The social costs of Thatcherism

May 5, 2009 at 10:27 pm | Posted in British Politics, Crime | Leave a comment

(Bear with me for a bit; most of the posts I write here over the next 10 days are going to be short & sweet whilst I sort out some personal/career type stuff. Perhaps I’ll learn how to blog concisely for a change).

In a piece arguing why Labour should hold firm to its criticisms of the Thatcher era, Anthony Painter makes an extremely important point:

The argument that Thatcherism was economically good but socially bad doesn’t really hold any more. A more accurate description would be that it was economically more likely to produce growth but contained hidden risks and had enormous social cost.

Exactly right, and those social costs created a financial burden on the state which the Conservatives were supposed to reduce. Sure, Thatcher succeeded in cutting loose the heavy burden of nationalised industry, but as a result you saw increases in unemployment, crime, drug use & generational welfare dependency. In short, costs were shifted to another part of the state.

Perhaps a Thatcherite would reason that the social costs of her reign were outweighed by the benefits and that the speed of Britain’s economic renaissance would’ve been hampered by the gradualist approach advised by some Tories of that era. But the problem with that position is that when we look back on her reign now, we can see that the economic rewards Thatcherism reaped have proved transient whilst the social costs remain entrenched.

Ultimately, it’s the British taxpayer who has to foot the bill for these costs and I do wonder at our collective ability to pay billions for the policing & punishment of crime & drugs (for example) without there being much to demonstrate that the money we spend is leading to these problems (and their costs) being reduced. As I’ve said before, reducing reoffending, ending the war on drugs and completely rethinking what we do with the welfare state wouldn’t just have the potential to make people’s lives better, but to save us all a lot of money. Sounds like good business to me.

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