Monday, April 8, 2013

Margaret Thatcher, RIP

Of the Great Three of the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher, perhaps, had the most distinguished ancestry.  Her father was a grocer.

Ronald Reagan's father was the town drunk, and Karol Wojtyła's father was a sergeant in the Austro-Hungarian army. But Thatcher's father was a respectable grocer in Grantham, northern England, a Methodist and sometime alderman.

So Margaret Thatcher, grocer's daughter, united left and right: the Tory upper crust and the lefties both hated her.

Margaret Roberts graduated from a British grammar school, meaning a government school that emphasized academics, and went to Cambridge to get a degree in Chemistry.

When she decided to go into politics, it took her ten years to find a Conservative seat.  In those days, the local party ran the candidate "selection" and the old-school Tories didn't really like the bright young woman graduate.  But she eventually got to become the MP for Finchley, then a middle-class suburb of north London.  Twenty years later she was Prime Minister.

Looking back, it is remarkable to realize how well the left recovered from the debacle of the 1970s, the decade of stagflation, and how resolutely they determined not to learn the lessons of the Eighties.

The lesson was that it's all very well to want to fight inequality, but big government won't do the job for you.  That's because the only thing that government can do is take money from one person and give it to another.  It cannot build wealth; it cannot educate children; it cannot lead the poor out of poverty.  All it can do is tempt the voters with free stuff at election time and then govern by handing the lolly out to its supporters.

Oh, there are exceptions.  You can have a great reform and staff it with enthusiasts for a while. But eventually the enthusiasts leave for another gig and you are left with the time servers and the pension addicts.  Just as we have today in education and in local government.

The trouble with socialists, Margaret Thatcher said, is that "they always run out of other people's money."  The reason is that government doesn't produce anything; it doesn't produce or serve in response to market demand.  It merely takes money from people and goes through the motions of producing and serving.  You would too if you got your check whether you produced or served up anything of value.

The great achievement of the 1980s and Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher is that they showed the world that hard money and market economics will usher in strong economic growth.

But the left could never accept that, because if you accept the Reagan-Thatcher achievement then the whole point of the Liberal Ascendancy, the rule of the educated class, is demolished.  Why, maybe parents could get together to educate their children, as home-schoolers do today.  Maybe people could save their own money for retirement.  Maybe charity and neighborliness could relieve the poor.

So the left has turned its face against the great reforms of the 1980s.  In Britain and in the US the parties of the left have swamped the country with new immigrants off the farm, and new immigrants have reliably voted for free stuff ever since the Irish tumbled onto the shores of North America from the coffin ships of the 1840s.

Now we are heading for a rendez-vous with reality, as the pathetic Obama economy stumbles along in a four-year misery of a jobless recovery.  Millions of Americans have given up and got themselves on disability.

But socialism, or identity liberalism, or progressivism, or whatever you want to call it, always runs out of other people's money.  That's because humans are social animals, not government slaves.  We thrive according to Adam Smith's invisible hand: we get what we want by doing things for other people, things that they are prepared to pay money for.  The whole point of big government is that the invisible hand won't do the job.  What you need to make a better world is force.

Of course, there is a sense in which capitalism confirms the jeremiad of Horkheimer and Adorno: "What men want to learn from nature is how to dominate it and other men."  But these pessimists miss the point about the nature of a social animal.  The point about social animals is that they don't merely dominate, and don't merely reduce their lives to a mechanical exchange of force.  They cooperate.  They pay attention to the needs of others, and act upon it.

Capitalism is the human adaption to the fact of cooperation beyond the face-to-face cooperation of the hunter-gatherer camp or the agricultural village.  It is cooperation based upon a radical expansion of the horizon of trust from blood kin to all the people in the world that demonstrate trustworthiness.

Of course capitalism doesn't end exploitation, and people suffer under capitalism as under any social system.  And capitalism is ruthless on people that don't want to make stuff for other people.  And its focus on specialization does tend to make people smaller.

But capitalism is like democracy.  It is the worst way of organizing the economy except for all the alternatives.

That's what Margaret Thatcher stood for and that is why we will always remember her.

1 comment:

  1. "They pay attention to the needs of others, and act upon it."

    They pay attention to the basest wants and psychological weaknesses of others and exploit them.