Paying Tribute to the Iron Lady

By Brad Lips, CEO, April 8, 2013

In 1987, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher looks up at Antony Fisher speaking at the 30th Anniversary of the Institute of Economic Affairs.

The death of Margaret Thatcher prompts me to reflect on her remarkable policy achievements as Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990.

She revitalized the British economy by selling off state-owned industries, taming lawless labor unions, slashing tax rates and reducing the welfare state. With Reagan and Pope John Paul II, she contributed to the peaceful victory over communism in the Cold War. For readers wanting a thorough account of her legacy, let me recommend Atlas director John Blundell’s Margaret Thatcher: A Portrait of the Iron Lady, especially chapter 26.

As we salute the Iron Lady’s successes, the community of think tanks that is connected via the Atlas Network also ought to reflect on the sources of that success.

Margaret Thatcher used her remarkable leadership qualities to enact policies based on firm principles about what is required to achieve a free society. “This is what we believe!” she said, slamming down F.A. Hayek’s The Constitution of Liberty on the table, as the newly appointed Leader of the Conservative Party in 1975.

When she ascended to the role of Prime Minister, she wrote to the General Director of the Institute of Economic Affairs: “It is primarily your foundation work which enabled us to rebuild the philosophy upon which our party succeeded.”

When the IEA’s founder, Antony Fisher, began to collect letters of support for his idea to create Atlas to grow and strengthen a network of free-market think tanks, Thatcher’s was surely among the most influential (along with similar letters from Hayek and Friedman) in getting the project going. She wrote:

Dear Mr. Fisher,

On the day I am due to lunch at the IEA, I am delighted to underline my admiration for all the IEA has done over the years for better understanding of the requirements for a free society.

Although aimed chiefly at the academic market, and therefore independent of party political affiliation, the Institute’s publications have not only enabled us to make a start in developing sound economic policies. They have also helped create the intellectual climate within which these policies have commanded increasingly wide acceptance in the universities and the media.

As a result of past errors all countries now face unprecedented economic difficulties. We know that free enterprise can be immensely resilient. But full recovery will call for sustained research and education, not least in the correct role of government if free enterprise is to give of its best.

Much remains to be done to make good past neglect. Accordingly, I applaud your aim to build on the success of the IEA in Europe, America and further afield I believe it deserves the most urgent and generous support of all concerned with the restoration of the market economy as the foundation of a free society.

I wish you every success in your efforts to advance the principles in which we all believe. I am one of your strongest supporters.

With best wishes,

Yours sincerely,

Margaret Thatcher

Atlas joins friends of freedom around the world in mourning the loss of Margaret Thatcher.

As the tide of history again swells with challenges to the future of liberty, let Thatcher’s example remind us of the possibility of great statesmanship that empowers individuals and reduces the role of the state.

With hopes of future leaders of her caliber, Atlas urges its friends and allies around the world to heed her words, encouraging more energetic and principled work toward “the restoration of the market economy as the foundation of a free society.”

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