Free market capitalism is often accused (by the uninformed, I hasten to add) of being a system designed to benefit the rich at the expense of others; that it entrenches existing power structures, or that it pits people against each other in some kind of economic Battle Royale.
Simply put, it does none of these things. As I wrote before (Libertarianism – Not a defence of the rich) we do not live in capitalist society, but a corporatist one. It is very easy to show how it is big government that is making your life worse.Far from loving capitalism, the richest and the wealthiest shun it. Free markets mean competition, innovation and hard work, not things that business elites enjoy. It is often big business who call for more regulation (just look at the percentage of big businesses that are pro the regulatory EU as opposed to the number of small businesses against it) because more regulation means more barriers to entry and less competition. Capitalism is the only economic system that allows the poorest in society to pull themselves up, that brings true social mobility. The landed gentry are none too keen on those from ‘new money’, indeed they dislike new money completely. Capitalism is the only system that challenges the ingrained power dynamics, something the wealthiest abhor. Those that are on top of the pile realise that free markets are the only way for others to climb up and above them and so desperately wish to kick down such a ladder of opportunity.
So what does this have to do with Margaret Thatcher? Well, like the rich and powerful the left also hate capitalism, but for different reasons. However they dress it up, the inescapable fact is that free markets are the only system that have allowed the poor and middle class to make themselves better off, to lift people out of poverty, to break down hierarchies and social barriers – all things the left profess to want. It is, however, to their disgust that this isn’t done with central power, with the grip of the state, but organically. The left hate capitalism because it does everything they could want but in none of the ways that they prefer.
Thatcher was the first post-war Prime Minister to recognise this. It doesn’t help that she was a woman, a group the left traditionally want to believe belong to them, and that she was working class, another group that the left wish to lay claim to, but fundamentally it was her realisation that the best way to help the most people make their lives better is by bringing in genuine capitalism.
As a libertarian I can’t claim to think the Iron Lady was perfect; her rhetoric on freedom was good but sadly in executing some of it was lacking. She made mistakes without a doubt, and had bad judgement in some areas. As the first British Prime Minister – certainly since the war – to realise the need for free markets, she was never going to get everything right. The trailblazers and revolutionaries often do make large errors as they start off down a foreign path, and the nature of politics and politicians means compromise and to some extent centralised thinking (sitting in a room with other people and thinking that you run the country is certainly going to warp you into believing you can control things successfully if you say it enough), but fundamentally Thatcher seemed to get it, that freedom works and that free minds, free men and free markets lead to great and wonderful things. She took Britain down a path that it had not trodden for a long long time.
In doing so, in moving toward a system that genuinely helps the poorest and the disadvantaged, the weak, the minority and the underdog, Mrs T gained the everlasting hate of all those that claim to want these things whilst using the dead hand of the state to slowly choke them off. Their ire was surely cemented not just by her winning the argument, but by winning it so convincingly that she never lost an election. Even her rivals – the Labour party born from the Trade Union movement – adopted and keep to this day the Thatcherite views that she founded, albeit in a lite form.
Mrs Thatcher found opposition too from the wealthy elites, who realised the danger they faced from the system she was bringing in. She found hatred from her opponents who realised she was bringing in a system that would do all the things they claimed they wanted without giving them any of the power they hoped that would come with it, but she won respect from the ordinary people of Britain, the workers, the strivers, the aspirational. With her convictions, her belief and most importantly her commitment to an ideology that picks up the worst off and gives them a fighting chance she changed a nation, she changed hearts and minds and she turned around a country that was on the point of collapse. Perfect she was not, but my god is she the best we have ever had.