Did the Iron Lady help kill capitalism?

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The recent news of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s death affords an opportunity to open the issue of who will be remembered as significant players in the death of capitalism. Mrs. Thatcher’s image as a beacon for freedom may seem secure among mainstream media for the moment but to objective observers it is looking increasingly likely that in the long term the blind passion for “free markets” she shared with the global plutocratic class she abetted will be understood as the beginning of the final chapter for the most productive economic arrangement in history. (Use of the term “productive” here is not necessarily equivalent to “good.”)

The recent news of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s death affords an opportunity to open the issue of who will be remembered as significant players in the death of capitalism. Mrs. Thatcher’s image as a beacon for freedom may seem secure among mainstream media for the moment but to objective observers it is looking increasingly likely that in the long term the blind passion for “free markets” she shared with the global plutocratic class she abetted will be understood as the beginning of the final chapter for the most productive economic arrangement in history. (Use of the term “productive” here is not necessarily equivalent to “good.”)

This assertion comes not from some ideological axe but by simply taking note of the carnage that unregulated wealth of the kind Mrs. Thatcher undeniably favored has brought to societies and ecosystems worldwide. The demise of the term “capitalism” may not be inevitable but the course currently being pursued in its name points toward systemic collapse, followed by repressive fascism and/or violent revolution. A third possibility, that of peaceful revolution, is currently blocked through the effective freezing of government by the forces of gigantic corporations which continue to prove themselves out of the control of human beings.

Much can be divined from a politician’s closest allies. Nixon had the boldly lying Kissinger, probably responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands in Southeast Asia; Clinton had Robert Rubin and Lawrence Summers, pivotal eviscerators of financial regulation; George W. Bush was host to the conniving kingmaker Karl Rove and the likes of John Ashcroft, Donald Rumsfeld, and Dick Cheney.

For Maggie Thatcher the key that turned the lock was U.S. President Ronald Reagan. Together they championed neoliberal economics around the world by reducing governments’ ability to control business corporations. According to a 2009 paper by the Political Economy Research Institute “Thatcher and Reagan both swiftly implemented programs of reduced taxes, privatization of social services (especially Thatcher), anti-unionism, de-regulation, and incentives for business.” The elevation of policies considered fringe since the days of Herbert Hoover and the great worldwide Depression was an opportunity not wasted by those at the top of a system now containing not only the power to accumulate massive wealth but also the motive to concentrate its resources against any countervailing force or threat of restraint.

The enduring influence of this trans-Atlantic pair can be detected not only in the continuation of economic policies that routinely bring common citizens into the streets, but also in our daily culture. To a world enthralled by the expansion of consumerism, the Iron Lady and the Gipper sang a seductive ode to Narcissus, the Greek god who couldn’t get enough of his own beauty. Greed became “good” in Hollywood scripts and real life, too.

In this narrative we see the seeds of today’s model of Suicide Capitalism, for which the lessons of history mean nothing. To those who can afford to ride atop the surf while it’s high and then step safely onto dry land when the wave crashes, the party goes on, and on, and on. Not so lucky, or perhaps depraved, are the vast majority of humankind or the natural systems engulfed in the process.

As an indicator of how lost capitalism’s soul has become, consider the following. Capitalism’s greatest modern hero, the British economist John Maynard Keynes, whose insights actually saved the system from utter destruction and spawned its greatest period of expansion during the post-World War II period, is nowhere to be found in the pantheon of those calling themselves capitalists today. The reason is simple: Keynes advocated increased government spending during economic downturns, “economic stimulus” if you can still stomach such a roundly condemned concept. Keynes’s reasoning is quite simple, really. In a capitalistic system the time to pay down debt by decreasing social spending is during the “up” part of the cycle when the resulting drag on the economy won’t cripple it and leave those citizens who may be affected by those cutbacks without alternative means of livelihood.

Contrast this logic with the scenario today, with so-called austerity being imposed on what remains of the world’s middle class in the midst of the worst economic downturn in eighty years. Yes indeed, the capitalistic reasoning of John Maynard Keynes is so simple it could only escape an idiot. Or someone with motives other than the welfare of society.

And so it transpired that when a fresh President Obama, cast into the backwash of the neoliberal fantasy, suggested that tried-and-true course of Dr. Keynes, he was booed almost completely off the stage. Comparisons to Franklin Roosevelt’s legendary defiance of “organized money” may indeed have been rendered moot by intervening history. If so, we have actors like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher to thank.

For a “historical” refresher I heartily recommend “Spitting Image” on the YouTube website.

Dave Wheelock is a member of the Oneida Nation who coaches and directs collegiate sports at New Mexico Tech. Contact him at davewheelock@yahoo.com.