Seeing The Iron Lady (incredibly convincing acting, weak story, by the way) prompted some thoughts about the current health of the capitalist model so loved by Maggie.
When she occupied No.10, society was polarised between privatisers and punks – it was easy to know which side you were on. But today the fallout from the financial crisis means the legitimacy of capitalism is being questioned from all sides.
The massive impact of the Occupy ‘campaign’ on national conversations on both sides of the Atlantic shows we have the seeds of a new global movement – capitalism crumble if you will. The key ingredients are:
1. We are in the midst of a crisis of politics. Thatcher was able to sell a brand of austerity because it had ideological as well as pragmatic grounding. Today that ideology is pretty toxic. Citizens – especially in Europe – expect their governments to protect them against insecurities but they are losing the ability to do this. The age of austerity will only exacerbate the trend as it dislodges the accepted relationship between society and state, asking people to pay more, work longer but get less back. Austerity is here to stay and the writing is on the wall for the European social contract.
2. The mother of all capitalists is losing her swagger. America may remain the world’s most powerful economy (just) but its economic and political influence is waning. Even the colossal defence budget is likely to be trimmed. Once upon a time, The Iron Lady would look to the States as the unashamed beacon of wealth creation but now record numbers of Americans – formerly the unrelenting purveyors of optimism – are pessimistic about the future. There is growing disenchantment that the richest 400 Americans are said to have more wealth than the bottom 150 million, exacerbated by the big problem that the stuttering economy is perceived to be creating more losers than winners. A recent poll by the National Journal found that 59 per cent of Americans agreed with the ‘aims’ of the Occupy Wall Street protest.
3. People are fed up with fat cats. Society doesn’t have a problem with wealth per se – nobody is seriously arguing Steve Jobs didn’t deserve his billions – but public bailouts of the banks across the world have catalysed a feeling that honest taxpayers have been ripped off on an epic scale. Corporate greed is back on the regulatory agenda because financial success seems to have become decoupled from hard work and creating jobs and value. Britain’s economy may be struggling but FTSE 100 directors’ saw their total earnings rise by 49 per cent in the past financial year, according to Incomes Data Services, the pay monitoring group. The stink is so bad that a Conservative prime minister is suggesting state intervention to curb the fat cats, unimaginable in Mrs T’s heyday.
4. Globalisation breeds mass uncertainty. Where Maggie and Ronnie could once define capitalism in black and white terms as freedom against the authoritarian menace of communism, it now struggles to articulate such a simple narrative. What and where is the ideological enemy?
Left to fester, could these trends prompt capitalism to crumble before our eyes? Possibly, but surely we first need a coherent protest movement to coalesce the disenchanted.
Back to the film, my main criticism is that the story is based so heavily on supposition and second-guessing the mind of once great woman suffering dementia. Consequently, the viewer is left confused over what is fact or fiction and the impact of major historical decisions is weakened.
I’d love to know what remedy the Iron Lady would have prescribed for the brewing crisis of capitalism. One thing I do know is that the current batch of world leaders seem woefully ill equipped to get us out of this mess.