Margaret Thatcher’s economic policies, we are often told, were cruel, harsh, immoral. In fact she was a deeply moral thinker, and the moral superiority of the free market was central to her thinking. She made the case for it like no other major political leader.
Before Thatcher, the Conservative party had more or less acquiesced to the Labour view of the economy — as a fixed lump of wealth to be parceled out to whatever interest groups spoke up most loudly. But Thatcher freed up markets to vastly increase national wealth. There were, she declared, “only two political philosophies, only two ways of governing a country. One is the Socialist-Marxist way in which what matters is not the people but the State. In which decisions affecting people’s lives are taken from them, instead of being taken by them. In which property and savings are taken from the people instead of being more widely held among them. In which directives replace incentives. In which the State is the master of the individual, instead of the servant.” The other, she said, was, “A free economic system” which “not only guarantees the freedom of each individual citizen, it is the surest way to increase the prosperity of the nation as a whole.”
The no-nonsense small-town grocer’s daughter learned, by careful study of the work of F.A. Hayek and Milton Friedman, both of whose lectures she attended, that her instincts about hard work, market competition, thrift and a sound currency were exactly the blast of oxygen Britain needed to save it from slow asphyxiation by the trade unions.
In 1981, during a round of fiscal tightening, she said of her opponents, “I tell you what they really mean, they mean, ‘We don’t like the expenditure we have agreed, we are unwilling to raise the tax to pay for it. Let us print the money instead.’ The most immoral path of all. Because what that is saying is let us quietly steal a certain amount from every pound in circulation, let us steal a certain amount from every pound saved in building societies, in national savings, from every person who has been thrifty.” Accusing Thatcher of being “heartless” is an infantile response, the protest of a child who howls at the prick of the needle that staves off disease.
The unions’ many supporters in the media and popular culture failed to recognize that big labor’s demands were unsustainable in the long run — Britain could no longer maintain coal, steel and shipbuilding without massive subsidies that simply…