retrospect.

(A process with which I, to my shame, participated to the max - I was on the wrong side in the Great War.)


The British economic turn-around was partial, temporary, and has long since been dissipated by her successors: but that is what Margaret Thatcher did, and we have lived-off-it (and, sadly, the borrowing and inflation made possible by expectation of its continuance) ever since the early 1980s.

It is very hard to think of other examples of this kind of  reversal of decades of economic decline in such a large, complex and aged society as 1970s Britain - I think this must count as a world historic achievement.

Mrs Thatcher probably also did some other positive things; but else nothing she did was so clear-cut nor so objectively verifiable as the economic re-birth of Britian.


There is an important lesson which Leftist intellectuals ought to draw from this.

They were wrong about Mrs Thatcher.

At the time they (we) all totally believed they were right; we were filled with boundless moralizing zeal concerning our rightness - but the facts state otherwise.


The first lesson is that the Left intellectuals were wrong about Mrs Thatcher en masse and objectively and this ought to have led to a major reappraisal of the Left's understandings of the world and their modes of evaluation.

The second lesson is that the Left has utterly failed to make this honest appraisal of events, but instead denies the facts.

The third lesson is that the Left is therefore, now, profoundly dishonest, rotten, corrupted - and unteachable.  Immune to experience. Utterly deficient in common sense.


Once the Left had succeeded in denying to itself the blatantly obvious economic 'miracle' wrought by Mrs Thatcher, and thus failed to acknowledge their major error; then a path was cleared for the Left to deny anything else inconvenient, and to construct public discourse via the mass media and the bureaucracy in order to endorse Leftist 'reality'.

So, the British attitude to Margaret Thatcher and her achievement was a road fork for national politics - as a country we made the wrong choice and took the false path of denial (especially in Scotland, Wales and the North of England); we have refused to learn the lessons taught by Mrs Thatcher - and inevitably we are reaping the consequences.

Reality bites



asdf said...

Didn't the left adopt her policies? I mean Tony Blair likes big banks in London and all. Did she really turn anything around? Seems she believe in the same "libertarian" but ultimately corporatist crony capitalism as everyone else.

Bruce Charlton said...

@asdf - That isn't how things work.

Margaret Thatcher did what I said above. There were a limitless number of things she *didn't* do - but the litmus test is to acknowledge what she DID do.

dearieme said...

Her most conspicuous enemies were the fascistic generals in Argentina, the communists in the USSR and their lackeys abroad, and the terrorists of the IRA. That's quite a roll of honour. It's worth noting that in opposing these people she had reliable American support on only one.

Matthew C. said...

It was quite instructive watching her opponents savage her and cackle in glee at her death while the body was still warm. I can't say I've seen that before in any nominally civilized country.

Anonymous said...

I assume some of the left's venom about Thatcher is a deflection of their own self-loathing and guilt for having destroyed the chances of the Labour Party during the 1980s, by pushing the party to the left and provoking the split with the Social Democrats.

JP said...


No, her most conspicuous and dangerous enemies were, as ever, the traitors within her own camp -- Wets like Pym. Sadly the Wets were ultimately victorious (just as their counterparts in the USA were ultimately victorious).

Thatcher most certainly had reliable American support in defeating Argentina. Indeed, American support was essential. Britain couldn't have fought the war without early, massive, and continuous American support, which was fortunately forthcoming.

So that's two out of three. And I suspect the Americans did more to help against the IRA than you give them credit for.

B.Shelley said...

Back to blogging on Sundays I see...

Bruce Charlton said...

@BSH - Yes, I'm afraid so; see 'note added' at the end:

Bruce Charlton said...

@JP - According to my memory and the Berlinski biog of MT I have read, Reagan refused publicly to support the Falklands task force, and Mrs T was very surprised and felt betrayed by this.

Daybreaker said...

It's not objectively verifiable, but there was an important moral dimension to the British economic crisis.

In the glory days of union power, union officials (especially the petty ones) took wicked, cruel delight is smashing up mom-and-pop businesses that could neither pay what the union demanded nor push back, having no friends in government.

The union guys knew - with open books before them - that this meant businesses going out of business, and jobs being lost. They didn't care. They were glorying in their ability to humiliate, terrify and then ruin small employers - "bosses" who were nothing before the power of the big unions.

That was before Thatcher. After Thatcher, that was considered a dangerous game to play.

This must have had an economic effect, as many little businesses that wouldn't have survived carried on, and others that would never have gotten started did get started.

But it was also a moral revolution. People that had not mattered before did matter, at least for a while.

They never would have mattered to the left, which will gleefully stamp on the faces of Mr. and Mrs. Bloggs till they're ruined, and preferably till they go to their graves without children of their own to visit them.

The left and the respectable right hate the little people. Maggie Thatcher didn't have that attitude.

JP said...


Take a look at “America’s Falklands War” in The Economist, 3 March 1984. (I can email you the whole thing if you like.)

The Economist flatly states that “the British operation to recapture the Falklands in 1982 could not have been mounted, let alone won, without American help.”

American aid to Britain fell into three categories: support at Ascension Island, weapons and equipment, and intelligence. To facilitate operations at Ascension Island, the Americans supplied accommodation, water purification plants, fuel pipelines, and 12.5 million gallons of aviation fuel (which was literally ALL the fuel the British used to sustain air operations from the island). The Americans also kept tankers at anchor off Ascension as a form of "floating storage" because there was insufficient storage on the island.

The most important weapon that the Americans supplied was the AIM-9L Sidewinder, capable of attacking enemy aircraft from any aspect, not merely the rear. The Sidewinder shot down many Argentine aircraft, and forced the rest to alter their tactics. America also supplied Shrike anti-radiation missiles, Harpoon anti-ship missiles, and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles. (The article does not note the details, but Argentina lost 45 aircraft in the air, including 19 to Sidewinders and two to Stingers.) Less glamorous contributions included 4,700 tons of airfield matting for land-based Harrier operations, helicopter engines, mortar rounds, night vision equipment, heaters, and ration packs.

The article concludes:

“Most military analysts today regard the strategic balance in the South Atlantic as having been extremely close. At no point in the conflict did Admiral Woodward enjoy room for manoeuvre. His logistics tail was stretched to breaking point. He lacked air superiority for his amphibious landing. Supplies, especially of fuel and ammunition, were always critical and by the end of the campaign the ground forces were almost out of 105mm shells. The Ascension refueling bridge and the AIM-9L were wholly indispensable to his success. It is no disrespect to the quality of British forces on the ground to judge that they could not have won without the scale and the speed of America's support. This view is supported among themselves by many of the British commanders.”

Note that due to the approach of South Atlantic winter, if the Americans had not responded immediately to British requests for aid, it would have put the operation in serious jeopardy.

Anonymous said...

Is the American support JP refers to actual, material support
(Supplies, ait access, etc)?

I don't remember if this the case or not. If true, Reagan's lack of public verbal support didn't mean much.

But since Thatcher was personally fond of him she may have had a feeling of betrayal.

I think the public gloating over her passing is disgusting.

Bruce Charlton said...

@JP and jtx - We don't disagree on facts. I think in a war, with lives at stake, and when isolated by 'international [pacifist] public opinion' anything less than 100 percent support feels like a betrayal. And that support *was* lacking. But Mrs T didn't break friends with RR over it, and the 'special relationship' survived.

Bruce Charlton said...

@D. Yes. When I was an idealistic socialist I became more and more appalled by the behaviour of the big unions until their dominance swiftly drove me out of the Labour Party.

dearieme said...

"Thatcher most certainly had reliable American support in defeating Argentina."

Come now, the support she got was far from reliable and was given reluctantly. That's why Weinberger was singled out for thanks - much of the rest of the administration was useless or worse than useless.

JP said...

@ Bruce,

anything less than 100 percent support feels like a betrayal. And that support *was* lacking.

I'm not seeing the lack. On April 2, the day of the Argentine invasion, the White House said, "We have called on Argentina to cease, immediately, hostilities, and to withdraw its military forces from the Falkland Islands." That seems pretty clear to me. The US also voted for UN Security Council Resolution 502, calling for a complete withdrawal by Argentine forces, rather than abstaining as it could easily have done. I don't know what more you could ask for diplomatically.


Come now, the support she got was far from reliable and was given reluctantly.

Rubbish. American aid was immediate, massive, and decisively important. You do know that you can't fly airplanes without aviation fuel, right? The Americans not only gave the British the American fuel stored on Ascension, but sent much more fuel to the island in US Navy tankers. Not to mention that the Americans rushed the latest model Sidewinder missile to Ascension so that the Task Force had them before they sailed south into the combat zone.

The timeliness was critical. The British needed to get south before the onset of winter, and American aid enabled them to do that.

As for only Weinberger being useful... if you had DOD on your side, you had everything, if you didn't have him on your side, you had nothing.

What the State Department was doing wasn't anything the slimy Wets in the Foreign Office weren't also trying to do.

Bruce Charlton said...

@:JP - I have just re-read the relevant section in the Thatcher biog - it is clear that while Britain was going to war, and also after achieving military victory, the US was continually pressing for a negotiated, compromise, multilateral settlement.

B.Shelley said...

Mr. Charlton, you could do what I do to keep the Sabbath.

If we aren't to work on the Sabbath, my interpretation is that I shouldn't spend money or earn money. Being that work is conventially known as doing your job. "Where do you work?" etc.

For example, I wouldn't go to the gym (because I am causing someone else to have to work on the Sabbath), but I WOULD blog.

Yes, blog, because you aren't earning money there. It's more like long distance communication or similar to having a phone call. If you were charging a pay per view on the article, then it would violate the Sabbath.

So, that is my recommendation. It's the way I do it, and it opens up free time for me around the apartment because I have decided in advance that I won't be doing things like running out for small shopping errands.

Let me know if it works. Also, thank you for your interesting blog Mr. Charlton...

Bruce Charlton said...

BShell - That's the kind of thing I am trying to do; but it does not work well if done as an individual; and I think the main difference is that I am now aware that the Sabbath *ought* to be reserved for religious observation in a broad sense, and rejection of worldly considerations, I try to do this as much as I feebly can, and repent that I do not do more.

I'm afraid a lot of my blogging is motivated by ego plus seeking distraction - so it doesn't, as a general rule, really count as a legitimate Sabbath activity!

JP said...

Last comment -- Reagan obviously did not want a negotiated settlement, because that would lead to the fall of Thatcher.

The entire time the "negotiations" were in progress, Reagan was having Weinberger pour supplies into Ascension and this ensure the Task Force could move south -- thereby undercutting the so-called negotiations. If he truly wanted a negotiated settlement, he would have sent nothing to Ascension and done everything he could to prevent the British from using it. But he instructed the US military to facilitate British operations on Ascension.

It is clear to me that Reagan was not trying to screw Thatcher. He was trying to screw Haig -- by letting him conduct his idiotic shuttle diplomacy while at the same time making sure it failed. Haig's failure during the Falklands War was certainly an important factor leading to his resignation, and this did not happen by mere chance.