Legendary British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has passed away, and given that she was a conservative, PBS can’t let her go without finding some way to criticize her. On Tuesday evening’s PBS NewsHour, Time Magazine’s Rana Foroohar was brought on to discuss Thatcher’s legacy. Why Foroohar? Well, according to anchor Gwen Ifill, not only does she cover economics and business, she also lived in Britain for nine years.
Foroohar got right to work, describing Thatcher as a “very divisive character” and a “very, very polarizing figure.” Ifill asked her if there are presently any heirs to Thatcher’s world view, and Foroohar responded that Thatcher’s heirs reside in the developing world and emerging markets. These countries are at a stage where Thatcher’s ideas of privatization and free markets can help them, according to Foroohar.
Those of us in the Western world, however, have outgrown such principles. Said Foroohar:
“I think in the West, we’re at a point where people are thinking about markets being broken and the fact that we may need more state involvement and things like regulation, but in places like China, like Brazil, there is still a role for more opening, more liberalization, more privatization.”
Here Foroohar was dismissing the free market system as a sort of child’s nutritional supplement, something that children take to grow healthy and strong, but which adults no longer need. Never mind that economies, unlike human beings, have an essentially unlimited capacity for growth. Therefore, free markets can benefit nations at every stage of development.
What's more, Britain was a developed, industrialized country when Thatcher took power, and its heavy state involvement in industry had led to economic stagnancy. Thatcher proved that developed countries do, in fact, benefit from getting government out of the way of free enterprise. “State involvement and things like regulation,” which Foroohar calls for, tend only to slow economic growth and prevent nations from growing to their full potential, and that's precisely the problem Britain faced in the bad old days of the late 1970s.
It is very much in the left-wing media’s character to dismiss capitalism as obsolete in order to encourage more government control. It is also in their character to take shots at Ronald Reagan, which Foroohar did in this interview. She acknowledged that American conservatives frequently compare Reagan to Thatcher, but she said she disagreed with those comparisons. Here’s why:
"I think that in some ways Mrs. Thatcher was much better at austerity than Ronald Reagan was. She actually cut... public spending as a percentage of the economy in Britain whereas spending went up under Reagan."
It’s interesting that Foroohar would hold up Thatcher’s austerity as a positive. Foroohar is no fan of austerity; just last summer, she called for more government spending on infrastructure and education in order to boost the economy. President Reagan, by the way, had to deal with a Democratic Congress for his entire eight-year term. That made it difficult for him to cut anything, as did a media that demonized any budget cuts as horrible and painful, much like they do today. By contrast, the parliamentary system that Britain has makes it much easier for a prime minister to get things done in accord with his or her economic agenda.
It would be nice if PBS could let a major world figure die without wishing death on conservative principles as well.
Below is a partial transcript of the exchange:
GWEN IFILL: Rana, you not only cover economics and business, but you also lived in Great Britain for nine years. How divided is opinion about her?
RANA FOROOHAR: Well, I've always seen Thatcher as a very divisive character in a lot of ways. In some ways I think her economic legacy is rosiest outside of Britain. The commentary, of course, with her passing has been, as John says, very positive in many ways but I think that inside Britain, particularly on the left, she was a very, very polarizing figure. You know, she did some very important things to modernize the country, to make the labor markets more flexible, to better prepare Britain for globalization but it was a very, very painful process. I think that conservatives in the U.S. have often embraced her and paired her, as you say, with Ronald Reagan, although I see them in very different lights. I think that in some ways Mrs. Thatcher was much better at austerity than Ronald Reagan was. She actually cut the budgets as a – in public spending as a percentage of the economy in Britain whereas spending went up under Reagan. They were both tax cutters but she was more successful, perhaps, at austerity.
IFILL: Well, as you look at legacy, and we talk about legacy after people of this substance pass away and I wonder, Rana, whether – who you would identify as the heirs to her world view. Now that she is gone, does what she believed in, does it still sustain?
FOROOHAR: Well, it's interesting. I think that in some ways the heirs may be in the emerging markets and the developing world because those countries, countries like China, Brazil, India, South Africa even, they’re at a stage in development where many of her economic ideas about privatization, about the push forward of markets and the roll back of the state are more relevant. I think in the West, we’re at a point where people are thinking about markets being broken and the fact that we may need more state involvement and things like regulation, but in places like China, like Brazil, there is certainly still a role for more opening, more liberalization, more privatization. And so I think that she would have a lot to say about what was going on in those countries today.