Wednesday, May 04, 2005

"I owe nothing to Women's Lib"

Today is the anniversary of a momentous event that deeply influenced the post-war era and forcefully re-shaped the world we live in, practically and intellectually: the election of Margaret Thatcher. I have enormous respect both for her opinions and for her courage in pursuing these unpopular ideas and policies in face of enormous resistance. As Prime Minister she was a visionary who understood the problems Great Britain and the West were facing better than any of her contemporaries and she remains my ideal for what a leader should be.
This single-mindedness is evidenced to spectacular effect by one of her most famous speeches. Amidst rampant speculation that her government was about to change course on tough economic policies, in the tradition of Edward Heath's 1972 U-turn, during a speech at the 1980 Conservative Party conference she countered: "To those who are waiting with bated breath for that favourite media catch-phrase, the U-turn, I have only one thing to say: You turn, if you want to. The lady's not for turning." And she kept her word.
I am currently reading a fantastic book about the post-war development of economic policy around the world and the changing balance between States and Markets in economic activity. The book is "The Commanding Heights" by Daniel Yergin and Joseph Stanislaw. For a person my age (22) the authors really put into perspective what determination it took to impose the policies that eventually managed to beat stagflation. For instance, privatisation, which nowadays is supported by all mainstream political parties (or should be) and is taken almost for granted as the best policy, was unheard of in the early 1980's. It had never been done before and there were no precedents to turn to, to assess potential risks and problems. The operations both to prepare State-owned companies for the market and to actually sell them were colossal and quite literally involved the building of the massive machinery which enables markets to run smoothly. At the time, rejecting pure Keynesian Economics for Hayek and Friedman, was an incredibly courageous thing to do.
Therefore, it behooves all of us, who are fortunate enough to have had her as a world leader and to have benefited from her policies and (more importantly) from the intellectual revolution she spawned, to reflect on her achievements and to avoid taking for granted her contributions to the progress of humanity.

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