London – Thirty years ago this month, Margaret Thatcher came to power. Although precipitated by local conditions, the Thatcher (or more broadly the Thatcher-Reagan) revolution became an instantly recognizable global brand for a set of ideas that inspired policies to free markets from government interference. Three decades later, the world is in a slump, and many people attribute the global crisis to these very ideas.
Indeed, even beyond the political left, the Anglo-American model of capitalism is deemed to have failed. It is held culpable for the near financial meltdown. But 30 years of hindsight enable us to judge which elements of the Thatcher revolution should be preserved, and which should be amended in the light of today’s global economic downturn.
Most obviously in need of amendment is the view that minimally managed and regulated markets are both more stable and more dynamic than those subject to extensive government intervention. The Thatcherite assumption, in other words, was that government failure is far more menacing to prosperity than market failure.
This was always bad history. The record shows that the period 1950-1973, when government intervention in market economies was at its peacetime height, was uniquely successful economically, with no global recessions and faster rates of GDP growth – and growth of GDP per capita – than in any comparable period before or since.