When Margaret Thatcher was elected Prime Minister of Great Britain in 1979, she wanted to change the economy of her country. “Pennies don’t fall from heaven,” she said in an NPR interview. “On earth, they have to be earned.” (http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=176640365&m=176640346)
She wanted to change the nature of her country, maybe of the world in an interview with David Frost, she quoted “a world finance leader” who said, according to Thatcher, “if you can roll back the frontiers of socialism, and roll forward the frontiers of freedom, other nations will follow.” (http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=176640365&m=176640346) Thatcher loved the quote, and may have used it to guide her economic policies over her historic years as leader of her country.
According to Malcolm Dean, a writer for The Guardian, offered harsh criticisms of Thatcher’s policies. From the moment she was elected, Dean noted, “she made it clear she would be cutting benefits and squeezing public services. Dean said that Thatcher said that “public expenditure is at the heart of Britain’s present economic difficulties.” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2013/apr/09/margaret-thatcher-policies-poor-society). She is also said to have said, “There is no such thing as society” in a magazine interview she gave to Woman’s Own Magazine in 1987.
It is no surprise, then, that she was a good friend of the late President Ronald Reagan; the two of them were friends, and from where this writer sits, is was his economic policies, in particular his “trickle down” theory of economics, that helped begin this nation’s fall into economic disrepair. He was entranced with Thatcher and was said to have learned much from her. Under Thatcher, the poor, especially pensioners and children, were worst his by her economics, and housing was the worst hit service. Dean notes in his article that under Thatcher, child poverty more than doubled. Her policies, noted Tory minister Sir Ian Gilmour, was disastrous for far too many people. “The sacrifice imposed on the poor produced nothing miraculously except for the rich,” Gilmour is reported to have said.
This writer is unsure of just how much Thatcher influenced Reagan, but influence was definitely there. Thatcher wanted smaller government; one of the things she did was to break the backs of trade unions in Great Britain because she believed their propensity to strike adversely affected economic growth. The government didn’t “owe” the poor anything; they were not to be given “pennies from heaven,” but would have to earn them. It seems Ronald Reagan believed that as well. He adopted the “trickle down” economic theory, a term and concept that actually began in the 1920s, and pushed it to a wildly excited Conservative party. The theory is that if taxes are cut for the wealthy, they will earn more, invest in “productive economic activities,” and will stimulate growth and more tax revenues from the wealthy which will then “trickle down” to the poor.
It has not worked, and according to some in Great Britain, Thatcher’s policies ripped apart any possibility for economic stability for the poor and made or caused the divide between rich and poor to grow ever wider. The same frightful condition exists in our own country, the chasm between rich and poor having become so wide that many call our nation an oligarchy, not a democracy at all.
Thatcher was also said to be an opponent of feminism; a reporter this writer heard on NPR this morning said that she said she hoped feminism failed. She did not have other women in her cabinet, and was unapologetic about it. She had crashed through the glass ceiling but it seems she didn’t care to help anyone else do it.
Is the apparent fact that Thatcher had so little regard for those who struggle the most – the poor, the elderly, and women – the reason she was so tough? While her toughness is admirable, when it is juxtaposed against her apparent insensitivity for the downcast is not so admirable at all.
In these days, the “s” word, “socialism,” is thrown around like it is a deadly germ. It is as hated a word and/or concept as is “liberalism.” And yet, many who call themselves Christian follow a man named Jesus who apparently had great disgust for the Roman economy which created in like fashion as do countries today, a great gulf between the rich and the poor. It seems from the reading of this writer that Jesus advocated for the poor, for “the least of these,” and yet, Thatcher, Reagan, and perhaps many of today’s politicians, regardless of party, don’t share that sentiment. They derive a different hermeneutic from the same texts that I read …and their interpretation allows for the casting aside of the least of these with little conscience. Or so it seems and feels that way.
As a woman, I admire Thatcher’s strength, but her comments that show a clear and distinct disregard for those who struggle, frankly, are troubling. Ultimate strength is probably the capacity and desire to help and empower “the least of these” while forging ahead a strong economy. It seems that unless “the least” are more included in the capability to make a decent, dignified living, one doesn’t have a healthy country or economy at all. She was dubbed “The Iron Lady,” but her policies leave me feeling that her iron was a tad rusted…
A candid observation …