Chapter 6: Saved by a War Thatcherism and its Useful Enemies
(Previous posts here, Sarah’s posts here.)
“Creating a useful crisis is part of what this will be about….[s]o the first bunch of communications that the public might hear might be more negative than I would be inclined to talk about (otherwise). Yeah, we need to invent a crisis and that’s not just an act of courage, there’s some skill involved”
Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady.
She’s presented by many as one of conservatism’s patron saints, a great leader who, through sheer force of will, pushed back against the excesses of the post-WWII British welfare state. Yet her sweeping program of Friedmanite deregulation and rollback of worker’s rights has also been dubbed by many commentators a ‘revolution’. Though seemingly incongruous, the term is fitting; as the National Review famously declared in 1987, Thatcher’s ultimate goal was “nothing less than the reshaping of British political and economic life as that has been understood since 1945, by Labour and Tory alike. [emph. mine]”
Klein outlines in Chapter 6 how Thatcher used the political capital raised via the war in the Falklands to not only unite the nation, but to finance her radical neoliberal economic reform agenda, despite a previously skeptical public. Klein also notes that the controversial yet popular military endeavour coincided with the penning by Friedman of a passage that she says “best summarizes the Shock Doctrine: “Only a crisis–actual or perceived–produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.””
The so-called ‘crisis hypothesis’ was utilized to great effect, at least in a political context, by Thatcher, according to Klein:
“Between 1084 and 1988, the [British] government privatized, among others, British Telecom, British Gas, British Airways, British Airport Authority and British Steel, while it sold its shares in British Petroleum.
“Much as the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, would take an unpopular president and hand him an opportunity to launch a massive privatization initiative (in Bush’s case, the privatization of security, warfare and reconstruction), Thatcher used her war to launch the first mass privatization auction in a Western democracy.”
As Sarah notes, despite their widely-accepted status as heroic conservative icons, pro-market radicals like Thatcher and US president Ronald Reagan enacted their policies in direct opposition to conservatism. A so-called ‘conservative’ brazenly utilized a crisis to enact revolutionary change–coopting political theory traditionally the domain of the far left. In a post highlighting the days events at the ongoing G20 summit, Sarah points out that it was conservative leaders Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy who were pushing for stricter regulations of global financial markets, rather than left-of-centre leaders like Barack Obama or Gordon Brown:
For Sarkozy to call for giving capitalism a conscience–well, it underlines the difference between French conservatism and American, but it also points out that state regulation and control over capital markets is not actually a shocking, strange idea, and that the rapid deregulation was actually the revolutionary idea.
Rather than promoting pragmatic, prudent conservative economic platforms, Thatcher (and Reagan) instead grabbed hold of the most extreme of Milton Friedman’s theories and ran with them Jamaican sprinter style. The fact that ‘socialists’ like Tony Blair eagerly took the baton passed to them by purported ideological opponents and carried it over the finish line only serves to further illustrate the fact that adherence to radical free market economic theory transcends the traditional left-right political axis–and, ultimately, that Thatcher’s revolution was indeed sucessful beyond her wildest expectations.
Next–Chapter 7: The New Doctor Shock Economic Warfare Replaces Dictatorship