Thatcherism

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Margaret Thatcher's policies as prime minister changed many aspects of British life, and were collectively called Thatcherism. But what does the term mean? A handful of political leaders are influential enough to have an ism after their name. But no political philosophy has shaped a nation in quite the same way as Thatcherism. At its most crude, Thatcherism represents a belief in free markets and a small state. Rather than planning and regulating business and people's lives, government's job is to get out of the way. It should be restricted to the bare essentials: defence of the realm and the currency. Everything else should be left to individuals, to exercise their own choices and take responsibility for their own lives. This was a revolutionary, even dangerous, notion to most postwar politicians. Central planning of industry and society had helped win the war. The only way to "win the peace", it was believed by the leaders of both the Labour and Conservative parties, was to plan and control industry, vast swathes of which were owned by the state. Margaret Thatcher was not alone in rejecting state ownership of businesses and socialist central planning. Like other right-wingers of her generation, she had been influenced by The Road to Serfdom, by Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek, which warned of "the danger of tyranny that inevitably results from government control of economic decision-making through central planning". But Hayek's brand of free-market economics was deeply out of favour in the 1950s and 1960s. It was only when the country had been crippled by industrial strife and decline that it began to look like a credible alternative. Thatcher belonged to a Conservative Party faction, headed by Keith Joseph, who were followers of Hayek's Austrian school of economics and were also heavily influenced by the theories of American economist Milton Friedman. Had Joseph become Conservative leader instead of Thatcher. which seemed the more likely outcome at the...
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