Theorists battle over Thatcher’s neoliberal legacy

The remains of Snowdown Colliery, outside Aylesham in east Kent. The colliery, which was dubbed Dante’s Inferno because of the depth, heat and humidity of its seam, closed in 1987 after the Thatcher government defeated Arthur Scargill’s National Union of Mineworkers. © Chris Whippet

The Thatcher-Reagan neoliberal revolution brought an explicit new approach to incentives to rich and poor: the latter saw their state-subsidised incomes eroded, while tax cuts and deregulation handed the wealthy loads more money.

Meanwhile, public services were subject to stricter spending controls and subsidies to state industries were cut or withdrawn under a British version of the structural adjustments meted out around the world by the IMF.

And we were told at the time that the lady was not for turning because there was no alternative. Or, at least, the alternative would be economic decline and relative poverty.

But a growing network of economists vocally debunk the neoliberal model, claiming it is only tenuously connected with economic reality.


The ghost of Keynes

Among them are the proponents of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), which is essentially an updated version of Keynesian theory.

Writing about MMT for New Economic Perspectives, Dale Pierce argues that, far from heralding a new age of modern capitalist democracy, Margaret Thatcher’s and Ronald Reagan’s neoliberalism has inflected on us policy by masochists and sadists. He said:

“The public policy reversal that began with Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan promised that the deregulation of capitalism would lead to greater shared prosperity for everyone.

“Today, even though the falsehood of this claim is brutally obvious, the same economic nostrums and stupidities that were used to justify it in the first place continue to be trotted out and paid homage to by a class of financial-media personalities who equate making a lot of money with understanding money. It does not seem to occur to them that financial criminals and practitioners of bank-fraud can get rich through sociopathy alone.”

From this perspective, the coalition government’s attacks on the welfare state could be seen as merely an extension of that sociopathic approach to public policy, particularly as the view grows that the coalition’s overall economic strategy lacks merit.


Ever decreasing circles

Indeed, George Osborne represents an increasingly small minority of pundits and economists who believe austerity has worked as intended. Even the IMF, not hitherto known for its leftist tendencies, has warned the government that it needs to change course.

Given the pain that the coalition’s welfare and NHS reforms are likely to cause, along with the drive to ‘make work pay’, this debate is central to the quality of millions of people’s lives.

The discussion about MMT, therefore, is well timed. Here’s Dale Pierce’s full article to help set the scene.



Peter a journalist with 30 years experience of freelance writing, UK national newspaper and magazine production roles, and business development. In 2007, he developed and launched a mainstream-style green consumer magazine in the UK, called GreenerLiving, as a means of promoting sustainable change ‘within the system’. GreenerLiving closed during the post-crash recession, but Peter went on to become managing editor of the international ethical business title, Ethical Performance. However, Peter felt that the CSR sector has not succeeded in changing corporate priorities anywhere near fast enough, and so I decided to leave the treadmill of corporate employment and debt accumulation to focus on my own projects. Now poorer but a billion million times happier, he writes on political, economic and social issues – usually seriously, but sometimes as satire. He's currently writing Psychopath Economics, a book about the logic of social and economic power, belief systems, and the rise and fall of societies. Peter is convinced that ordinary people must educate themselves and exercise their economic leverage if we are to avoid social and environmental destruction.

peterbatt has 165 posts and counting.See all posts by peterbatt

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