On the front cover of The Economist dated April 13th to 19th, 2013 there is the face of Dame Margaret Thatcher, the first British woman Prime Minister. It is the face of a bright, beautiful and brainy woman determined to make Britain once more great indeed.
The profile of her life ought to be read by all Africans in charge of their countries’ economies. There is a lot to relate to the problems of countries like Malawi where economies are walking on tight ropes. A stupid policy and action can lead a country to perdition; a wise policy backed by unflinching determination can bring about a country’s prosperity. Margaret Thatcher did for Britain what Charles de Gaulle did for France. In France, there was Gaullism long after he left, in Britain there was also Thatcherism long after she left. They both revived the economies and international standing of their countries.
An African leader should be saying when I leave office what legacy shall I bequeath to those coming after me? Margaret Thatcher was a great patriot. It pained her that after the end of World War II Britain lost not only its empire but also its standing as a great power. This was due mostly to the fact that its economy had stagnated.
With degrees in chemistry and law, Thatcher realised she needed the advice of experts in economics on how to turn the economy around. She found her heroes in Professor F Hayet author of the Road to serfdom, Professor Friedman of the University of Chicago and Keith Joseph a fellow member of the Conservative Party.
What she learned from the teachings of these gurus was not as new as the teachings of Adam Smith or those of John Maynard Keynes. They were like the preachings of evangelical reformers.
From these pundits, she saw clearly what was wrong with Britain at that time, the State was too much involved in the economy, civil servants were not competent enough to run nationalised and other public (government owned) industries, entrepreneurship that had brought about the industrial revolution had to be revived and this could only be done by rewarding enterprise and encouraging thrift.
From the private sector she brought experts to study weaknesses in the civil service and recommend ways of improving efficiency there. She privatised most industries; she cut public spending to reduce deficits. Trade Unions by their relentless strikes had contributed to weaknesses in the British economy. She introduced legislation to curb their unruly behaviours and when like coal miners, they went on prolonged strikes she stood firm and forced them to give up.
At first, Thatcher’s policies made her very unpopular. They accused her of being callous towards the poor. But when her policies resulted in economic revival she won a second general election with the support of workers, she had created jobs for and it was the jobs that most poor people cared about not spoon-feeding welfare statist.
Because her policies of entrusting the British economy to private sector worked wonders, her policies were adopted all over the world even in developing country’s like Malawi. In Britain, the Labour Party changed its colours and became the New Labour Party which under Tony Blair practised Thatcherism with only a modicum of socialism.
Is Thatcherism not a panacea for ailing economies all over the world and all the time? The world’s experience with the 2007 to 2008 economic troubles in Europe and America is that no economic philosophy or system when implemented brings desirable results under all circumstances. Privatisation works best where there is already a pool of entrepreneurs waiting to buy State enterprises and manage them efficiently. In most African countries what needs to be done first is to breed a crop of entrepreneurs and to cultivate the business ethic.
There is something permanent to learn in Thatcherism: a leader must have a vision for her or his country, must seek out those who can help her choose the right economic philosophy for his or her country and then implement it persistently. Her father used to say,” it is easy to be a starter.But can you be a sticker?”
Once a President has thought carefully about what to do, he or she must stick to their guns. Thatcher neither flinched nor failed because she knew what she was after and went on despite what some critics said.