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Margaret Thatcher: "Privatisation shrinks the power of the state and free enterprise enlarges the power of the people"

Leonard Gilroy
April 8, 2013, 9:12am

Margaret Thatcher, Britain's first female prime minister, has died at the age of 87 after suffering a stroke.

Reason Foundation's Annual Privatization Report published this piece by former Prime Minister Thatcher in 2006:

All too often the state is tempted into activities to which it is either ill-suited or which are beyond its capabilities.

Perhaps the greatest of these temptations is government's desire to concentrate economic power in its own hands. It begins to believe that it knows how to manage business. But let me tell you, it doesn't as we discovered in Britain in the 1970s when nationalisation and prices and incomes policy together deprived management of the ability to manage. And when we came to privatise and deregulate in the 1980s it took some time before these skills returned.

A system of state control can't be made good merely because it is run by "clever" people who make the arrogant assertion that they "know best" and that they are serving the "public interest" interest which of course is determined by them. State control is fundamentally bad because it denies people the power to choose and the opportunity to bear responsibility for their own actions.

Conversely, privatisation shrinks the power of the state and free enterprise enlarges the power of the people.

The policies we introduced in the 1980s were fiercely opposed. Too many people and industries preferred to rely on easy subsidies rather than apply the financial discipline necessary to cut their costs and become competitive. Others preferred the captive customers that a monopoly can command or the secure job in an overmanned industry, rather than the strenuous life of liberty and enterprise.

But we understood that a system of free enterprise has a universal truth at its heart: to create a genuine market in a state you have to take the state out of the market.

For Britain, the 1970s was a decade of decline: even worse than that, our people seemed to accept it. Our nationalised industries were inefficient, overmanned and weakened by restrictive practices. Government had no business being in business.

We tackled privatisation in the way which best suited us.

First, we had to put the balances of the industries we wanted to sell in good order. Where redundancies had to be made because of overmanning we were determined to ensure that those who lost their jobs would receive a capital sum related to the length of their service. For the first time in their lives this put capital into their hands and each industry helped them to find other jobs or to set up businesses of their own. Thus we made clear our concern to look after those who were losing their livelihoods as well as those who were staying on.

Read Thatcher's full piece here

Reason Foundation's Annual Privatization Report is here. 


Leonard Gilroy is Director of Government Reform


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