The Daily Gamecock

Thatcher’s leadership should set precedent for US

With socioeconomic stagnation, America needs help of revolutionary figure as well

Margaret Thatcher, prime minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990, died on Monday. Thatcher reasserted Britain’s place as a military power when she defended the Falkland Islands, a British territory in South America, from an Argentinian invasion. She also allied with Ronald Reagan to fight the spread of communism and establish the world order we have today.

Thatcher is a controversial figure within Britain because of her domestic policy. However, we must remember that leaders should be judged in the context of their own time.

In 1979, Britain was wandering in the doldrums of post-imperial mediocrity. Labor strikes were common, public services were failing, inflation was high and tax rates on the rich were near confiscatory levels. Thatcher assumed power with a mission to revitalize Britain.

Thatcher’s mission began with an effort to break unions. She made it easier to work without joining the industry’s union, required unions to vote to approve strikes and held her ground in labor negotiations. By prying power from their hands, Thatcher greatly improved Britain’s economic efficiency.

Thatcher also embarked on a new course for dealing with inflation and taxes, dropping tax rates on the rich from 83 percent to 60 percent. She also used aggressive monetary policy to wrestle inflation down from 22 percent a year in 1980 to 4.2 percent in 1987. Today we take for granted that the highest tax rates are around 50 percent and inflation usually doesn’t exceed 4 percent, but these were major changes at the time.

We also take for granted the government’s relatively hands-off role in the economy today. However, in pre-Thatcher Britain, the government owned everything from British Petroleum to public utilities to Jaguar. Many of these state-run corporations acted more as employment agencies than efficient businesses, and most of them lost money and increased the deficit. Thatcher quickly privatized them. While many employees lost their jobs, the businesses’ efficiency improved dramatically and they became profitable.

Thatcher also reformed housing and healthcare. She introduced competition to increase the National Health Service’s efficiency. Thatcher also allowed those living in public housing to buy their homes from the government. This reduced the size of government and turned 1.25 million public housing tenants into property owners who then had a stake in society.

At the beginning of the 1980s, Britain desperately needed reforms. High tax rates and inefficient, state-owned companies showed the Left had sacrificed practical concerns for ideological ones. When one ideology becomes powerful and complacent, society needs a reformer to come in and shake things up.

In 1979, Britain needed a right-wing reformer to change its course. In 2013 America, a developed nation without universal healthcare coverage and with decaying infrastructure, it is less clear what kind of reformer we need.


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