September 21, 2005


Japan's 'Thatcher' moment? (DAVID HOWELL, 9/22/05, Japan Times)

Prime Minister Junichiro Koziumi's smashing election victory could give him the same kind of political power as that which fell into the hands of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. Should he therefore follow the Thatcher recipes and methods for structural economic reform, which had such an electric effect on the British economy and from which the British are still benefiting enormously today 20 years later?

Thatcher used her swelling political majority to best advantage, and showed great courage and conviction in overcoming resistance to change, some of which was quite violent.

But it is as well to remember the weaknesses and ultimate failures in the Thatcher approach as well as the successes, since in the end these caused unnecessary bitterness and devalued her achievements in many people's eyes. These problems could have been avoided.

The biggest weakness was the failure to convince the broad public that her reforms would bring benefits to all, not just a lucky few, and that those who had their lives disrupted by change would be properly cushioned and cared for, and not just flung on the scrapheap by the harsh workings of market forces.

In reality, and in the end, years after Thatcher departed from office, these early reforms have indeed probably benefited the vast majority of British people. But at the time that prospect was not at all clear, nor did the language and policies of the Thatcher reform era give much comfort to a lot of very frightened workers.

Interesting that while she was somewhat overshadowed by Ronald Reagan when she was in power, it is Thatcherism that George Bush, John Howard, and Tony Blair successfully pursue and that the Germans, Japanese and the rest must decide whether or not to adopt.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 21, 2005 9:07 PM
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