Margaret Thatcher at a Conservative Party Conference on October 13, 1989. (Reuters/Stringer)
Margaret Thatcher’s fancy funeral will be held this coming Wednesday. Along with the deceased prime minister, can we bury TINA, too?
For thirty years we’ve lived with TINA: “There is No Alternative.” Thatcher deployed her most famous slogan to mean that certain debates were over, especially debates over capitalism. Globalized capitalism, so called free-markets and free trade were the best ways to build wealth, distribute services and grow a society’s economy. Deregulation’s good, if not God.
This week, as the canonization of Margaret Thatcher has played out, it’s clear that while Maggie may be gone, TINA lives.
Both the other guests and pretty much all the callers on a public radio show I was part of embraced TINA, arguing in effect that economic change comes with pain and change was necessary. From each came some version of “Thatcher turned the UK economy around.”
Left activist and author Tariq Ali said on Democracy Now! “The fact that no one has come up with an alternative to the Wall Street crash of 2008 does indicate that there’s some truth to her most famous statement.”
Is that what we really believe?
Looking at the data from the British Office of National Statistics compiled by The Guardian, here’s what I see: in the Thatcher years, unemployment shot up, manufacturing spiraled down and poverty grew. Scratch that—poverty almost doubled, from 13.4 percent to 22.2 percent. Inequality rose.
No alternative? Even Thatcher’s quip “the lady’s not for turning” should remind us there were other routes we could have traveled. Thatcher wasn’t just stubborn, she was specific. She dragged the nation down a defiantly neo-liberal path.
One of her first moves on coming into office was to liberalize capital markets—think NAFTA a decade earlier. Governed by the belief that free capital provided the answer to the economic difficulties experienced in the 1970s, Thatcher, like Reagan, tore down tariffs. Money roamed free and went where it was wont to go—offshore, where profits were bigger because wages were lower—and to tax havens, where big money could evade the taxes it would otherwise (like the rest of us) have to pay.
In a damning new documentary from Dutch national TV, former McKinsey-researcher-turned-journalist James S. Henry estimates that some 21 to 32 trillion dollars are parked in no-tax tax havens today—only a third of it from the developing world. British accountant and author Richard Murphy credits Thatcher with starting the trend.