by Austin Bay
April 9, 2013
Everyone who knows that wealth underwrites all security arrangements should appreciate an unadorned but profoundly reverent epitaph for Margaret Thatcher posted this week on a national defense and military history Internet discussion board: "Without her England would have become Greece before Greece became Greece."
Her admirer then added, referring to the slanted Thatcher bio pic slapped together in Hollywood, "But no good deed goes unpunished."
Like Ronald Reagan, her Cold War contemporary, history will be very kind to Margaret Thatcher. From the 1980s to the 1990s, European and American leftists used the term "Reagan-Thatcher" as a bivalve curse for warmongering and heartlessness. However, current history is demonstrating the strategic genius and, yes, strategic generosity of both leaders.
Two weeks ago, when North Korea threatened to strike U.S. territory with missiles bearing nuclear warheads, the Obama administration oh so quietly affirmed the necessity of strategic missile defense. Yet for three decades the American left, from which the Obama administration springs, maligned Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) as warmongering, as lunacy, as anything but what it is for contemporary America: an absolutely vital capability we were wise enough and wealthy enough to build. Strategic defense costs lots of money. However, losing Honolulu, Los Angeles or Austin, Texas, would cost substantially more.
Thatcher had a staunch record as a Cold War warrior and played a key role in the demise of the Soviet Union. In 1982 Falklands War, Argentina's economically desperate military junta made the mistake of testing her. They lost. Thatcher knew that winning the Cold War required confidence, staying power and leaders who could convince the Soviets that aggression in Europe would immediately lead to a shooting war they would not win.
Thatcher inspired confidence. She understood the moral and economic sources of staying power (more on her economics in a moment). As for convincing, she convinced by word and deed. Defeating the Argentinian invasion required immediate action, which she took. The Soviets watched, aware that the Iron Lady was giving them a dynamic lesson in what to expect if their tank divisions violated the intra-German border.
During the so-called 1983 Euro-missile Crisis, she provided another lesson. With steely enthusiasm, Thatcher backed NATO's decision to counter the Soviet deployment of 200 SS-20 theater ballistic missiles in Eastern Europe by deploying U.S. missiles in Western Europe. Communist sympathizers and Western "peace" organizations vilified her and Reagan (no good deed goes unpunished), but the NATO deployment ultimately brought the Soviets to the bargaining table.
As for Thatcher's thorough appreciation of the economic source of staying power: She was 20 when World War II ended. It took wealth, a lot of wealth, to create the defense organizations that defeated Adolf Hitler and then shielded the West during the Cold War.
She knew, however, that economic productivity fundamentally affects all other aspects of human social and political life.
Declining economic productivity degrades human social and political life. If you think otherwise, please consider the country Thatcher's military admirer mentioned in his epitaph: Greece.
The Greece 2009-Great Britain 1979 analogy isn't perfect, but it is instructive. Thatcher became prime minister in 1979. The Great Britain of 1979 confronted enormous economic and social problems. Listing them is a litany of the dismal: stagnating and declining industries. High (and increasing) public debt loads. Innovation-crushing tax rates and creativity-sapping bureaucratic regulation. Powerful public sector interest groups -- truly vested interests -- opposed to change that would increase economic productivity and create new wealth.
Her critics, many of them sold on communism's inevitable victory, said this was the best Britain could manage, the new normal. It could not be changed.
She rejected inevitable decline as what it is, an utterly intellectual dishonest defense of the status quo. Thatcher believed that private-sector commercial creativity, when unleashed, would prove to be Britain's greatest natural resource. Printing presses and central banks do not produce wealth. People produce wealth. People had to produce wealth and create value in order for the government to money to spend -- on anything.
Hence one of Thatcher's favorite quips, "The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people's money."
Indeed, Greece is learning Margaret Thatcher's quip is no joke. Would that Athens had a leader like her, a prescient, wealth-creating revolutionary. Would that Washington did, as well.