Apr 082013
 April 8, 2013  Posted by at 6:56 pm Finance

Artwork: Ilargi for The Automatic Earth

Oliver Stone's 1987 film Wall Street was as much an answer to as a parody of a mind change that had pervaded the world since Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher came to power in their respective nations.

But in the upper echelons Gordon Gekko's "Greed is Good" was never truly seen as a parody, just as the message of the film was completely lost on the people it was about. And still is. It's too convenient when justifying your behavior to yourself and others, like Ayn Rand is again today. The world is full of people who still today will sing the praises of the Iron Lady and The Great Communicator, of the Falklands and Grenada.

Reagan and Thatcher made it acceptable, nay, hip, to borrow one’s way (back) to wealth, or the illusion thereof, and a little cheating and lying was sort of alright on your way to the top provided you lied and cheated while you were already a mover and a shaker. That mindset has never left us anymore.

The likes of Jon Corzine and Fred Goodwin and Angelo Mozilo owe Thatcher eternal gratitude. As does the entire Bush family, obviously. And the dim non-wits who as we speak plunge Britain into its darker shade of pale. You can too borrow it all, as long as you keep a straight face. You can take away the little man's benefits, and still have him believe he's destined for greatness. Which he too can borrow his way into.

In the greater scheme of things, the western world was at its (non-borrowed) richest sometime in the 1970's. Bold statement, I know, and one we will get back to one day with numbers and all. Then Maggie came and declared that any grown up man who rides public transit is a loser. She went for the easy and obvious choice of dividing her own voters into winners and losers, and she had the smarts to pick who was which.

You could be the most loving family man, caring for the weakest amongst you, you could be a nurse or a social worker, a cop or a fireman with tons of heart dedicated to those around you, but if you couldn't afford to, or simply didn't, drive a car to work, Maggie Thatcher declared you a loser.

That set the tone. That's how bankers got to be the demi-gods they are today. That's also how McFa(s)tFood and WalMart got to stuff their shops full of losers who make a few bucks an hour with no benefits to speak of. The answer to the fact that our summit of wealth had passed in the 1970's, was to start borrowing from our children, throw the weakest among us under the bus and train, and hand over power to the Eton and Harvard educated elites waiting in the wings.

Hey, sure, it's all a matter of choice. If you think putting people down is the way to go, all I can do is hope you will be put down. And of course the British unions weren't all wine and roses, it was a power struggle gone awry. But Margaret Thatcher, also, is the lady who for instance celebrated Augusto Pinochet‘s achievements well after were well known and the Shock Doctrine had long been published. If that isn't enough for you, good luck.

Margaret has finally stood down. The blood on her hands will accompany her in her grave. Here’s The Beat from 1980.

I sometimes wonder if I'll ever get the chance

just to sit with my children in a holiday jam

our lives seem petty in your cold grey hands

would you give a second thought

would you ever give a damn, I doubt it

stand down Margaret, stand down please, stand down Margaret




Home Forums The Lady Who Made Greed Look Good

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April 8, 2013 at 6:56 pm #8389

Raúl Ilargi Meijer

Artwork: Ilargi for The Automatic Earth Oliver Stone's 1987 film Wall Street was as much an answer to as a parody of a mind change that had pervad
[See the full post at: The Lady Who Made Greed Look Good]

April 9, 2013 at 12:40 am #7369

Golden Oxen

Thank goodness here in the States we have The Clintons and Obama to clean up the mess. Things just couldn’t be better for the poor and downtrodden with those kind loving greats at the helm. What lucky blokes we are.

April 9, 2013 at 4:16 am #7370


I went to see them in Hollywood in 1995. (I think that Dave Wakeling actually lives in Los Angeles or at least was living here at some point.) Anyway, he said, “Alright, what do you want to hear?”

Someone yelled, “Stand Down Margaret.”

Wakeling just made a face. I guess that he thought the song was too dated and irrelevant for the Clinton/Blair era. I’m glad to see that Ilargi hasn’t forgot.

April 9, 2013 at 5:21 am #7371

Nicole Foss

My lasting memory of living in Thatcher’s Britain was the poll tax riots. I was there in Trafalgar Square for the demonstration, and left after the speeches. I was lucky to go the way I did, because the police on horseback charged the people going the other way. I saw the riot itself later, on TV from the safety of a friend’s living room.

April 9, 2013 at 5:31 am #7372



On the other hand, she just did what was asked of her. The bulk of the voters asked that the politicians get their head out of their asses and do something. Which they did.
Just as the same bulk of voters ask the same thing now, and they have even more to lose. Anything to keep the values of their possessions high, or else all the advantage of having been the first to take on debt goes away in smoke.

April 10, 2013 at 5:00 am #7374



Thatchers rhetorical style was very strong sometimes, and her position in this debate on the EMU was quite correct in retrospect, the arguments on monetary sovereignty are still relevant.
She did predominantly serve the interests of the british oligarchs, sometimes these were compatible with the interests of the nation, and sometimes not. The british are still much divided about her reign, I’ve heard british people who appreciated her policies, and others who detested her passionately. Undoubtedly this divide was intensified by the two-party dichotomy. Her unpopular neo-liberal program for crushing labor unions and diminishing labor security were of dubious economic functionality.

April 10, 2013 at 5:39 am #7375


Hi Folks,

Thatcher was a patsy of history and the neoliberal agenda. She was also very much a product of the cold war, being dubbed the ‘iron lady’ by the Kremlin when she became leader of the opposition Tory party. And lest we forget, the idealogical battle between capitalism and communism was raging in the 1970s. The Vietnam (proxy) war, Baader meinhoff, Red brigade, ETA (proxy terrorists?) etc. The unions ruled the roost in 1970s UK culminating in the 1979 winter of discontent which caused the fall of the Callaghan government.

Rubbish piles up on London street in early ’79.
Public opinion swung enough to let the Tories back in (after the previous conservative Heath Gov’t which in 1974 saw three day weeks due to ‘energy shortages’!). However rampant price increases then called ‘inflation’ were due in part to record high oil prices(!):

This was something that had dogged the 1970s and had caused a lot of the strikes because workers were seeing their earnings eroded and demanded wages keep pace. However the early eighties recession caused mass unemployment, and on the back of it an immediate lessening of union power, you can’t strike if you don’t have a job. Faced with election uncertainty, there was a rearranging of the boundaries in 1983, and this coupled with the victory of the Falklands ‘war’ (war was actually never declared, and it was seen as a ‘territorial dispute’) saw a Tory landslide in 1983. This was the green light to enact the neoliberal deregulation ‘experiment’ -after all, Thatcher was a ‘scientist’, having graduated in chemistry from oxford. That and her ‘iron lady’ will guaranteed her notoriety.

It was ironic then that after the Berlin wall fell in 1989, a year later she was ousted from the leadership of the Tory party after an internal party power struggle. She went onto continue representing her constituency until 1992, and still haunted the party conferences into her dotage, outflanking many younger ‘usurpers’.
But the real war during her reign was that of the class war, specifically against the ‘working class’:

From the Independent;
Owen Jones, Sunday 16 September 2012

Britain’s industrial ruin was unavoidable, Thatcher’s apologists argue. Industry was inefficient and crippled by union bullyboys: Thatcher’s Chancellor Geoffrey Howe told me he “often questioned the suicide note of much of British industry”. But it was sabotage. First, the abolition of exchange controls allowed the City to thrive at the expense of other parts of the economy. Then they allowed the value of the pound to soar, with interest rates hiked to 17 per cent, making borrowing – crucial for manufacturing – prohibitively expensive.

Sir Alan Budd advised the Thatcher government and feared they “never believed for a moment that this was the correct way to bring down inflation”, but rather it was a highly effective means of increasing unemployment, “an extremely desirable way of reducing the strength of the working classes”. Working-class communities were trashed – and, in some cases, never recovered – because of an ideological crusade.

With the ‘Big Bang’ financial de-regulation leaving the UK little more than an ‘offshoring’ fascility for global business, and had led both directly (from lack of regulation) and indirectly (by making money the end all and be all) to the mess we’re in now.

There are many who debate and question whether her influence was as great as others proclaim; having an economic government policy named after you might be more a sign of rising media spin than actual achievement, they don’t call national health strategies ‘Bevanism’.

Nor did she have much ‘political’ opposition, both labour leaders Michael Foot and Neil “turn out the lights” Kinnock lacked the nuances of the new ‘age of spin’.

As for the question of “Did Margaret Thatcher really ‘save’ Britain?”:

Her admirers claim that Margaret Thatcher found a nation on its knees and gave it back its pride and prosperity. But would we have been any worse off if she hadn’t bothered? Andy McSmith investigates

IMHO what she represented was the true middle class little Englander, with her adulation of Churchill, the constant references to ‘Making Britain Great again’, and her loathing of the ‘working class’, despite her feigned aspirations ‘that “they” do better’. She was the Politician for a [strike]declining[/strike] spent empire: keeping up appearances regardless of the consequences was very much her game. She was a naive grocers daughter who got lucky, and was undoubtedly influenced by the American rightwing despite claims the flow of influence was the other way:

“I wasn’t lucky. I deserved it” – Comment on receiving a school prize, aged nine.

“I’ve got a woman’s ability to stick to a job and get on with it when everyone else walks off and leaves it” – Speech, 1975.

- “I stand before you tonight in my green chiffon evening gown, my face softly made up, my fair hair gently waved. The Iron Lady of the Western World? Me? A cold war warrior? Well, yes – if that is how they wish to interpret my defence of values and freedoms fundamental to our way of life” – Speech in 1976 after the Kremlin dubbed her the Iron Lady.

- “I can trust my husband not to fall asleep on a public platform and he usually claps in the right places” – Interview, 1978.

- “Any woman who understands the problems of running a home will be nearer to understanding the problems of running a country” – Election campaign, 1979.

- “If a woman like Eva Peron with no ideals can get that far, think how far I can go with all the ideals that I have” – Interview in 1980.

- “To those waiting with bated breath for that favourite media catchphrase, the U-turn, I have only one thing to say, you turn if you want to. The lady’s not for turning” – Speech at Conservative Party conference, 1980.

- “No one would have remembered the Good Samaritan if he’d only had good intentions. He had money as well” – Television interview, 1980.

- “We knew what we had to do and we went about it and did it. Great Britain is great again” – Comment at end of Falklands conflict.

- “In politics, if you want anything said, ask a man; if you want anything done, ask a woman” – Speech 1982.

- “The battle for women’s rights has been largely won” – Interview, 1982.

- “I owe nothing to women’s lib” – Interview, 1982.

- “Victorian values were the values when our country became great” – TV interview, 1982.

- “I am painted as the greatest little dictator, which is ridiculous – you always take some consultations” – Interview, 1983.

- “Oh, I have got lots of human weaknesses. Who hasn’t?” – Interview, 1983.

- “And what a prize we have to fight for: no less than the chance to banish from our land the dark divisive clouds of Marxist socialism” – Speech to Scottish Tories, 1983.

- “The National Health Service is safe in our hands” – Conservative Party conference, 1983.

- “State socialism is totally alien to the British character” – Interview, 1983.

- “Young people ought not to be idle. It is very bad for them” – Interview, 1984.

- “I love being at the centre of things” – Interview, 1984.

- “This is a man I can do business with” – After her first meeting with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.

“This is a day I was not meant to see” – the Sunday following the Brighton bomb.

- “I think, historically, the term ‘Thatcherism’ will be seen as a compliment” – Speech, 1985.

- “Why, Marks and Spencer of course. Doesn’t everyone?” – When asked where she bought her underwear, 1986.

- “I don’t mind how much my ministers talk, as long as they do what I say” – Interview, 1987.

- “There is no such thing as Society. There are individual men and women, and there are families” – Interview, 1987.

- “I think I have become a bit of an institution – you know the sort of thing people expect to see around the place” – Speech, 1987.

“Had we gone the way of France and got 60% of our electricity from nuclear power, we should not have environmental problems” – Speech, 1988.

- “What’s wrong with British water” – When presented with French Perrier water at a lunch in 1989.

- “We are a grandmother” – On the birth of her grandson, Michael, February, 1989.

- “The Chancellor is unassailable” – Comment about Nigel Lawson only days before he resigned from the Government in 1989.

- “I fight on. I fight to win” – Statement on November 21, 1990, after she was forced into a second ballot in the leadership battle, but she in fact withdrew before it occurred.

- “It’s a funny old world” – Comment after her decision to quit in November 1990, pointing out that she had never lost an election in her life, yet had been forced to stand down.

- “I’m enjoying this” – An interjection in a rumbustious speech she made in the Commons only hours after announcing she would quit.

She only ever appointed a single female cabinet minister, but became the icon for the powerful business woman: if you want it, you have to give up everything else, despite her appearence of the dutiful housewife, she had married into (not for) money, alowing her to pay for the childcare necassary to follow her chosen political career. She also was key in developing what is now called ‘spin’ by employing PR firm Saatchi & Saatchi:

1979 Conservative campaign poster – but oh the ‘irony’, a few years later unemployment was over 3 million.

Keeping up appearences indeed…


What opportunities were lost remain now for historians to debate upon; how we could have rebuilt our infrastructure on the back of the north sea oil and gas boom; how we could have been more influential in the EU – perhaps preventing monetary union; perhaps how we could have been more progressive full stop like some of the Nordic countries have tried, instead of retrenching to some neo-victorian nightmare capitalist freeforall. But maybe thats what happens when empires fail… and greed usurps all ideals. The fact that shortly after she came to power we saw mass rioting in the streets, and that on her death many people celebrated

Loath her or love her, may she rest in peace.

Bye Bye…


April 10, 2013 at 6:04 am #7376

Ken Barrows


I don’t want Mrs. Thatcher to rest in peace. The UK is now the most indebted country in the world (total market credit debt to GDP). Her contempt for people below the median income is obvious; the article mentions her disdain for those using public transport. (I remember that and it gets my blood boiling.)

If we think the world has gone wrong, some are more responsible than others. Mrs. Thatcher is one of the most responsible.

April 10, 2013 at 7:07 am #7378


Hey Ken,

Don’t get me wrong, I too did not like her one bit. However, as the wise ones say, holding enmity for another is like holding a burning coal, it does you more harm than them. The best way to defeat your demons is to forgive them. And maybe ridicule them: Mrs Bucket, no its pronounced ‘Bouquet’.

Besides, I said she was a ‘patsy’: scapegoat. red herring. person accused of a something as a cover for a bigger more elaborate crime.

She never lost an election dude, and when ‘Labour’ eventually did get back in, their leader was more ‘Thatcherite’ than she was!

There is a lot of myth surrounding debt especially where politics is concerned.

The ‘inconvenient’ truths are that there are historic and systemic forces that shape our lives far beyond that of any individuals control, even those who think they do have some control and influence. We are all about to feel the wrath of those forces, rich or poor, the good the bad and the ugly. How we respond to those events is often going to be down to how we have dealt with our own demons and the automatic responses we are prone to having as conditioned beings. Somehow I think we are all going to find out how little human nature has really changed…


April 10, 2013 at 7:18 pm #7379

Ken Barrows


Perhaps you are right. But let me clarify one things: when I say total credit market debt I mean public + PRIVATE. So your graph really doesn’t address my point although I think it is meant to do so.

April 11, 2013 at 3:17 am #7381


Hi Ken,

Ah, yes wasn’t sure what you were referring to. I think this is it:

It is a bar chart showing total debt for all sectors and by far the biggest debt at 600% of GDP appears to be ‘financial’ but what that refers to exactly is a bit of a mystery – my guess is it is the various ‘debt instruments’ based in the City of London and the banks, many of which have global investment arms. Our ‘private’ debt – as a % of GDP currently looks comparable to other nations, but when you factor in the fact that the financial services sector accounts for 9#% of that GDP you can get worried, very worried indeed. Especially as the agriculture/industry/services % make-up of the UK is very similar to Cyprus’
UK = GDP by sector agriculture: 0.7%, industry: 21.5%, services: 77.8% (2011 est.)
Cyprus = GDP by sector agriculture 2.3%, industry 16.4%, services 81.2% (2011 est.) (Finance made up about 10% of the ‘service sector’.)

Then there is the ‘off balance sheet’ stuff:

Britain risks default unless Government cuts public sector pensions
By Edmund Conway Economics Last updated: June 3rd, 2010

…But does this mean Britain is really immune from default? For this one must turn to Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff, who in their opus on financial crises, “This Time Is Different”. They write (emphasis mine):

Why would a government refuse to pay its domestic public debt in full when it can simply inflate the problem away? One answer, of course, is that inflation causes distortions, especially to the banking system and the financial sector. There may be occasions on which, despite the inflation option, the government views repudiation as the lesser, or at least less costly, evil. The potential costs of inflation are especially problematic when the debt is relatively short term or indexed, because the government then has to inflate much more aggressively to achieve a significant real reduction in debt service payments. In other cases, such as in the United States during the Great Depression, default (by abrogation of the gold clause in 1933) was a precondition for reinflating the economy through expansionary fiscal and monetary policy.

Now, tackling the bit in bold: on the one hand, Britain has an extremely long average debt maturity, which helps protect it from the markets. This means that despite running a far smaller deficit this year, Germany is actually issuing more debt than Britain.

But on the other front, Britain is worse-placed. As I’ve written before, I suspect that inflating away Britain’s debt will be far more difficult than some people think – because so many of Britain’s debts are index-linked – in a way that they weren’t before. If you include index-linked gilts (which weren’t around before the 70s), public sector and state pensions and PFI and local government debt, some four fifths of UK debt is linked to inflation.

(Note: Edmund reads Zero Hedge, check out the link at the bottom of article above…)

Which brings in one of this sites pet topics ‘inflation’, and in this instance why it could make the situation a lot worse. Pensions themselves are considered a store of wealth, but are in fact a sort of ‘loan to the future ponzi scheme’ (allegedly the money is ‘invested’ to provide a return in the future as opposed to the present, but it rarely happens that way), with ‘interest’ on the loan being paid to the pensioner all the way into the future till the day they die. The thing is the future can be a bit ‘sub-prime’ sometimes… how is the government (in this case, yet alone all those ‘private’ pension funds) going to pay back all those [strike]pension obligations[/strike] loans the future when that future arrives?

But to address your initial point, yes the UK debt wise is probably screwed. Not unlike the rest of the world:

Any way, house prices are set to take off again backed by government guaranteed mortgages (oh so that’s how they get out of paying the pensions?) so all’s well in ol’ Blighty…

That should help the Global Debt Clock click a few notches higher!


April 12, 2013 at 7:59 pm #7389

Mister Roboto

Your description of Thatcher’s legacy made me think of Alec Baldwin’s profanity-laden “1, 2, 3″ speech from the movie *Glengarry* *Glenn* *Ross*.

April 12, 2013 at 8:23 pm #7390

Raúl Ilargi Meijer

Roboto et al,

Russell Brand has a great take on Thatcher:

‘I always felt sorry for her children’

The blunt, pathetic reality today is that a little old lady has died, who in the winter of her life had to water roses alone under police supervision. If you behave like there’s no such thing as society, in the end there isn’t.

Her death must be sad for the handful of people she was nice to and the rich people who got richer under her stewardship. It isn’t sad for anyone else. There are pangs of nostalgia, yes, because for me she’s all tied up with Hi-De-Hi and Speak and Spell and Blockbusters and “follow the bear”.

What is more troubling is my inability to ascertain where my own selfishness ends and her neo-liberal inculcation begins. All of us that grew up under Thatcher were taught that it is good to be selfish, that other people’s pain is not your problem, that pain is in fact a weakness and suffering is deserved and shameful.

Perhaps there is resentment because the clemency and respect that are being mawkishly displayed now by some and haughtily demanded of the rest of us at the impending, solemn ceremonial funeral, are values that her government and policies sought to annihilate.

April 13, 2013 at 6:09 pm #7397


Hi Illarghi,

Of course the background to all this is in essence a cultural collapse. Dmitri Orlov has categorised five stages of Collapse in a book by the same name; Financial, Commercial, Political, Societal and Cultural. The period since the seventies can be seen as the collapse of an ‘industrial’ culture, through all these stages. The financial mismanagement of such industries as the ‘car’ industry that was partly nationalised in 1975 due to financial and commercial collapse, was then axed politically as the conservatives deemed a nationalised industry as ‘unworkable’. Ideologies aside, the societal and cultural collapse that ensued that manifested as greed and selfishness as ‘societal traits’ matches the definition of ‘Cultural’ collapse put forward by Orlov:

Cultural Collapse

Orlov defines cultural collapse in this way: “Faith in the goodness of humanity is lost. People lose their capacity for ‘kindness, generosity, consideration, affection, honesty, hospitality, compassion, charity.’ Families disband and compete as individuals for scarce resources. The new motto becomes ‘May you die today so that I can die tomorrow’.”

This also matches the description of the “Lonely African” a book by Colin Turnbul that describes the fierce individualism that results from a society forced into hardship.

As for Brands comment in his Thatcher eulogy:

I can’t articulate with the skill of either of “the Marks” – Steel or Thomas – why Thatcher and Thatcherism were so bad for Britain but I do recall that even to a child her demeanour and every discernible action seemed to be to the detriment of our national spirit and identity. Her refusal to stand against apartheid, her civil war against the unions, her aggression towards our neighbours in Ireland and a taxation system that was devised in the dark ages, the bombing of a retreating ship – it’s just not British.

Perhaps he needs to do a little history revision:

George Monbiot
The Guardian, Monday 23 April 2012 20.30 BST:

There is one thing you can say for the Holocaust deniers: at least they know what they are denying. In order to sustain the lies they tell, they must engage in strenuous falsification. To dismiss Britain’s colonial atrocities, no such effort is required. Most people appear to be unaware that anything needs to be denied.

The story of benign imperialism, whose overriding purpose was not to seize land, labour and commodities but to teach the natives English, table manners and double-entry book-keeping, is a myth that has been carefully propagated by the rightwing press. But it draws its power from a remarkable national ability to airbrush and disregard our past…

Interrogation under torture was widespread. Many of the men were anally raped, using knives, broken bottles, rifle barrels, snakes and scorpions. A favourite technique was to hold a man upside down, his head in a bucket of water, while sand was rammed into his rectum with a stick. Women were gang-raped by the guards. People were mauled by dogs and electrocuted. The British devised a special tool which they used for first crushing and then ripping off testicles. They used pliers to mutilate women’s breasts. They cut off inmates’ ears and fingers and gouged out their eyes. They dragged people behind Land Rovers until their bodies disintegrated. Men were rolled up in barbed wire and kicked around the compound.


Of course, the ‘Elite’s’ escapades abroad had been practised at home:

The Land (an occasional magazine about land rights)
Sheep Devour People

However, as medieval England progressed to modernity, the open field system and the communal pastures came under attack from wealthy landowners who wanted to privatize their use. The first onslaught, during the 14th to 17th centuries, came from landowners who converted arable land over to sheep, with legal support from the Statute of Merton of 1235. Villages were depopulated and several hundred seem to have disappeared. The peasantry responded with a series of ill fated revolts. In the 1381 Peasants’ Revolt, enclosure was an issue, albeit not the main one. In Jack Cade’s rebellion of 1450 land rights were a prominent demand.15 By the time of Kett’s rebellion of 1549 enclosure was a main issue, as it was in the Captain Pouch revolts of 1604-1607 when the terms “leveller” and “digger” appeared, referring to those who levelled the ditches and fences erected by enclosers.16

Here is the ‘modern’ version seen in the Battle of the Bean Fields:


Most people involved lost everything they had, and the following court case against ‘police brutality’ that took years, and which the travellers won, resulted in the small amount of ‘compensation’ awarded going towards court costs. Very ‘British’… :dry:

BTW, the whole ‘New Age Traveller’ movement was based around actually doing something to create an alternative life and livelihood to the rampant de-industrialisation and fiscal capitalism of the day so no surprise it and the ‘Stone Henge’ ‘free’ festival were squashed. :ohmy:


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