Throughout human history, men and women have struggled to tear themselves free from concentrated power and its ill effects. While many people in developed, democratic and capitalist countries often take their freedoms for granted, history is filled with tyrants and bullies who stand between citizens, their freedom and their prosperity.
Margaret Thatcher, Great Britain's prime minister between 1979 and 1990, understood perhaps better than any other leader in the modern world why governments ought not to have day-to-day control over the economic aspects of citizens' lives.
The reason for that limited approach to government is simple: governments already have 100 per cent of the political power. By necessity, a national government also has 100 per cent of a nation's military power. Thus, it is a grand mistake to also allow government involvement in the economic lives of citizens. Such involvement has often meant that citizens have nothing left -- not only figuratively, but often literally.
In Thatcher's lifetime, the most extreme example of the concentration of political, military and economic power was the Soviet Union. There, poverty was rampant and freedoms were non-existent.
In the West, less extreme forms of concentrated power existed but they nevertheless also produced disastrous consequences.
For example, pre-Thatcher, the United Kingdom's Labour party had long advocated state ownership of "the commanding heights of the economy." That was a 1918 phrase and program of action from Vladimir Lenin; in Canada, it was adopted by the Waffle wing of the New Democratic Party in the 1970s.
In practice in the United Kingdom, this meant government ownership of major sectors and industries: those in the production of coal, iron and steel and which ran the railroads, utilities, and international telecommunications.
In the 1970s, much of the British economy was tied to government and thus to politicians' decisions. That, and laws that gave labour leaders extreme leverage over state companies, meant regular and lengthy strikes. Strikers included miners, train staff, hospital workers, garbage collectors, truck drivers and even grave-diggers who refused to bury the dead.
The result was economic paralysis, stagnation and weakened prosperity. In 1976, the economy was so poor that Britain, once a world-spanning power, borrowed money from the International Monetary Fund to support the British pound.
Margaret Thatcher changed all that. After her 1979 election win, she set about freeing Britain's economy. That included an attack on inflation (reduced to 2.4 per cent by 1986 from 22 per cent six years before); getting public finances under control; and cuts to high marginal tax rates (down to 25 per cent from a pre-Thatcher high of 83 per cent).
The Iron Lady also promoted private enterprise. That meant privatizing state ownership of companies in the aerospace and shipbuilding sectors. It later included returning British Telecom, British Airways, Rolls-Royce, parts of British Steel, Leyland, the airports, and later, gas, water and electric utilities to the private sector where they belonged.
Thatcher attacked over-regulation and labour agreements that dampened the creation of new businesses, more jobs and a wider prosperity. Trade union members were given more power over union leaders (thanks to the introduction of the secret ballot, among other reforms). The British Prime Minister also cut off taxpayer subsidies to failing industries such as money-losing coal mines; she sold government housing to the (often poor) inhabitants so they could finally have property of their own and a real stake in Britain's future.
All of it worked to restore Britain to prosperity. While Britain is currently in recession (as is much of Europe), it is better off relative to many European countries, despite past attempts by the previous Labour government to undo some Thatcher policies on deficits and taxes.
Thatcher's influence was profound. It resulted from her clear understanding about what works in the real world. That understanding had its genesis in youthful observances of how her father ran his small grocery store.
As Lady Thatcher wrote in her 1993 book, The Downing Street Years: "I knew from my father's accounts that the free market system was like a vast sensitive nervous system." That system, wrote Thatcher, was able to respond to events and signals all over the world. Thus, the system could "meet the ever-changing needs of peoples in different countries, different classes, of different religions, with a kind of benign indifference to their status."
That open system, Thatcher rightly asserted, was much preferable to top-down attempts where "governments acted on a much smaller store of conscious information and, by contrast, were themselves 'blind forces' blundering about in the dark, and obstructing the operations of markets rather than improving them."
As Thatcher concluded, "the [negative] economic history of Britain for the next 40 years confirmed and amplified almost every item of my father's practical economics." Indeed--until Margaret Thatcher redirected and transformed Great Britain.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher leaving 10 Downing Street after the Conservative Party won a convincing majority in the General Election.
Baroness Margaret Thatcher reunited with her husband Sir Denis Thatcher, this afternoon when he returned home after spending the last few weeks recovering from his six-hour coronary by-pass operation. * Sir Denis the husband of former Conservative Prime Minister Baroness Thatcher, who is 87-years-old, said he was looking forward to a relaxing weekend in their home in Belgravia, West London. 15/6/03: His family said that the 88-year-old had been readmitted to the Royal Brompton Hospital in London for tests following major heart surgery in January. *30/10/03: Baroness Thatcher will be joined by her twin children, Carol and Mark, at a memorial service to pay tribute to her late husband, Sir Denis Thatcher. Sir Denis died in June, aged 88 having undergone major heart surgery six months earlier from which it appeared he had made a good recovery.
David Montgomery/Getty Images)British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, circa 1985. (Photo by David Montgomery/Getty Images) (Photo by David Montgomery/Getty Images)
Margaret Thatcher and Chancellor Helmut Kohl of West Germany at ease in the grounds as they had three hours of 'relaxed and very friendly' talks at Chequers, the Prime Minister's country residence. They agreed more emphasis should be laid on the warmth of Anglo-German relations.
Baroness Thatcher and Conservative leader David Cameron meet for dinner at the Goring Hotel in Victoria, south-west London.
Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh sit with the Knights and Ladies of the Garter in the Waterloo Room at Windsor Castle before a Garter Service at St George's Chapel in the castle grounds. * The Knights and Ladies of The Most Noble Order of the Garter are, from left: front row, The Duke of Grafton, The King of Spain, The Queen of Denmark, The Duke of Gloucester, The Princess Royal, The Duke of Edinburgh, The Queen, The Prince of Wales, The Duke of Kent, Grand Duke Jean of Luxembourg, The Queen of the Netherlands, The King of Norway. Second row; Page of Honour The Honorable John Bowes-Lyon, Sir Edward Heath, The Duke of Devonshire, Lord Sainsbury of Preston Candover, The Duke of Wellington, The Chancellor Lord Carrington, Lord Richardson of Duntisbourne, Lord Bramall, Viscount Ridley, Lord Kingsdown, Baroness Thatcher, Page of Honour Lord Carnegie. Third row; Lord Inge, The Duke of Abercorn, Lord Ashburton, Sir Edmund Hilary, Sir Timothy Coleman, Sir William Gladstone and Sir Anthony Acland.
Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands (l) and Prince Claus (2nd from right) with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at 10 Downing Street.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher with Welsh Secretary Peter Walker at Clydach Vale in Rhondda Valley, where she saw derelict land being reclaimed as part of a factory development.
Queen Beatrix and Prince Claus of the Netherlands meet with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at Downing Street during their state visit to Britain.
File photo dated 17/06/07 of Margaret Thatcher and the Duke of York as a hand-written note by Lady Thatcher appears to show how she grappled with her response to the Duke of York's deployment as part of the Falklands task force.
EMBARGOED TO 0001 FRIDAY MARCH 22 File photo dated 01/10/88 of Prime Minster Margaret Thatcher with Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe as Lady Thatcher's 1982 private papers include a number of brief mentions of figures who would go on to play a significant role in public and political life. They include an early meeting with Robert Mugabe, who had been elected as Prime Minister of Zimbabwe in 1980.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, watched by her husband Denis, lays a wreath among the hundreds of other floral tributes near the turn stile area of the Bradford City football ground, Yorkshire, where many of the 52 victims of the tragedy were found.
During the second day of their State visit to Britain, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and Prince Claus are greeted by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at 10 Downing Street, London, for luncheon.
Conservative MP Margaret Thatcher (the future British Prime Minister), Secretary of State for Education and Science.
Unsuccessful Conservative candidate for Dartford, Margaret Hilda Roberts, 26, on the day of her wedding to Denis Thatcher at Wesley's Chapel, in London.
A popular event in the two-day programme of the Conservative Women's Conference was the address on education by Margaret Thatcher, Education Secretary.
Margaret Thatcher enjoying a chat with dancers from the Red Army Ensemble -- Moscow Military District, at the Royal Albert Hall.
Unsuccessful Conservative candidate for Dartford, Margaret Roberts, 26, at her wedding to 36-year-old Denis Thatcher at Wesley's Chapel, in London.
Prime Minister, Edward Heath sports a smile which lasted during a three-minute ovation he received at the opening of the annual Conservative conference at the Winter Gardens. Sharing the platform with him is Margaret Thatcher, Secretary for Education and Science.
Margaret Thatcher, Conservative MP, receives a kiss from her husband Denis.
Conservative Party leader Margaret Thatcher, at working her office at the House of Commons.
Conservative MP Margaret Thatcher, 49, in her Chelsea home kitchen, before making her challenge for the Conservative Party leadership and a place in political history.
Former California Governor Ronald Reagan presenting a silver dollar medallion to Opposition Leader Margaret Thatcher when he visited her in her House of Commons office.
Margaret Thatcher speaking at the Conservative Local Government Conference at Caxton Hall, London, when she angrily accused the Government of having tried to whip up non-existent emotions in the referendum campaigns.
Margaret Thatcher, spokesperson on Education in the Conservative Shadow Cabinet, at the Houses of Parliament.
Margaret and Denis Thatcher get away from it all with their 25-year-old twins, Mark and Carol, by strolling through the grounds of Scotney Castle, Kent where Mrs Thatcher has a National Trust flat. She is relaxing before the battle ahead to become the first female Prime Minster.
Conservative Party leader Margaret Thatcher in a jubilant mood outside her Chelsea home, after Tory victories in by-elections at two former Labour strongholds - Workington and Walsall North.
Margaret and Denis Thatcher with their children, Mark and Carol, at their Chelsea home on the day of their silver wedding anniversary.
File photo dated 26/4/1982 of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Wide divisions within the Conservative party over how the Government should respond to Argentina's invasion of the Falklands are revealed today as Margaret Thatcher's 1982 private papers are made public.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher wears protective clothing as she tours the premises of Vacuum Interrupters Ltd.
Margaret Thatcher waves from the doorstep of Number 10 Downing Street in Whitehall, London, on the day of the General Election.
Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher in a thoughtful mood when she hosted her party's press conference in London, as the 1979 General Election campaign entered its final week.
Britain's first women Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher arrives at no.10 Downing Street to take up office following the Conservative victory in the general election.
A jubilant Margaret Thatcher acknowledging the standing ovation after her speech on the final day of the Conservative Party Conference at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher facing an enthusiastic reception from well-wishers outside No 10 Downing Street, in London, on her return from the Commons, where she told MPs talks on a surrender by Argentina of the Falkland Islands were in progress.
Margaret Thatcher addressing a crowd at Stoneleigh near Coventry wearing a garland presented to her by an Asian constituent.
Margaret Thatcher with her husband Denis greets supporters at a rally in Fleetwood during her campaign visit of the North West.
Conservative party leader Margaret Thatcher with 16 year old Rother Valley schoolboy, William Hague, after he received a standing ovation from delegates at the Conservative Party conference in Blackpool.
10th JUNE: On this day in 1983 Margaret Thatcher won a landslide victory to start her second term of power. The window of success frames the jubilant Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher waving to well-wishers after her election win. At Tory Party headquarters, she told flag-waving supporters "My victory is greater than I had dared to hope".
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher looks pensive as she awaits the arrival of King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV of Tonga at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher returning to 10 Downing Street after winning the election. Instead of entering her official residence, she insisted on walking to the end of the street and the corner of Whitehall to shake hands with well-wishers.
Ronald Reagan has a word in the ear of Margaret Thatcher on the day that Thatcher becomes the longest-serving Prime Minister in the 20th century.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, left, with American President Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher with French President Francois Mitterrand at the Chapter House, Canterbury Cathedral, when the Channel Fixed Link Treaty was signed by the foreign secretaries.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher gives a three-fingered salute outside 10 Downing Street as she begins her third successive term of office following the Conservative victory in the general election.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and French President Francois Mitterand at Canterbury Cathedral for the signing of the Channel Fixed Link Treaty.
Left to right: Queen Elizabeth II, American President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at Buckingham Palace when they attended a special banquet hosted by the Queen following the London Economic Summit.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is joined by Queen Elizabeth II and five former PMs at 10 Downing Street, London, as she hosts a dinner celebrating the 250th anniversary of the residence becoming the London home of Prime Ministers. (L-R) James Callaghan, Lord Home, Thatcher, Lord Stockton, the Queen, Lord Wilson and Edward Heath.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her husband Denis lead off the dancing during the Victory Ball at the Empress Hall, Blackpool.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her husband Denis on the doorstep of 10 Downing Street, London, ten years after they moved in, following the 1979 general election.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher outside 10 Downing Street, in London, with her son Mark, daughter-in-law Diane, and two-month-old grandson Michael.