The ideas of low taxes, limited government, and free enterprise won the Cold War, but now they are being “strangled into stagnation,” former British Prime Minister Liz Truss warned Wednesday.
Truss made her remarks in Washington at The Heritage Foundation’s 2023 Margaret Thatcher Freedom Lecture, hosted by Nile Gardiner, director of the foundation’s Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom. (The Daily Signal is the news outlet of The Heritage Foundation).
Truss, 47, served as the 56th prime minister of the United Kingdom from Sept. 5 to Oct. 24, a total of less than seven weeks. Before that, she served three prior prime ministers in six different roles, including as secretary of state for the environment and as minister for women and equalities.
Truss asked why people don’t feel free after the triumph of Anglo-American ideas in the Cold War. People who hate freedom are gaining ground, she said, citing the Russian war on Ukraine and the Chinese threatening of Taiwan.
Truss says China and Russia have seen Anglo-American weakness and have weaponized it against us.
“What I worry about now is that we’re seeing these [free enterprise] economic ideas [and] this economic model strangled into stagnation,” she said.
If Russian President Vladimir Putin wins his war in Ukraine, it will only embolden Chinese President Xi Jinping, Truss said.
“The invasion of Taiwan wouldn’t just be a threat to freedom and democracy in Taiwan—which is, of course, important. And it wouldn’t just be a threat to freedom and democracy around the world,” she said. “It would be a direct economic threat to us in Europe, and you on the other side of the Atlantic.”
Truss said the United States should supply fighter jets to Ukraine and fast-track Ukraine’s membership in NATO.
“Our strength is needed because we’ve got to ask ourselves after the success of winning the Cold War, why is it that authoritarians are on the march around the world?” she asked.
America and the United Kingdom are not economically robust enough, which made it easier for Putin to act with impunity, Truss argued. Additionally, she said our economies haven’t grown fast enough.
“We have to ask ourselves, with our economies in the state they are in now,” she asked, “are we going to be fit to take on China in the decades ahead?”
The U.S. and British economies are currently focused on the wrong things: stagnation; redistribution; environmental, social and governance (“ESG”) policies; and woke ideology, according to the former prime minister.
“I call these people the anti-growth movements, and they come in many shapes and sizes,” she said.
“This model results in more taxes. It results in more subsidies, and it results in more regulation,” Truss explained.
The former prime minister fears America and England are becoming “social democracies,” in which people see the government as a “concierge” service that they can call on in times of need, forgetting former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s core belief in personal responsibility.
The British state spends nearly half of every pound in Britain, Truss said, adding that she doesn’t think that’s what its citizens want.
“I believe that people want to have control of their own lives, to develop their own futures, have their own businesses,” Truss said. “I don’t believe they want to be dependent on government handouts. People aspire to a higher standard of living. They want their children to have a better life than they had.”
Truss said she underestimated the hostility many in British government have toward change. Her reforms faced “coordinated resistance,” she said, adding:
I simply underestimated the scale and depth of this resistance and the scale to which it reached into the media and into the broader establishment.
“My supply-side reforms were about making Britain more competitive,” she continued. “They were about making us a more successful country, where we were less reliant on government.”
Truss said she learned that having the right ideas is not enough to make an impact in government.
“We need to be able to take on those who resist change, and who don’t want change,” she said. “We need to be able to ensure that we’re winning the argument enough to be able to do that.”
America and England need to return to our core values, Truss said.
“We share a great heritage of freedom between our two countries,” she said, adding that identity politics and critical race theory have undermined that freedom.
She said that to take back our countries, we need to tell the stories of freedom, recapture language, reduce the size of government, and rediscover free trade.
“We need to get real about the threat from authoritarian regimes and their unwitting allies in the anti-growth movement in the West,” Truss said. “We need to get organized about taking these forces on, and we need to fight this battle of ideas once again. Mrs. Thatcher would have expected nothing less.”
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