Margaret Thatcher, freedom fighter, at 87

The discredited Left can find little to say, save that she was “divisive.” How refreshing, then, to hear the enthusiasm in the equally widespread reports that former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who died Monday at age 87, managed in her remarkable 11-year tenure at Downing Street to vanquish socialism and restore the free market to Britain.

She was indeed a remarkable leader who did what many considered impossible. Unfortunately, these good-hearted reports could seem to declare victory in a struggle yet ongoing.

Yes, socialism calls for collective ownership of lands and factories, and Mrs. Thatcher’s success at privatizing many state-controlled industries — British Telecom, British Gas, Rolls-Royce, British Airways, British Coal, British Steel, the water companies and electric system, even privatizing some public housing — breathed new life into the foundering economy of the United Kingdom in the 1980s, even as her victory in the Falklands restored much of England’s lost prestige and credibility.

But tax-funded old-age pensions, tax-subsidized housing and schooling (no matter how enervating), and especially a sharply graduated income tax designed to punish the wealthy and shower the poor with the earnings of others (no matter how this discourages work and job creation) are also basic tenets of socialism, and those remain stubborn fixtures in Britain, as well as here.

What history must decide is whether the economic boom of the freer Western economies in the 1980s — juxtaposed against the dramatic collapse of the decrepit yet still murderous failed experiment of the Soviet Union — marked a turning of the tide, or a mere breathing space before another wave of ascendant state socialism.

Biographies note as though it’s an oddity that Margaret Thatcher, who rose to champion wealth creation, to stare down England’s destructive unions, to single-handedly launch the fleet that defeated the tin-pot dictators of Argentina, — “England’s most formidable woman since its greatest sovereign, Elizabeth I,” as George Will would have it — was born the daughter of a greengrocer.

She grew up in the family’s apartment above the shop, learning the values of thrift, discipline and industry as the dutiful daughter of Alfred Roberts, a grocer and Methodist lay preacher who eventually became mayor of Grantham, Lincolnshire.

Thatcher said she learned much about the world simply by studying her father’s business. “Before I read a line from the great liberal economists, I knew from my father’s accounts that the free market was like a vast sensitive nervous system, responding to events and signals all over the world to meet the ever-changing needs of peoples in different countries, from different classes, of different religions, with a kind of benign indifference to their status,” she wrote in her memoirs.

“The economic history of Britain for the next 40 years confirmed and amplified almost every item of my father’s practical economics. In effect, I had been equipped at an early age with the ideal mental outlook and tools of analysis for reconstructing an economy ravaged by state socialism.”

If her background seems odd, it’s only because the current ruling political classes, in America as well as England, are so lacking in men and women of character who learned from childhood to think of businesses not as cash cows, to be looted at will in the name of “social justice,” but as engines of wealth and job creation, guided by hard-working families for whom dinner on the table depends on struggling to eke out that little 2 percent profit each month.

A disciple of Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek, Thatcher promoted a program of sound money, laissez-faire, social fluidity and upward mobility through self-reliance and other “vigorous virtues,” Mr. Will notes.

Britons defied expectations by responding with enthusiasm. In 1979, she won the most lopsided election since 1945. Then she won twice more — something that hadn’t been accomplished in a century and a half.

And now the Iron Lady is gone.

Will the free market she championed prevail? It would be easy to say “time will tell” — easy, but wrong.

In fact, the verdict is already in. It was in three centuries ago, after the Pilgrims at Plymouth spent their first two seasons starving because no one would work the communal fields knowing their lazy neighbors would get an equal share of the crop, until finally in 1623, out of desperation, Gov. Bradford “assigned to every family a parceel of land. This had very good success; for it made all hands very industrious,” whereafter “Instead of famine, now God gave them plentie, and the face of things was changed, to the rejoysing of the harts of many, for which they blessed God. And … any generall wante of famine hath not been amongest them since to this day.”

Ronald Reagan is gone. Margaret Thatcher is gone. They were only politicians, after all, wrestling with “the art of the possible.” But the immutable rules of economics that they championed live on. We defy them at our peril.

2 Comments to “Margaret Thatcher, freedom fighter, at 87”

  1. LiberTarHeel Says:

    I am conflicted over Lady Thatcher’s legacy. She was, after all, a politician ( a class whose feet, we see daily, are made of a special mix of clay).

    For a viewpoint from a libertarian close to the scene, see this, by Dr Sean Gabb:

    http://libertarianalliance.wordpress.com/2013/04/08/the-legacy-of-margaret-thatcher/

  2. Jake_Witmer Says:

    ON EMANCIPATION as it relates to Margaret Thatcher’s recent death

    Let me first state that I believe “Send in the Waco Killers” to be one of the finest introductions to consistent and sufficiently brave libertarianism to ever exist. Let me further say that Frederick Hayek (in my opinion) is the greatest Austrian economist, and really not precisely an Austrian economist at all, because he was more consistent and better educated than they were (google: “Why I am not a Conservative” as well as his many writings on emergence). My views are close to Bryan Caplan’s views on this subject (google: “Why I am not an Austrian Economist”). It’s very clear that Thatcher was influenced by Hayek (requiring her staff to read his work “The Constitution of Liberty”), whereas the influence was less clear on Ronald Reagan, who was more of an actor, drug warrior, and central bank puppet.

    The problem with politicians is their lack of the philosopher’s level of consistency. The Battlefield engineer of the Battle of Saratoga, Tadeusz Kosciusko, met with Thomas Jefferson, they became good friends, and Kosciusko convinced him that slavery was incompatible with the Declaration of Independence. He adopted that view, but claimed his finances wouldn’t let him free his slaves. Then, Kosciusko deeded his entire American estate to Jefferson for the purpose of allowing him to free his slaves. …Jefferson took the money, but still didn’t do it! …And so, a double standard was born in America: freedom and a high standard for conformist whites, and slavery and police brutality for nonconformist whites and negroes.

    This double-standard continued through the times of Henry David Thoreau, Lysander Spooner, and Frederick Douglass. (Thoreau, Spooner, and Douglass being, by far, the most consistent pro-liberty voices up to the time of Clay Conrad, Paul Butler, Jeffrey Abramson, and Vin Suprynowicz. Why do I leave out Rand, Rothbard, and others? Because they were not focused on Jury rights, and on active prevention of tyranny to the extent of the others. They explored the limits of the philosophical domain, without then saying “We’ve gone as far as we can go in this domain, now it’s time to put these ideas into practice.”)

    The double standard on race in America has split the entire nation of America, that Thatcher looked up to. It made her alliance with Reagan into an alliance where Reagan was the inferior, yet claimed to be the intellectual leader. Reagan actually increased the persecution of negroes in the USA, at a time when their persecution could have been ENDED. Reagan was no fan of individual rights, and he cursed America by turning its counter-culture toward statist collectivism, as a response to his grotesque “war on (some) drugs.”

    And this is the real problem with the kind of people who seek power. None of them are as good of people as the average, common green grocer. The average man who sees that Czolgosz shot the bankers’ president, and says “Good for him!” The common man hates politicians, and wants to be well rid of them. This is the essence of “the common law” and jury independence that underlies the strength of democratic institutions.

    This is why Paul Butler and Clay Conrad are not precisely “libertarians,” but are closer to “classical liberals.” (They mean the same thing, but the classical liberals wish to strategically engage the system, whereas the libertarians want to argue amongst themselves in supper clubs.) The classical “liberals” wish to engage the system, from a philosophically pure goal structure, which is informed by past successes and institutional memory; accepting compromise only as a last-ditch loss-prevention tactic, not as an initial strategy.

    Today, as in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, people like Paul Butler and Frank Turney (who sadly went unmentioned in Suprynowicz’ “Send in the Waco Killers”) are united in their hatred of the racist American police state. They are united in their desire to end prohibition. And they are united in having glimpsed the strategic line of thinking pioneered by Lao Tzu, “Freeborn John” Lilburne, Henry David Thoreau, Lysander Spooner, Frederick Douglass, and Cobden and Bright. The resistance continues today, in all hierarchical echelons, but at widely differing levels of strategic and tactical information. After all, in Academia, one can achieve a lot just by writing about abstract ideas, with no intentions or plans for actually implementing them. (This is a primary criticism I have of the Mises Institute, since both Jeffrey Tucker and Stephan Kinsella have publicly advocated getting kicked off of juries, and rendered powerless, as a superior course of action to getting seated on juries and returning “not guilty” verdicts for victimless crime offenses).

    The libertarian movement’s ineptitude in the arena of strategy leads to a libertarian movement that is totally disengaged, and generally unaware of how the political portion of society actually functions. The common man knows nothing of his power as a juror, and knows nothing of the long, hard-won, SUCCESSFUL battle for his right to be independent as a juror. The common man also knows nothing of the dirty tricks and double standards that eliminate libertarians from the ballot. The common man also sees that the libertarians who are in leadership positions also know nothing of these things, and fails to finance their embryonic efforts at accessing the ballot.

    The libertarian movement responds by lecturing the common man about the ultimate philosophical goals he should possess, without telling him “This is our plan for the next 6 months, and this is our plan for the next 6 years. You can gauge how serious we are by our report on what we’ve accomplished in six months.” The common man then deduces: “These libertarians aren’t serious about getting what they claim to desire. Their lack of seriousness will attract state attention to me, which I cannot afford to fight on my own. Their lack of seriousness will just blow up in my face if I make powerful political enemies by allying myself with them.” Often, this decision isn’t even consciously recognized, and such lackluster supporters claim interest without offering up any well-conceived solutions.

    So what of those who want real freedom in this lifetime, and refuse to accept either inconsistent politicians, and ivory-tower, strategically inept, navel-gazing libertarians?

    Well, that’s a good question.

    I suggest that there is a third, and viable, option. I suggest that we do what John Lilburne did: That we let no courthouse go unattended, that we occupy the front steps and public areas of every courthouse, armed to the teeth with jury rights pamphlets. I suggest that we view every infraction against purist voluntaryist libertarianism as an unacceptable personal affront. Within the prior two sentences is the full and complete, self-healing, gracefully-decaying, “nervous system of justice” approach that was advocated by Thatcher’s hero, Frederick Hayek.

    While we are handing out jury rights pamphlets, we should be advocating that people vote only to vote “do not retain” for all of the judicial elections, and “Libertarian” for all state legislative offices. Moreover, we should only financially contribute to Libertarian Party state legislative races that intend to campaign on a platform of jury independence, and “Veto all new laws.” That is the only way to shape the Libertarian Party into a serious political presence.

    No compromise, continual engagement.

    This strategy has worked in the past. This strategy starts off slow, and at first appears to be inconsequential. (The elected sociopaths, however, know it’s not inconsequential, and they are far more sophisticated than their libertarian opponents. This is why they listen to the judges and prosecutors when they cry for help, and arrest jury rights activists, whenever they think they can get away with it.) The media will not help us, until we force them to cover us by our continual public presence. However, if we commit ourselves to this strategic line of organization and “attack,” we will ultimately have what 40 Years of the Libertarian Party alone has not had: SUCCESS. MORE INDIVIDUAL FREEDOM, IN OUR LIFETIMES.

    It doesn’t matter whether this is done in New Hampshire, or in New York, or in Alaska, although if equally-applied, success will come in smaller states more easily than in larger ones (however, larger states may well have more people who can become dedicated activists).

    Moreover: this strategy does something the Libertarian Party could not do: it eliminates sociopaths and delusional power-seekers from the ranks of the Libertarian Party. The problem with offering a pathway to the ballot is that it attracts the worst kind of people, even in the Libertarian Party. However, if jury rights activism is a prerequisite to running for office, those kind of people will never perform such activism, or, if they do, they will be forced to recognize the power of true hierarchical “bottom to top” compassion, over top-to-bottom “command and control” strategy. In “bottom->up” or “emergent order” driven strategy, there is still a hierarchy or organization, but it is voluntarily-populated from the lowest level.
    (Some otherwise fine writers, such as Jim Davidson, seem to not comprehend this, when they criticize hierarchical structure itself.)

    There’s nothing wrong with merit-driven, voluntary, feedback-based leadership that was put into a position of power, by the voluntary will of many supporters. Such leadership continually engages in compassionate action, action which sets the unjustly-punished free from otherwise-impending punishment. Sociopaths will pretend to be in favor of this, but they will not perform the actions necessary to accomplish this.

    Psychologist Philip Zimbardo has recently pointed out that heroic leaders are necessary for a merciful, (libertarian) society that does not punish unjustly. Zimbardo is one of a troika of psychologists who researched the causes of the decay of civilization into tyranny. The others are Stanley Milgram, and Solomon Asch. These three researchers discovered that most people are ordinary conformists who will obey people who occupy authority positions. Combining their work with the work of Professor R. J. Rummel at the University of Hawaii, and James Kouri of the FBI, (as well as Frederick Hayek, and the “common sense” statements of the early political philosophers and free thinkers) another piece of the puzzle comes into view: The kind of people who frequently come into power are sociopaths. Their research explains why good people do evil, and hints toward the solution I’ve revealed here:
    1) Organized jury rights activism is the historically-successful and current-best pathway to a freer society.
    2) There is no “upper limit” to the amount of freedom to be gained from the prior suggested strategy. (ie: Following this strategy results in incrementally more freedom, up to the optimal level of individual freedom, a consistently-libertarian freedom.)

    The prior communication makes some very boastful claims, and this is good. Because those claims are boastful for a reason: they are true, and efforts to disprove them will be met with either failure (and increased freedom) or corrective scrutiny and criticism (informational enhancement of ongoing efforts). However, the prior communication doesn’t contain a detailed activism outline, and detailed plan for activism and response to retaliation. My coming book will accomplish that. Stay tuned, stay strong,

    –Jake

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