The policies of Thatcher and Reagan ushered in a new era of peace and prosperity. We have Sir Keith Joseph to thank for that.
Conservatives can, and should, celebrate the 100-year anniversary of Sir Keith Joseph’s birthday on Wednesday. While Buckley, Mises, Hayek and Friedman formed the modern conservative movement’s ideology, it was Sir Keith Joseph that successfully made the case to voters and created the blueprint that conservative politicians, notably Ronald Reagan, have followed since.
It is argued that the adoption, beginning in the 1980s, of market-based economics by global governments would never have happened without Joseph. In essence, Joseph could be credited with stopping the socialist progression of the nanny-state that dominated world democracies after World War II.
Joseph earned honors at Oxford, served in an artillery regiment in World War II, and worked in the private sector before being elected to Parliament in 1956, where he championed the issues of single mothers, and was often appointed to leadership roles in the conservative party.
After the conservative’s 1974 election defeat, Joseph experienced his epiphany. Joseph commented “My first decades as an MP should really have been under the flag, had there been such a party, of well-intentioned statism.”
Like President Nixon at the time, Joseph advocated for wage and price controls as the best response to inflation. Joseph, reminiscing, comprehended his foolishness “I had thought I was a conservative, but I now see that I was not one at all.”
Although well-intentioned, Joseph realized that the problem was not that government was trying to do too little, but that it was trying to do too much. The enemy was “statism.”
After the loss, Joseph traveled to Britain’s impoverished mining and farming towns, and the country’s universities. He challenged the traditional approaches of post-World War II government and made the case that the cure to the existing economic crisis was less government and more individual freedoms. Often, he would leave with his suit stained from rotten produce thrown by the audience.
In 1975, Joseph was the front-runner for conservative party leader, but events forced him to give way to a lesser known politician — Margaret Thatcher. Thanks to Joseph, Thatcher won the party leadership and was victorious in the 1979 general election, becoming Britain’s first female Prime Minister.
It is impossible to overstate the importance of Joseph’s contribution to Thatcher’s victory and subsequent economic success. After Joseph’s death, Thatcher remarked “I could not have become leader of the opposition, or achieved what I did as prime minister, without Keith.”
Joseph believed that conservative principles are critical to successfully address poverty and inequality. He saw the left’s equality initiatives as the source of political oppression “Making the rich poorer does not make the poor richer, but it does make the state stronger and it does increase the power of officials and politicians, power more menacing, more permanent and less useful than market power within the rule of law. Inequality of income can only be eliminated at the cost of freedom.”