Margaret Thatcher’s economic policies, we are often told, were cruel, harsh, immoral. In fact she was a deeply moral thinker, and the moral superiority of the free market was central to her thinking. She made the case for it like no other major political leader.
Before Thatcher, the Conservative party had more or less acquiesced to the Labour view of the economy — as a fixed lump of wealth to be parceled out to whatever interest groups spoke up most loudly. But Thatcher freed up markets to vastly increase national wealth. There were, she declared, “only two political philosophies, noly two ways of governing a country. One is the Socialist-Marxist way in which what matters is not the people but the State. In which decisions affecting people’s lives are taken from them, instead of being taken by them. In which property and savings are taken from the people instead of being more widely held among them. In which directives replace incentives. In which the State is the master of the individual, instead of the servant.” The other, she said, was, “A free economic system” which “not only guarantees the freedom of each individual citizen, it is the surest way to increase the prosperity of the nation as a whole.”
The no-nonsense small-town grocer’s daughter learned, by careful study of the work of F.A. Hayek and Milton Friedman, both of whose lectures she attended, that her instincts about hard work, market competition, thrift and a sound currency were exactly the blast of oxygen Britain needed to save it from slow asphyxiation by the trade unions.