It is never pleasant to hear about somebody's death, but it can be redemptive. Contemplating their legacy forces you to contemplate what will some day be your own. It begs the question: for what do you want to be remembered?
I hope to leave the people I've known with the conviction that they have both the power and the responsibility to make the world a better place for everybody in it. The exact opposite, in other words, of the legacy left by Margaret Thatcher who swept to power with the seductive but corrosive notion that greed is a virtue and not a vice.
The best thing you can do for your friends and neighbours, she assured us, is forget about them. Focus all of your energy on your own self interest, and market forces will ensure the broadest distribution of opportunity and wealth. It's easy to understand why she was so successful: Who doesn't want to be absolved of responsibilities? Who wouldn't want to be assured that self-gratification will help your friends and neighbours?
But it was the political equivalent of a miracle diet. And like a miracle diet, it has actually done more harm than good.
Thirty years later, we are all suffering the effects. Income inequality is rising. The opportunities for prosperity are falling. Our hospitals, schools, social safety nets, and infrastructure are being squeezed. Our environment faces every-growing threat. Our democratic and civil society institutions are fading away. And we’ve come to hate taxes, revile public service, and resent the success of all but the super-rich.
Our most cynical politicians are paying enthusiastic tribute this week to Thatcher's legacy: she showed them how easy it can be to seize power by appealing to people's basest desire for easy self-gratification.
But as she and her poisonous philosophy take their place in the history books, I'm hoping we can begin a new chapter.
It's time to move beyond this cold, detached and sorry state of affairs and remind ourselves that it takes work and sometimes even sacrifice to build something truly worthwhile: a society that is fair and prosperous for all.
James Clancy is the President of the National Union of Public and General Employees.
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