HOW MANY PEOPLE DID THATCHER KILL?

The original version was published at Telepolis: Wieviele Menschen hat Thatcher getötet?
 
General Pinochet clearly murdered and tortured thousands of people, but the Blair government were afraid to even put him on trial in Britain. So Pinochet was sent home, and the issue forgotten. After all such atrocities 'don't happen here'. But they do: mass death is inseparable from the history of liberal democratic societies. And this moral issue belongs in Europe, where it originated. Almost certainly, the free market has caused more deaths, than the historical mass murders appropriated by liberals as a historical justification for it. More than Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot, the unholy trinity used to frighten us into accepting liberalism. If there is to be a symbol of the negative consequences of European civilisation, then Wall Street is as appropriate as Auschwitz. Both are part of the 'European Heritage', which the EU and national governments so perversely glorify.


 
What has changed in the last 15 years, to allow me to write this? For the first time in history, several countries have transferred directly, from a non-market to a liberal market economy. They stayed at the same technological level, and kept full statistical records of the effects. It is now possible, for the first time, to estimate the free-market contribution to death rates. These effects are significant, and huge numbers of people are involved. In Russia crude death rates rose from 10,7 per 1000 in 1989 to 15,8 per 1000 in 1994. Comparing Europe in 1500 with Europe in 2000 will not show the effects of the free market: society and technology were fundamentally different in 1500. But Russia in 1994 had the same technology, the same urbanisation, the same infrastructure as Russia in 1989. What changed was that a centrally-planned regime collapsed, and a liberal market system replaced it.

If the free market has caused about one-third of all deaths, in market economies, over the entire period of their existence, then the market has killed hundreds of millions of people. More than all wars, and more than the impact of a one-kilometre meteorite. Probably, the shock of a transition sharply increases death rates, and the long-term market death rate would be lower. But in that case, sudden imposition of neo-liberal policies would increase market death rates, in countries which already have a free market.

Who did that, in the last generation in western Europe? Margaret Thatcher. And who let her get away with it? Tony Blair. The guilty do not need an amnesty, because they are in no danger of any legal process, and they have no punishment to fear. No investigatory tribunal has ever been established for the Thatcher period. No criminal procedure has ever been started against Thatcher, her ministers, or anyone responsible for implementing her policies. The British media ignore Thatcher's guilt, and treat her as a respected member of the House of Lords. That is a society which has closed its eyes: at least in Chile, everyone knows that Pinochet killed people.

It is a European problem, not a British one. It is not a crime in any EU state, to expose people to market forces, even if it kills them. Even if it kills millions of them. In a continent full of monuments, there is no monument to the victims of the market. If there was any widespread discussion of that crime, then probably a new category of historical denial will be created, in the style of Holocaust denial. And unlike Auschwitz, the free market is still in operation.

This cult of amorality is ultimately a moral choice in itself. Historically, it is part of the explicit anti-utopianism, anti-idealism, and anti-moralism of the European liberal tradition. However, this is such a fundamental difference in moral values, that it removes any basis for political community. Morality and Tony Blair do not fit in the same state, and neither do the free market and its victims. As Jews could not feel safe, in a political community founded on denial of the Holocaust, so the poor and the disadvantaged can never feel safe, in a nation which denies the lethal effect of the free market. A European Tribunal for Thatcher would be a sign, that Europe intends to remedy this defect of the British nation state. Such a tribunal should have the power to apply the death penalty, the most appropriate penalty for mass murder.


Jacob Nell and Kitty Stewart (1994)
Death in transition: the rise in the death rate in Russia since 1992
UNICEF International Child Development Centre. Innoccenti Occasional Papers, EPS 45.


Timothy Heleniak (1994)
The projected population of Russia in 2005
Post-Soviet Geography 35 (1994): 608-614.


Timothy Heleniak (1995)
Is Russia's demographic situation improving?
Post-Soviet Geography 36 (1995): 644-646.


Michael Ellman (1997)
Transformation as a demographic crisis
in Lessons from the Economic Transition: Central and Eastern Europe in the 1990's, edited by Salvatore Zecchini: 351-371.


Roland Scharff (1998)
Transformation und Bevölkerungsbewegung in der Russischen Föderation
Osteuropa-Wirtschaft 43, 3: 255-268


Philip McLoone and F A Boddy (1994)
Deprivation and mortality in Scotland, 1981 and 1991
British Medical Journal 309 (1994): 1465-1470.


Andrew Sloggett and Heather Joshi (1994)
Higher mortality in deprived areas: community or personal disadvantage?
British Medical Journal 309 (1994): 1470-1474.


Excess mortality, inequalities in life expectancy, and health inequalities in general are an ethical time bomb, for liberal market democracy. When we think of Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot as the greatest killers in all history, we have got the wrong men. Their symbolic importance for liberalism is that they are so clearly non-liberal: it is not related to any objective scale of death. The Belgian Congo Company, a business and not a state, killed about 10 million people: their brutality bears comparison with that of the SS. But that is not the killing that is remembered in liberal-democratic market societies. Their own accepted history presents these societies as the end of an 'age of atrocities'. That history is a fake.

On the contrary, evidence is accumulating, that liberalism - and the liberal free market which it promotes - form a killing machine. The evidence from Russia suggests that it is primarily the market which kills people, not a liberal political system. On the other hand, the triumph the modern free market depended on the victory of the liberal ideology: that was certainly the case in Russia. No liberals, no market. Before modern liberalism emerged in the 18th century, the modern free market did not exist: it is not a natural phenomenon.

In the long term, the global market economy seems not only to increase inequalities, but to systematically worsen the conditions for the weakest populations. All research shows huge global inequalities in health, almost always to the advantage of the market democracies. There is no doubt that there is a huge excess mortality at global level: about 13 million from preventable infectious diseases alone, according to the World Disasters Report 2000.

Inside western societies, health inequalities appear permanent - unaffected by changes of government, beyond the reach of health policy. The evidence is relentless: the poor live shorter lives in worse health, socially disadvantaged groups are also disadvantaged in health and mortality, and so are disadvantaged ethnic minorities.

The inequalities are persistent. Three studies in Amsterdam showed higher mortality rates in the poorest neighbourhoods. That was in true in 1972-1976, true again in 1977-1983, and true again in 1986-1991. Another study found the same pattern in the four largest cities of the Netherlands: mortality rates in prosperous neighbourhoods were as much as 24% under city average, mortality in the poorest neighbourhoods was up to 32% above average. Probably these inequalities are much older. Amsterdam statistics for infant mortality can be related to social class, as far back as 1854. Although perinatal and infant mortality fell sharply, the inequalities remained.

The inequalities in mortality reflect the multiple inequalities in liberal market democracies - income and poverty, social class, unemployment, successful and declining regions. Researchers who use new indicators find new matches, between inequality and mortality. In Spanish cities, for instance, inequalities in education are reflected in dramatic differences in mortality. Lack of education seriously damages your health. In fact it drastically shortens your life and increases your risk of dying.

The inequalities in mortality are extreme, for specific groups - just as extreme as the social inequalities themselves. The Madrid/Barcelona study found that some disadvantaged groups were 7 times more likely to die.

Within the free-market societies, the differences in life expectancy are substantial. They are at least as great as the difference among their national averages, which range between 75 and 80 years. The Madrid/Barcelona study found a 6-year gap, according to educational level.

The excess mortality - the most significant for the historical comparisons - is substantial. Is it not a statistical triviality. For the entire population of western liberal market democracies, about one-sixth of global population, it is certainly measured in millions. And that is only the internal excess mortality, without counting any deaths in Africa, for instance. Another study in Spain compared mortality rates in 2220 geographical areas, and estimated excess mortality at 10%, or 35 000 deaths a year. If these were sustained rates, Spanish market democracy has killed more people than the Spanish Civil War. (During the entire period covered by the study, Felipe González was Prime Minister).

Even this is probably an underestimate, since it is a comparison of areas, not of social groups. The comparison can not be complete, unless each zone is inhabited by one social group only. This study, incidentally, allows a first estimate of the excess mortality under Thatcher. The population of the United Kingdom is about 50% greater. Without correcting for age structure, assume the absolute excess mortality before Thatcher was simply 50% higher in the UK, about 52 000. Assume that excess mortality worsened due to transition effects, in the 10 years of the Thatcher government, and the estimate exceeds a half-million. Only the largest extermination camps under the Nazi regime (Belzec, Treblinka and Auschwitz) exceeded this scale of death. A full research programme, by demographers and epidemiologists, could improve on this type of first estimate. But who would pay for a research programme, that compared Margaret Thatcher to Eichmann?


International Federation of Red Cross and Crescent Societies
World Disasters Report 2000

Harvard School of Public Health
The Global Burden of Disease and Injury: Summary

S.A. Reijneveld (1997)
Sociaal-economische verschillen in de gezondheid van de Amsterdammers
Gemeentelijke Geneeskundige en Gezondheidsdienst Amsterdam: Afdeling Epidemiologie, Documentatie en Gezondheidsbevordering.

I. Haverkate et al. (1993)
Sterfte per buurt naar sociaal-economische status: een vergelijking tussen de vier grootste Nederlandse steden
Gemeentelijke Geneeskundige en Gezondheidsdienst Amsterdam.

C. Borrell et al. (1999)
Inequalities in mortality according to educational level in two large Southern European cities.
International Journal of Epidemiology 28 (1999): 58-63

Juan Benach and Yutaka Yasui (1999)
Geographical patterns of excess mortality in Spain explained by two indices of deprivation.
Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 53 (1999): 423-431

Richard Mitchell, Daniel Dorling and Mary Shaw (2000)
Inequalities in life and death: What if Britain were more equal?
Policy Press / Rowntree Foundation


Research projects on health inequalities and mortality take several years. The British studies listed above refer to the period of Conservative government. But the last one (Rowntree Foundation) is making policy demands on the Blair government - demands it refuses to implement. Blair is being asked to reverse Thatcher's 'modernisation' of British society, which he has often praised. In his language: he is being asked to take money away from talented and productive creators of wealth, the hope for Britain's future. He is being asked, to give their money to the lazy unemployed, to people who make no effort to increase their employability, to drug addicts who beg on the street. It would be against all his political principles to redistribute wealth or income in this way.

Ultimately, both Blair and Thatcher regard the lives of the poor as a necessary sacrifice: neither of them would simply abandon their policies. The results of Thatchers attitude are visible in the research results, and the statistical verdict on Blair is now available. He kills the poor too.


Department of Health (2002)
Tackling Health Inequalities: Summary of the 2002 Cross-Cutting Review


That is why there will be no trial of Margaret Thatcher, or any of her ministers. If Tony Blair allows a tribunal for Thatcher, then soon he will face a similar tribunal. One by one, the political leaders of western Europe would face such a tribunal. Perhaps there is no evidence against them yet, but it will come. Apparently, all new research uncovers new excess mortality. On the basis of the consistent pattern found so far, it is safe to say, that all western governments are slowly but systematically killing the weakest sections of their own population. In eastern Europe things are worse. And in Africa they are far worse. Collectively, if the liberal market democracies are seen as a single historical phenomenon - the grand project of European liberalism - it is probably the worst 'mortality event' in human history.


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Neoliberalism