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The Road From Thatcherism

This year marks four decades since Margaret Thatcher came to power as Britain’s first woman prime minister, inaugurating an era of market fundamentalism that is still with us today. Why does an ideology that is so obviously exhausted maintain its grip on policymakers worldwide?

LONDON – The last few years, with the rise of populism across the developed world, have seemed like the ending of an age. This is perhaps most true of economics, where the free-market revolution that emerged forty years ago now seems to have petered out in denunciation, self-doubt, and recrimination.

In May 1979, Margaret Thatcher became the first woman to serve as Britain’s prime minister, after having been elected leader of the Conservative Party four years earlier. Despite initially being snubbed by many of her male colleagues, Thatcher would go on to become one of history’s most influential and controversial political leaders.

When Thatcher came to power, she was the first national leader of a large economy since the end of World War II to demand a smaller role for the state and a greater role for the market. Her government inaugurated a new age of economic policymaking guided by the principle of laissez-faire.