By Pieter Cranenbroek, International Politics Blogger
Margaret Thatcher may be dead but her legacy lives on. Good for her, bad for us.
When she rose to power 35 years ago she was determined to reverse “the corrosive and corrupting effects of socialism”. However, it has become abundantly clear that her policies were the start of a liberal society that is exactly that: corrosive and corrupting. If we want to live in a fairer society, it is not just our political system we have to alter; we have to change our thinking as well.
In the late 1970s, Thatcher introduced Britain to neo-liberal thinking. Her policies profoundly changed European business culture and led to a profit maximisation obsession that has gripped our society for the past 30 years. The idea that the only purpose of a company is to make money for its shareholders has caused a dehumanisation of the labour force. Companies see employees nowadays as a means to achieve huge profits rather than people trying to make a living.
Liberals the world over have become obsessed with the economy, believing that if figures say there is economic growth then all is well with society. This logic has prompted companies and banks to become bigger than states and we have all recently experienced its distorting effects on society. Something is seriously wrong when you have created a situation in which financial institutions in the private sector have become ‘too big to fail’. This is not the kind of power we should allow companies and banks to have.
Profit over people
Thatcher thus kicked off a campaign of profit over people. She closed the mines for purely economic reasons without offering workers in these regions an alternative to making a living. The fact that she was prepared to use the army against her own citizens is exemplary for her alliance with the greedy and illustrates that money meant more to her than the people she was supposed to serve.
In a similar way, the privatisation boom was a tool to make the economy look better on paper at the expense of massive lay-offs in the lower strata of the workforce. In a matter of years she effectively wiped out 15 per cent of Britain’s industrial base and promoted social polarisation like no one before. Her ideological son, Cameron, has proved all too eager to continue this Tory policy as he sacrificed the NHS, not for the benefit of the people, not because doctors recommended it, but for the elite group attending his banquets.
In the world of neo-liberalists, privatisation is the answer to all our problems because everything is about efficiency and profit. However, by selling off public services to the private sector, the Conservatives have diminished the welfare state piece by piece as privatisation has inevitably led to a spectacular fall in quality of these services. In addition, with profitability being the sole purpose, enough is never enough.
It is unthinkable that companies will accept smaller profits in order to prioritise paying better wages to employees or preserving the environment. You’d think that multinationals like McDonald’s which make billions of profit every year can afford to pay their employees a living wage. You’d think that utility companies like British Gas can afford to keep energy prices at an acceptable rate instead of making a £600 million profit. In the words of Ghandi: “The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.”
Greed has no limits and it is certainly not going to regulate itself. Liberals are a fan of the ‘invisible hand’, a concept coined by Adam Smith to describe the self-regulating behaviour of markets. However, if such a hand exists, then people must have realised by now that all it does is giving us the finger.
No government intervention means no rules. It is for this reason that we currently have to label ‘fair trade’ products when it would make much more sense to label products that were produced through exploitation. We need rules to make things fairer. Even in a first world country like Britain, 21 per cent of all workers do not earn a living wage. More than one in five. Moreover, it is the responsibility of the government to ensure that public services are well provided. Leaving health care service and utility companies to the private sector may be profitable to some people in the short run, but could prove disastrous for everyone in the long run.
Russell Brand and many others have recently urged people to start a revolution in order to change our current political system, but will that be enough? In fact, is our political system even the real problem? Isn’t it our collective mentality that requires changing?
Replacing one system that supports a profit-obsessed society with another won’t be of much help. We should promote a type of responsible entrepreneurship, one that is not blinded by profit but instead considers the environment and pays decent wages to its employees. Albert Einstein once said: “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”
It’s time we changed our thinking and buried Thatcher’s legacy.