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A criticism of the late, great Margaret Thatcher, prime minister of Great Britain from 1979 to 1990, echoes the digs at her political friend and ally Ronald Reagan: that she was an uncaring, dogmatic political ideologue. In 1986, The Sunday Times wrote “The Queen reportedly … believes that Mrs. Thatcher's Conservative Party Government lacks compassion and should be more caring toward less privileged members of society.”
Open-ended and unfocused compassion should not guide public policy; rather, governments should guide policies by whether they protect an individual's rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness.
But let’s consider for a minute how Thatcher’s goals and policies stack up against more “compassionate” politicians, conservative or otherwise.
Thatcher understood that Britain’s economy in the late 1970s was stagnating because of socialist redistribution of wealth and heavy-handed regulations placed on enterprises. Unions , backed by government, could extort from employers unsustainably high wages and benefits and demand crippling work workplace rules. Thatcher privatized industries like air travel, telephone, gas, and electric. She cut the top tax rate on earned income from over 80 percent down to 40 percent. She tamed the unions. And government revenues actually went up as the economy grew, while the national debt as a percentage of GDP went down. In the 1980s Britain’s economy grew and strengthened.
Now look at the results of the more “caring,” dogmatic socialist policies in Greece. That country is bankrupt. The production of wealth has been so penalized by government that there is little wealth left to redistribute. People demonstrate in the streets about government austerity, but what’s the alternative? Do like the government of Cyprus and steal what money people still have deposited in banks?
Is it really “compassionate” to expropriate other peoples’ money, to penalize producers, to tell the recipients of state-stolen goods that they are entitled to such redistribution, and then blame the expropriated wealth creators for the misery that ensues?
Thatcher observed in a 1976 interview that “Socialist governments traditionally do make a financial mess. They always run out of other people's money.” Thatcher’s goal was to restore individual liberty to the citizens of her country. It turns out that this is one of the most compassionate things one can do—if economic opportunity and prosperity are one’s goals.
So here’s to Margaret Thatcher, who helped return to her people some of the liberties they had lost, who stood against Soviet tyranny, and who made the world a better place in the process!
Hudgins is director of advocacy and a senior scholar at The Atlas Society.
For further reading:
*Edward Hudgins, “ Brits Escalate Global War on Producers. ” January 8, 2012.
*Edward Hudgins, “ Obama’s Grab-Bag Socialism. ” April 4, 2009.
Edward Hudgins is research director at the Heartland Institute and former director of advocacy and senior scholar at The Atlas Society.