Modeling Margaret Thatcher




The next great leader of this country – and yes there will be another great leader – would do well to model Margaret Thatcher.


The grocer’s daughter who rose to greatness in the class obsessed culture of late 20th century England, was elected Prime Minister in 1979. After having served longer than any other 20th century PM (she left office in a ‘coup’ by wobbly-kneed conservatives in 1990). Margaret Thatcher is widely acknowledged as one of the most effective national leaders of her era.  Because she was a conservative, it is fashionable for some on the left to use the occasion of her death this month to tell everyone that her accomplishments were overrated or irrelevant; that she was given credit for events that would have happened anyway.


This narrative is patently false.


British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher served during a deep recession in which the English economy was crippled by decades of post-war socialist bureaucratic mismanagement. The national debt overhang was more than the UK’s GNP.


On taking office, Thatcher began to administer her brand of tough love, and ever so gradually, the economy responded. In 1982, UK inflation fell to an annual 8.6% from a high of 18%.  But unemployment remained stubbornly elevated and Thatcher’s additional economic reforms were stalled. The UK was then essentially in the same debt-inflation-stagnation trap that every free market economist in the game has warned us about on this side of the pond – crippling debt and very little government ability to drive investment without setting off dangerous inflation.


Enter the discovery of North Sea oil.  During the 1980’s the Thatcher government was able to deploy a 90% tax on North Sea oil recovery, using the revenue from that source (i.e., using real, not fiat or borrowed money) to rebalance the debt-crippled economy and help defray the costs of reform – in which sclerotic public-owned-and-run industries were privatized, one by one, freeing up new economic activity.


By 1987, unemployment was falling and the economy was in a strong recovery with low inflation.


Here is Prime Minister Thatcher’s economic report card from 1980 to 1990:


GDP up 23.3%

Total government spending: up12.9%

Law and order spending:  up 53.3%

Employment and training spending: up 33.3%

Health spending: up 31.8%

Social security spending: up 31.8%.


We have been living through an American version of what the British Fabian socialists did to England from the end of WW II until Thatcher was elected. 


David Brooks has reminded us that Margaret Thatcher ran and governed as a ‘values’ candidate.


At a time when others were sliding toward moral relativism, Thatcher stood for individual responsibility, moral self-confidence and often, it has to be admitted, self-righteous certitude.

Put aside her personal failings, she was a militant optimist for a country slipping unconsciously toward defeatism. Beyond her policy decisions, she was part of a values shift.


Today, bourgeois virtues like industry, competitiveness, ambition and personal responsibility are once again widely admired, by people of all political stripes. Today, technology is central to our world and tech moguls are celebrated.


Tony Blair and Bill Clinton embraced and ratified her policy shifts. Millions more have been influenced by her idea of what makes an admirable individual.


The Vigorous Virtues By DAVID BROOKS



And an astute political analyst reminds us that the conservatives lost the presidency because their candidate forgot to run on his values.


This year Democrats’ arguments on values were heard. This was a “values” election as strident as the ones from culture wars past in which Christians marched against subsidies for Mapplethorpe, creationists vied for seats on Kansas school boards, and William Bennett demanded to know where the outrage was. What was different about this year’s culture war is that Republicans lost it. They ran a campaign without any of the abrasive stuff Frank disapproved of. Their presidential candidate lost himself in theories about what motivates “job creators.” Certain senatorial candidates did try to raise cultural issues. Those in Missouri and Indiana showed themselves out of practice.

The values were different, but structurally the outcome was the same one that we have seen decade after decade. Where two candidates argue over values, the public may prefer one to the other. But where only one candidate has values, he wins, whatever those values happen to be. 

From Values Voters Prevail Again by Christopher Caldwell { }:


History tends to repeat itself until either we ‘get it’ or we really get it. 


England and Japan were locked in a new, dismal normal as a result of similar fiscal problems.  In each case the austerity slump of shared deprivation lasted for more than a decade.  Japan has not yet fully recovered.  England was lucky enough to have a Margaret Thatcher and a North Sea oil boom that finally sparked a real recovery using real money.


Whatever one thinks about the candidates in the last election, we did not end up with a Margaret Thatcher in charge. To accomplish what she did will require an American president to face down the green lobbyists, among other forces, and engineer a 180 degree turnaround in energy policy.  No, Virginia, we are not Santa Claus.  Yes, Virginia, we do need to sell fossil fuel to foreign customers.  Yes, Virginia, we will be contributing a little more to the CO2 load but not nearly as much as our Chinese brothers and sisters.


IF that happens, IF the American oil, natural gas and coal reserves are opened up, IF that ignites the next real energy boom, you can thank our trading partners who insist on being paid. …And you can thank all the conservative and libertarian economists whose advice has been ignored to date.


As long as we have to repay the Chinese and other outside lenders, how about allowing a real energy boom to take hold so the rest of us can prosper?  The industry experts credibly report that the USA could be a net energy exporter within six years and enjoy that status for another two decades, at least[1].  That’s a lot of time to rebuild a damaged productive sector and establish a real economy.  …Especially using real money.


The insidious gradual erosion of economic and other liberties imposed over decades can’t be dismantled in short order.  These restrictions have imposed cumulative political load on commerce. Such bureaucratic burdens cumulatively amount to saddling a sleek race horse with a Clydesdale’s load, then expecting it to run like the wind.  But the load CAN be dismantled, provided there is a positive, optimistic program to restore freedom …And that those all of who love freedom and understand the stakes are willing to do the necessary work; and get past all of the wedge issues that tend to paralyze the rational, pro-business politicians.


I have not even touched on foreign policy.  Suffice it to say that one needs only to connect a few dots to understand our current peril.  When US forces decisively overran Iraq, Korea’s miniature madman-in-residence, little Kim, went into hiding, terrified[2].  Not long after the major domo-in-residence of Libya, Kaddafi the late, promptly coughed up his nuclear weapons program.  The deceased mini-madman of North Korea and the now dead hero of Libya were intimidated. This is the ripple effect of a decisive demonstration of purpose, will and capability by great power.  It works on thugs every time. Every deadly war was preceded by the misperception of weakness. The perception of policy ambiguity and irresolution of an otherwise powerful adversary (in thug-world, the translation is ‘cowardice’) operates to embolden thuggish leaders to take otherwise unreasonably aggressive risks. The failure to head-off, deter or militarily prevent North Korea’s nuclear missile program from becoming operational will embolden Iran. The ‘deploy a nuke and get a scolding’ logic is no different than the ‘use a gun, go to your room’ nonsense that reaps crime waves.

So we can look to the example of the Iron Lady for guidance on protecting the peace as well.  As William Kristol wrote on April 8, 2013

“Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, and Pope John Paul II—three who won the Cold War … are no longer with us. Their examples remain. They knew what they believed but also knew they had to justify their beliefs…. They stood firm when in power, and they took risks to get there, challenging the conventional wisdom and the respective establishments of their nations or institutions.” {}


Margaret Thatcher – we do miss you.





Copyright 2013 by Jay B Gaskill, attorney at law, as first published on the Policy Think Site


Forwards, links and pull quotes welcome and encouraged.  For everything else, contact the author via email

[2] Kim Jong Il took refuge in an impregnable mountain fortress, called Cheol Bong Li, a little under ten miles from central Pyongyang.  There, he hurried past tank units of the Korean People’s Army, descending down a lengthy underground corridor, deep beneath Guk Sa Bong mountain.  The command compound that awaited him—designed to withstand a nuclear strike—consisted of two sprawling floors, including a series of war rooms that would enable Kim to control the military during a foreign attack. See

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