At the time Thatcher rose to power in the 1970s, the triumph of the left could be measured in the mountains of uncollected rubbish on the streets, the picket lines that forced some hospitals to close to all but emergency cases, and the bodies that gathered in the morgue.
Striking labor unions seeking ever-greater pay raises controlled all these industries and many more, with the full approval of the then-reigning Labor Party. But as the Conservative Party’s mercilessly witty campaign slogan put it, “Labor Isn’t Working.”
James Callaghan, the Labor prime minister, failed to see the trouble, telling a reporter in 1979, “I don’t think that other people in the world would share the view that there is mounting chaos.” The Sun’s next-day headline would become a widely quoted catchphrase: “Crisis? What Crisis?”
Thatcher, who was schooled in the free-market theory of F.A. Hayek, replaced Callaghan, crushed the striking unions, and beat inflation (then in double digits) by tightening the money supply and unleashing the wealth creation of the marketplace by privatizing a huge chunk of the state-run economy.
Before Thatcher, British Airways, Rolls-Royce, BP, the phone system, the railroads and the gas company were all being run by government bureaucracies.