I blame the British government for the riots

There has been a lot of “opinion” expressed over the last few days about the causes of the British riots. If I had a meter to assess the ideological biases given breath in the press over this issue to date it would be swinging out there in the right-wing of opinion – “cultural problem”, “lawless lazy youth fed by the welfare state”, “criminality”, “intolerable monsters” all words I have read or heard in the media recently. Anyway who has my view is labelled a “left-wing cynic” who want to “makes excuses for thugs”. Opinion is after all just that so it is always of benefit to temper it with research evidence. Anyway, the short conclusion – supported by the research evidence – is that I blame the British government for the riots.

I grew up on a post WW2 Housing Commission estate in Ashwood a suburb of Melbourne, Australia. These were places provided by the state at low rentals for the soldiers who came back from the War and who were not able to afford to do any better given their incomes and their burgeoning families – the baby boomer kids. They were disadvantaged areas in a relative sense and were generally wastelands – sparse services (shops, professional help etc) and lots of crime, gangs (“the Jordy Boys”) and police aggro.

These were the baby-boomer breeding grounds and there were always enough kids in the street to have exciting cricket and football matches. The children from these poor estates received support from the state in the form of subsidised school uniforms, books, materials and small living allowances which enabled pro-education families to keep their children in school – the only escape really from the poverty.

Many of the parents were alcoholics, working in low-skill jobs with low-pay. There was domestic violence, street violence and a disregard for authority. The men were tough and had low levels of tolerance for cultural finery. They were misogynist, homophobic, racist and probably other words I don’t know. It was not an intellectual environment.

But having said that the area was also a hot-bed of rock and blues music (and tattoos) with some really good musicians emerging out of the garages.

The estate was recently the subject of an excellent historical analysis – Once there was Jordanville – which is a very interesting portrayal of social change and welfare provision. If you grew up on one of the “pre-fab” public housing estates in Melbourne during the 1950-1960s you will probably find some of the archival material of great interest. I did.

This State Library of Victoria picture depicts one of the Housing Commission of Victoria signs on the South Jordanville Estate, advertising 986 houses for 4,240 people – the picture was taken on March 27, 1953.

Here is a 1953 State Library of Victoria picture of a typical building (two adjoined houses) on the estates (this one from nearby Ashburton estate). We called these the “cheese” houses (as in Swiss Cheese) given the rather distinctive architecture (not!) surrounding the porches. They were constructed out of pre-fabricated concrete blocks which were then trucked in and bolted together on-site. The houses were cold in winter and mould crept up the concrete walls because typically the joints between floor and wall were not exactly flush! Other houses were made of brick but with zero insulation – that is, cold and small.

This is the picture my high school in its early days (taken 1958 – although I didn’t attend there until the mid-1960s) – not exactly salubrious. The State Library of Victoria description of the photo:

… more like a prison camp than a place of learning. The only things missing from the six rusting Nissen huts are the bayonets and barbed wire.

The same type of huts were used for the Holmesglen Migrant Hostel, which abutted the estate. This was one of several hostels where the new migrants were located upon arrival to our land. You could fry eggs on the corrugated iron roofs/walls in summer they were so hot and the families were squeezed in like sardines. They were even more disadvantaged than the locals but we all seemed to get along and the migrant parents and the local parents all had work.

Here is a picture – from the Museum of Victoria from 1962 of that hostel which was a few hundred metres from my childhood home.

The relevance of all that other than satisfying my own research interests (to see what documentation there is of these early housing developments) is that while the parents were poor and had little resources there was some mobility for the children who grew up on these estates. There was hope.

For the academically bright there were a sequence of state-provided scholarships (now not provided) which gave parents a small living allowance as an incentive to keep their kids progressing through school. For those who were not academically inclined there were many apprenticeship opportunities mostly provided within the state and federal government (housing, roads, infrastructure, railways, etc) which engendered skill development and a career path.

And, for those who were not inclined or able to take advantage of these opportunities, there were countless factory and low-skill jobs available which provided a person (at the lowest academic rung) a chance to have a secture job with relatively protected conditions and undertake career development to move up within the manufacturing chain (to say leading hand etc).

Further the parents all had secure incomes – low to be sure – but there was full employment and supplementary state benefits to assist with low cost housing, health care and education. The welfare state did not erode the incentive to work. There was no hint that a person would not work. Jobs were there and people wanted them.

This was the Welfare State in action – buttressing a system that was predicated on the state maintaining full employment.

There were youth gangs in the area. For example, the “Jordy sharpies”, a strange lot of characters who wore flagged pants with knitted shirts and black socks and light brown sandals and shaved heads. They were violent, intolerant and ugly. But they only really caused havoc on Friday and Saturday nights because the rest of the time they were working courtesy of full employment. There wasn’t a sense of extreme disadvantage even though a researcher like me would look back on that time and consider the “objective” data demonstrated abject disadvantage.

But our parents – the drunks and others – all worked because there was full employment. There was full employment and welfare and continuous budget deficits and low inflation and rising living standards (real wages growing in line with productivity) because the federal government took responsibility for these things.

Maintaining full employment was an overriding goal of economic policy which governments of all political persuasions took seriously. Unemployment rates below two per cent were considered normal and when unemployment threatened to increase, government intervened by stimulating aggregate demand. Even conservative governments acted in this way, if only because they feared the electoral backlash that was associated with unemployment in excess of 2 per cent.

While unemployment was seen as a waste of resources and a loss of national income which together restrained the growth of living standards, it was also constructed in terms of social and philosophical objectives pertaining to dignity, well-being and the quest for sophistication. It was also clearly understood that the maintenance of full employment was the collective responsibility of society, expressed through the macroeconomic policy settings. Governments had to ensure that there were jobs available that were accessible to the most disadvantaged workers in the economy.

This framework has been systematically abandoned in most OECD countries over the last 35 years. The overriding priority of macroeconomic policy has shifted towards keeping inflation low and suppressing the stabilisation functions of fiscal policy. Concerted political campaigns by neo-liberal governments aided and abetted by a capitalist class intent on regaining total control of workplaces, have hectored communities into accepting that mass unemployment and rising underemployment is no longer the responsibility of government.

As a consequence, the insights gained from the writings of Keynes, Marx and Kalecki into how deficient demand in macroeconomic systems constrains employment opportunities and forces some individuals into involuntary unemployment have been discarded.

The concept of systemic failure has been replaced by sheeting the responsibility for economic outcomes onto the individual. Accordingly, anyone who is unemployed has chosen to be in that state either because they didn’t invest in appropriate skills; haven’t searched for available opportunities with sufficient effort or rigour; or have become either “work shy” or too selective in the jobs they would accept.

Governments are seen to have bolstered this individual lethargy through providing excessively generous income support payments and restrictive hiring and firing regulations. The prevailing view held by economists and policy makers is that individuals should be willing to adapt to changing circumstances and individuals should not be prevented in doing so by outdated regulations and institutions.

The role of government is then prescribed as one of ensuring individuals reach states where they are employable. This involves reducing the ease of access to income support payments via pernicious work tests and compliance programs; reducing or eliminating other “barriers” to employment (for example, unfair dismissal regulations); and forcing unemployed individuals into a relentless succession of training programs designed to address deficiencies in skills and character.

If I had have grown up on the same sort of estate now – with unemployment high and hope low – and was of migrant background to boot (adding a racial element) – then I think if the government had have cut funding to our sole resource – the local youth club – and the police, after years of relentless stop-searches and harassment based on race, had actually murdered one of us, then I can easily imagine the kids becoming violent and rioting. Disadvantage is hard enough even when the state is attenuating it via welfare support and there is full employment to ensure people have stable (albeit low incomes).

Combine a dysfunctional and underfunded schooling system, constant racial harassment by the authorities, very high unemployment and you don’t exactly set in place the building blocks for social harmony.

Anyway, as I said in the introduction, opinion is one thing but research is another. There was an interesting Discussion Paper released this month by the UK-based Centre for Economic Policy ResearchAusterity and anarchy: budget cuts and social unrest in Europe, 1919-2009 – which provides some evidence-based assessments that might help us understand the British riots.

The Discussion Paper seeks to “assess whether episodes of “fiscal consolidation lead to social unrest”. They argue that from “the end of the Weimar Republic in Germany in the 1930s to anti-government demonstrations in Greece in 2010-11, austerity has tended to go hand in hand with politically motivated violence and social instability”. They clearly wrote this before the current British riots.

They assembled a panel data set (that is for a number of countries over time) focused on Europe between 1919 to 2009. The period is interesting because it involved “high levels of instability in the first half of the 20th century to relatively low ones in the second, and … frequently troubled economic conditions to prosperity”. In other words, it satisfies the needs of time-series econometrics – variance in the data. You cannot find anything interesting when the data is not variable.

Their research results:

… show a clear positive correlation between fiscal retrenchment and instability.

They suggest that “sustainable debt levels for countries that are prone to unrest may be lower than they otherwise would be” which raises an interesting point. It is clear that the macroeconomic underpinning of their work – specifically their concept of “fiscal sustainability” is mainstream and I would reject that outright. You might like to read this suite of blogs – Fiscal sustainability 101 – Part 1Fiscal sustainability 101 – Part 2Fiscal sustainability 101 – Part 3 – to understand the concept from the perspective of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT).

But even though if we interrogated the authors I would be sure they would come out with all the mainstream macroeconomic myths the current work I am discussing here is not really dependent on those underpinnings. It is an empirical study which relates the extant data in an interesting way which I think provides a reasonable basis for inference (judging by the econometric techniques used).

They define instability in terms of “riots, demonstrations, political assassinations, government crises, and attempted revolutions” and compile a summation measure they call CHAOS.

Their challenge is to assess “for every percentage cut in government spending, how much more instability should we expect” given that the “data shows a clear link between the magnitude of expenditure cutbacks and increases in social unrest.”

Their first graph (which I reproduce below) shows the frequencies of the various measures of instability “conditional on the size of budget cuts”.

They conclude that:

When expenditure is increasing, the average country-year unit of observation in our data registers less than 1.5 events. When expenditure cuts reach 1% or more of GDP, this grows to nearly 2 events, a relative increase by almost a third compared to the periods of budget expansion. As cuts intensify, the frequency of disturbances rises. Once austerity measures involve expenditure reductions by 5% or more, there are more than 3 events per year and country — twice as many as in times of expenditure increases.

So there is a link between “austerity measures and unrest” but then they ask “Is the link causal?”. They recognise that “(o)ther factors, such as generally depressed economic conditions, could drive up unrest and the need for cutbacks simultaneously”.

Once again you sense their mainstream bias – that when you have depressed conditions you need fiscal austerity. Why? Answer: the budget deficit rises due to the automatic stabilisers (even if there is no discretionary fiscal stimulus) and because governments hang on to gold standard practices and issue debt to match their deficits the public debt ratios rise beyond the erroneous mainstream threshold of sustainability. It becomes self-defining – even though it is flawed root-and-branch logic.

But the statistical point is sound – two events could be related because they are both driven by a third causal event without the two events being causally related.

To “demonstrate that causality runs from cut-backs to unrest” the authors “refine the data in two ways:

First, we analyse a more detailed dataset that gives information about the causes of each incident. Second, we use recently-compiled data on changes in the government budget that follow directly from policy changes … For both types of additional evidence, we find clear indications that the link runs from budget cuts to unrest

They conduct a series of other “control” and “placebo” tests to reinforce their findings which I will leave to the interested reader to delve into separately.

There has also been claims that social media and mobile phones allow thugs to riot more easily. The Discusssion Paper investigated this question and found that “If anything, higher levels of media availability and a more developed telecommunications infrastructure reduce the strength of the mapping from budget cuts to instability”. So censorship is unlikely to stop this sort of event.

Which brings me to the point.

The right-wing press in the UK is now using these events to further their ideological agenda.

I loved this (representative) headline – Left-wing cynics blame the Tory cuts for orgy of violence: MPs and activists line up to make excuses for thugs.

The Daily Mail article said:

Left-wing politicians have cynically sought to make political capital out of the riots, blaming government cuts for the orgy of violence.

Labour MPs and activists lined up to make excuses for the thugs, spouting claims that disadvantaged youth had no option but to smash up high streets.

The article was mostly a series of quotes from commentators and the BBC who might have dared linked the economic conditions and fiscal austerity to the riots. They then quotes extensively some conservative MP who said “It’s complete nonsense. These riots are about vandalism”.

How come vandalism is concentrated in areas with the highest unemployment?

Another conservative MP said “This is opportunistic criminality”. But is opportunism the manifestation of an uncontrolled crisis? If you have no hope

I am sure that the British Prime Minister was relaxing at his Tuscan holiday villa thinking that everyone plays by the same rules and that he could then impose harsh cutbacks on the poorest communities and everyone would cop it sweet. While he might claim that the violence is ”utterly unacceptable’ and ”pure criminality” what he doesn’t want to acknowledge is that the system that has made him rich along with his mates (on all sides of politics) has also created the conditions that deny a growing minority of young people any real hope.

The high unemployment that the system delivers in the disadvantaged areas means that the youth are largely idle and the opportunities that are available to them are mostly destructive for themselves and others.

Why should some person with a high income in a secure job say that a kid on a housing estate who hasn’t the slightest hope of getting the same (no matter how hard they might try) who turns to dealing in drugs so they can have some material comfort is making criminal and opportunistic choices. What would I do if I had nothing and no hope?

I thought this Sydney Morning Herald article (August 9, 2011) – Anarchy reigns and a nation struggles to understand why – had a more reasoned view of the situation. You can see the original blog – Panic on the streets of London.

The author said:

… a young man in Tottenham was asked if rioting really achieved anything.

”Yes,” said the young man. ”You wouldn’t be talking to me now if we didn’t riot, would you? Two months ago we marched to Scotland Yard, more than 2000 of us, all blacks, and it was peaceful and calm and you know what? Not a word in the press. Last night a bit of rioting and looting and look around you.”

There are communities all over the country that nobody paid attention to unless there had recently been a riot or a murdered child. Well, they’re paying attention now.

The article argues that the riots are the product of a life-time of abuse and disrespect by a system that ignores the problems.

The Economist (August 9, 2011) – Political risk and austerity said:

Nevertheless, it is reasonable to ask why people are doing this now and not five years ago. The high level of youth unemployment (20% of those aged 16 to 24 are out of work), the inequality of incomes and wealth and the effect of local authority spending cuts on youth services are all factors that might have contributed.

The fiscal austerity according to this view then is a trigger – sort of like the last straw.

Ultimately, I consider one of the advantages of full employment to be a more coherent society where everyone has a chance to demonstrate their potential in various ways. One of the costs of unemployment is the denial of potential. While mostly these costs are borne by the individual and their families, when particular conditions are coincident you get social unrest which sometimes escalates into riots and more.

The reason I blame the British government (the sequence of them) is that they have embraced a neo-liberal philosophy (and enacted it) which denies any state responsibility for full employment. Further in embracing the mainstream view that budget deficits are essentially bad and that fiscal austerity is necessary they have denied the macroeconomy the aggregate demand necessary to generate enough jobs.

The government always chooses the unemployment rate. After all the private spending decisions have been made which determine a particular demand for labour, the government can either fill the spending gap to make sure the remaining jobs are provided (in relation to the willing labour force) or leave the workers unemployed. The government always has that choice and always has the financial (fiscal) capacity to provide the jobs. Unemployment is a sign that the state has not spent enough in any particular period.

Then you overlay that macroeconomic policy failure with all the rest of the inequalities that exist in a demand-constrained economy and the result is that a selective cohort (not just black in this case but definitely youth – these riots are about age not race) bears the brunt of unemployment and the lack of hope that it brings.

I also heard an interesting radio program on the way to the airport this morning that noted that we don’t attribute the same degree of hatred to the Wall Street bankers who stole, lied and were opportunistic in the extreme and have caused more damage than these riots by a factor of some X.

The response to the riots should be initially to announce a Job Guarantee which would provide the youth of Britain with some income security and perhaps give the government some room to work out how to address the more deep-seated issues that have led to the riots.

But the research evidence I cited today definitely implicates the fiscal austerity.


Running out of time now and about to fly back home.

Tomorrow the July Labour Force data for Australia is released. I will probably look into that.

That is enough for today!

This Post Has 54 Comments

  1. I have taught in Birmingham since 1976. There was a lead-up to the first Handsworth riot of 1981 and it was like preparing for an exciting party. Boredom, the opportunity to steal and commit arson etc with impunity, and a general chippy loser culture all had a part to play. The mind-forg’d manacles are often placed by the victims on themselves and each other.

    I agree that employment is important, especially for the young, but I don’t accept poverty as an excuse. As a child, I had far less materially than pretty much any of them. Young men need to be kept busy, and to earn money so they can attract a mate and then be kept even busier raising a family. And then you’ll get the handon of expectations about behaviour.

    But there’s also a chicken and egg aspect. In Lozells (where I taught in the late 70s), the worst academically were a white minority, because anyone else with initiative had moved on and out. There’s a reinforcement loop that makes some areas permanently deprived.

  2. “They define instability in terms of “riots, demonstrations, political assassinations, government crises, and attempted revolutions” and compile a summation measure they call CHAOS.”
    I understand what you are saying; the wealthy define an uprising as ‘instabily’ and ingnore the plight of the middle class and poor as anything more than a nuisance, wereas to the rest of us CHAOS is homelessness, starvation, drugs, broken families, etc. “Let them eat cake.” Didn’t work for the French in the 1790’s, I guess we will see how it works for the rich in the first half of this century.

  3. Bill, I can not thank you enough for alerting me and others to the austerity report. I shall alert those I know who, besides myself, may have missed it.

    Where I grew up in southwestern Pa, there were what would now be referred to as porta-cabins for the returning service personnel. They were a little better than the quonset huts you showed, but I was told when young that people were pleased to have them. They were supposed to be temporary, but as in the nature of such things they were in use about 20 or so years after the war, though some were empty and available for playing around.

    The psychological depth, both individual and social, of the reporting of the current social unrest in the maninstream UK media is abysmal. Perhaps an introductory course in social psychology for journalists so employed might help? [He suggests rhetorically.]

  4. I agree. We Brits are bemused that our young people are suddenly behaving like bankers, saying, “Give us free stuff or we’ll trash your economy!” We may cave in to the bankers, but we sure know how to take it out on the children. The British way. I blame the parents myself (for the bankers, that is).

  5. Cameron is on TV blaming the parents, claiming everyone is lazy, feckless, dependent on handouts and should take responsibility for their own actions…….Blaming everyone except himself that is…. He can’t accept responsibility for screwing the economy and he can’t take responsibility for events as the leader of the damn country.


    Posh looking gangsta bitch on the BBC suggesting to shoot the children with rubber bullets and incarcerate them.

    Par for the course really.

  6. Bill,

    Excellent essay, and a welcome antidote to the venomous ‘law and order’ rhetoric being spouted by the media.

    While I have every sympathy with residents and business-owners who have to live with these riots, it drives me crazy to see that the focus, as ever, is on the symptoms (i.e., ‘mindless/opportunistic thuggery’. etc.), rather than the cause (gutting facilities of poor communities, turning certain areas of England into open prisons, as well as a single incident of someone being shot by the police).

    It’s ironic that so-called ‘libertarians’ tend to be the very people who demand a violent state to deal with anyone to their distaste. Sadly, I have a feeling that Cameron will go the tried-and-tested Thatcher route of gutting the public sector to the exclusion of the police and the army, who can deal with the rabble on behalf of his fellow political travellers and their sponsors.

    I suppose the events of recent days, as well as the study cited in this blog, prove that even when you take away community facilities and gut social welfare payments, there’s still another automatic stabiliser – it’s called crime.

    Thanks again, Bill, for this excellent piece.

  7. It’s not left-wing cynism, it’s commonsense. People need jobs and opportunities to learn jobs and get jobs. Simple. When people are achieving something they feel good. Rioters aren’t happy people obviously. And to Cameron who blames the ‘sick’ society: Who’s fault is that? Of course this society is ‘sick’ we have parasitic polititians (who are supposed to be looking out for us) looking out for themselves and thiefing with a complete lack of regard similar to that which the rioters had.
    Its time the government started listening to its citizens, its time they started accepting a ‘normal’ wage and put the tax money into increasing services and general quality of life for everyone here instead of ripping us off.
    There is no problem with this country, but there is a big problem with the government.
    And before anyone says I don’t condone rioting or violence in any way but come on, this is cause and effect – what you reap is what you sow.

  8. As Chris Bertram said on Crooked Timber yesterday:

    “Theresa May, the Home Secretary, blames it all on “mindless criminality”, which rather raises the question of why there’s a sudden eruption of “mindless criminality” under her government.”

    Or to extend that – governments may rail against “irresponsible mindless criminal thugs”, but who created a society where they exist, where they have no stake in that society?

  9. The word “thugs” was also in high visibility in Wisconsin yesterday, which was holding its recall elections. The word was there preceded by the word “union”, which apparently the right wing can no longer utter except as “union thugs”. Interestly however, Wisconsin’s “thugs” aren’t disadvantaged black youths inhabiting some urban ForgottenLand. They are mostly the state’s teachers, who are apparently viewed by some as looting the state’s citizenry in order to make a living comensurate with their skills and importance. And this from the state that was FIRST to allow its teachers to organize.

    Meanwhile, across the pond in London, West Indian writer and broadcaster Darcus Howe, who apparently lives in one of the areas in which rioting is occurring, was interviewed by the BBC in this amazing “interview gone wrong” YouTube video. It seems Darcus wasn’t buying the “thugs” excuse the BBC wanted to peddle, and the interviewer almost immediately tries to get him to change what he’s saying. Darcus refuses, insisting on completing his story, and towards the end, the interviewer actually tries to accuse him of being one of the looters. Shameful!

  10. @S Wednesday, August 10, 2011 at 21:37

    “… put the tax money into increasing services and general quality of life for everyone here instead of ripping us off”

    Governments don’t put tax money into anything. Governments can spend regardless of the amount of taxes they collect.

    Just thought I’d pick up on that one. Otherwise I agree with what you wrote.

    Let’s not give up on good macroeconomics even when talking about such tragic events. This the root cause of the problem after all.

  11. Dear Bill,

    Your post today is about sociology, not economics.

    IMHO, there are many possible explanations for the riots in Britain. Events like this are always complex and many sided. And it is simply too soon to jump into conclusions. Years from now, sociology professors will probably still be debating the subject and – as always – it will be difficult if not impossible to arrive at consensual theories on its causes.

    So my suggestion is for this blog to stick to economics.

    MMT has many valuable insights on the workings of the real economy and the monetary system. I think it is a mistake to open it to attacks from the mainstream by engaging in speculations on out-of-topic subjects, that are of no use to help us understand the causes of the present crisis.


  12. Good essay by Ahmed Naseem at Counterpunch:

    The Economics Conditions Driving Riot Fever
    Burning Britain

    Check out his book, A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilisation: And How to Save it

    Norman Dyers review at Amazon is very good. Includes the population question.

  13. Bill, I managed to get onto BBC Radio 5’s talk show second commenter at 9am BST “Do we treat our children too softly?”

    I commented that in Norway they have a Job Education Training Guarantee scheme for their young and those out of work over 26 weeks though 4 weeks would be better and although they have their lone extreme right wing nutter and other problems, that’s nothing compared to ours.

    I used a gardening analogy to explain that to get all of a dandelion cleared up you can’t just pull off the leaves they simply grow back unless/untill one waters and loosens the parched soil around it to get at the tap root to get it out.

    To solve a problem one has to look at the causes. This doesn’t excuse riots but it helps explain and deal with them at the root.

  14. Thank for the article. It was interesting and well informed. Many of the articles I read essentially called the rioters “bad kids.” Not very helpful to me, but helpful to those who would like the ignore the context and causes (i.e. the Rupert Murdoch effect) of disenfranchisement.

  15. Dear Jose (at 2011/08/11 at 2:24)

    Thanks for you comment.

    You said:

    Your post today is about sociology, not economics

    The substance of the post was about time-series econometrics which is a specialisation of mine and I have published extensively in the area. Further, the other point of the blog was to highlight that there is a strong relationship between unemployment and social unrest and that governments choose the unemployment rate. That is all about economics.

    You then suggested:

    So my suggestion is for this blog to stick to economics.

    I think I can write what I like on my personal blog. However, I try to make it clear when I am writing about MMT and when I am expressing my opinion as a citizen. A blog is after all a vehicle for my opinions although I usually steer more towards explication and application of economic theory.

    best wishes

  16. In my view, part of the problem is that too few economists understand sociology. As a result, there are a lot of well-meaning economists who fail to grasp the fact that mainstream understanding of macroeconomics is a social construct. More to the point, economics begins and ends with people.

  17. Loved the post! Thanks Bill :).

    When there’s a mugging or a robbery (micro), it can be blamed on lacking morals, but when you have thousands of people rioting in the streets (macro), that’s an epidemic and cannot be blamed on any one of the individuals partaking in the riot.
    Society has the responsibility to include everyone. If it doesn’t, it will bear the consequences of people feeling society gives them nothing and that therefore there’s no reason for them to give anything back. Riots are symptoms.

    Not caring will always have a higher cost than caring.


  18. Jose’s comment about this post being sociology rather than economics reminds me of something I think it very important and often forgotten about economics.
    The early economists called their study ‘political economy’ and made no attempt to separate politics or sociology from economics. The economy is part of our society’s health and it’s structure effects social structures.
    The idea that you could separate Economics of onto its own and divorce it entirely from society or people is useful in that you get things like econometrics and better statistical and mathematical analysis but is I think a key contributor to the problems of Neo-Classical economics.
    Economics is closely tied to the assumptions used and the assumptions are often ideological or political. The idea that Neo-Classical Economic theory is politically neutral is very dangerous. This fallacy has lead to our Labour and Green parties using the Conservatives Economic theories to make their own decisions. No wonder the major parties all start looking the same after a while.

  19. Dear Bill,

    Thank you for your kind answer.

    I look forward to many hours of reading and reflection on the sharp economic analysis that is a paramount characteristic of your blog.

    I think you’d like to know that today, one of Brazil’s leading newspapers, “Brasil Econômico” (I work in São Paulo), has an opinion piece that refers to you as a proponent of an alternative approach to economics – MMT – that has been “stifled” by mainstream economics, and yet could be useful for understanding and solving the world’s current economic crisis…

    The author is Vice President of a large Brazilian utility.

    The link (in Portuguese) is here

    Slowly but surely, MMT is gaining influence everywhere.

    Best Regards,


  20. Yes, the riots can’t really be blamed on “one or two bad apples”, which is the usual way the media likes to portray criminality when the perpetrators wear expensive suits. Anything but consider the possibility of systemic societal malfunction.

    Again we see how people’s political natures have been hijacked and diverted by consumerism, with rioters stealing LCD TVs and other accoutrements of consumer society, so that even in protest they act principally as thwarted consumers, rather than politically motivated citizenry. The sad and utterly predictable consequence of neoliberal policy.

  21. Alex:

    The article seems to be saying, “Look, some of the looters weren’t poor, therefore this has nothing to do with poverty”. The only section that implied any kind of statistical analysis was this one:

    “They may not have the last laugh, for they were referred to the Crown Court for sentence. The maximum penalty available at Highbury was six months. But most cases yesterday were referred to courts which can send you to prison for ten years.
    At Highbury, only a minority had no record. Many seemed to be career criminals. Most were teenagers or in their twenties, but a surprising number were older. Most interestingly of all, they were predominantly white, and many had jobs.”

    So, basically, in the court that sentenced the least criminal amongst the lot (“most” being sent to courts other than Highbury), “many” had jobs. Sounds like a combination of cherry picking and selective reporting to me. What kind of jobs – professional or minimum wage? How does the fact that most of them were career criminals play into all this? What about the courts sentencing the rest?

    Lots of unanswered questions.

  22. @Grigory

    “Lots of unanswered questions.”

    That I can agree with. “Cherry picking and selective reporting” – probably. All reporting has a slant to it, this article obviously did. But the facts it did contain don’t fit comfortably with the “government to blame for cutting spending on the poor” thesis either.

  23. Alex in Nottingham the violence took place in deprived areas, there was no rioting by the relatively pampered youth in the better off suburbs, sorry to burst your bubble! 😉

  24. One of my favourite posts of yours so far, Bill. It’s incredibly frustrating to hear politicians and commentators try to explain these riots away as being “simple criminality”, “all about vandalism”, etc. Criminality and vandalism are descriptions of (some of) what is going on. They can’t simultaneously be explanations of what’s going on. But the reduction of events like this to these kinds of superficial banalities is essential to maintaining the the ruling class ideology of “personal responsibility”, which is (and always has been) a smoke-screen for the abdication of social responsibility by the rich.

  25. Bill,

    Are you saying that if unemployment was eradicated, the other problems would go too?
    All of them, like the scummy, violent fathers, the aggressive gangs of kids?
    I can maybe see this.
    I also think (separate issue) that if drugs were decriminalised, the remaining
    problems would go too.
    It’s such a bloody shame.


  26. Alex, arguments like “it can’t be x because not all x did it” or “it can’t be x because y did it” are fundamentally not useful in social contexts. It highly improbable that 100% of an exclusive group could be devised to support those arguments. Statistically (and sociologically) you need to be cleverer than that.

  27. Interesting use of statistics Bill and I applaud the detail but you don’t prove the causality I’m afraid and never will. Sure you get social unrest in hard times – that’s not news. The trick is to create a more equal society without at the moment spiralling into more debt. Unfortunately if you look at UK public expenditure figures we are not cutting spend in reality and therefore your “event” is no more likely than it was two years ago. In fact public expenditure in real terms is ahead of where it was in 2005 so we should have less crime and riots? But that doesn’t fit your model and neither does the evidence that many of the rioters have jobs,are middle class,admit to being opportunistic etc.
    A quick example, son of a friend, joining Deloitte in September was arrested for occupying Fortnum & Mason. He saw no inconsistency between this and his new (now lost) job – he thought it wouldn’t matter. You may think he is oppressed – i just think he is an idiot.
    As for full employment – that I’m afraid belongs in 1960’s economic textbooks unless you have ample natural resources (like Norway – oil, Australia – minerals),are willing to compete on wages or operate a controlled economy. Why is it when anything happens to your beloved working class that it is never their fault in any way. I was brought up from working class same as you but my parents taught me about individual responsibility, hard work, looking after others and to strive to be better. Social responsibility in the UK seems to be me looking after my family and several others at the same time and them then stealing from me and me having to say sorry. You don’t know the UK Billy so stick to what you know.

  28. I read this blog alot, but have rarely if ever commented. Anyhow, I’ve noticed a type of comment, exemplified by that of Leon above, that shows up here occasionally, or maybe more than occasionally. It is the neoliberal who reiterates the party line or some part of it, and seems satisfied that he/she has thereby refuted the entirety of Bill’s argument, if not his entire corpus. It’s called begging the question. At least Leon is cordial, if a bit patronizing.

    I think that this is what happens when truly innovative and important thought meets orthodoxy.

  29. Dear Leon (at 2011/08/12 at 2:13)

    You argue that:

    In fact public expenditure in real terms is ahead of where it was in 2005 so we should have less crime and riots?

    I am unsure why you choose 2005 to 2011 given that it clearly is affected by the recession and the automatic stabilisers pushing spending up. The argument in the paper I summarised was about imposed fiscal austerity.

    Accordingly, it would be far better to focus on what has happened over the last year as the British government announced and has begun to impose its fiscal plan.

    The latest UK public sector finance data is available from the Office for National Statistics (for June 2011).

    The facts are that over the year to the June quarter 2011, total current revenue rose by 5.3 billion pounds (in part because of tax hikes) while total current spending rose by 5.2 billion pounds so a fall in net public spending (current). Then consider that public capital formation over the same period fell by 1.3 billion pounds (taking into account depreciation of existing capital stock). This is the data for the central government.

    So a decline in overall net public spending (for the central government) of 1.4 billion pounds.

    And significant cuts have been made by local government which impact on localised services.

    So while you say:

    You don’t know the UK Billy so stick to what you know.

    I would say to you that you should look up the official data and in saying that I will spare you the details of my contacts with Britain and the fact I have lived and studied there.

    Further, we need to separate the act of rioting from the act of looting. It is clear that two do not necessarily coincide in motivation and cohort although they may coincide in time and space.

    best wishes

  30. “Further, we need to separate the act of rioting from the act of looting. It is clear that two do not necessarily coincide in motivation and cohort although they may coincide in time and space.”

    Excellent point, Bill.

  31. i love your style ,it will never happen here in US-riots I mean-Cops will fill multiple bodies with bullets-no problem
    also we have sports talk shows ,pizza ,cable tv,remote,reality shows,nfl,nba,mls,nhl,……anything to take their mind
    off how they are getting screwed everyday.propaganda was invented by US in ww1,and it is propagated on cnbc
    everyday with useless t&a everyday.
    Thank goodness for your voice in the wilderness,it’s a simple joy and eloquent with it!

  32. Putting aside all the emotional reactions to what is going on in England to one side for a moment. What is happening is very interesting and is a pretty new phenomenon. There are a lot of commonalities between what happened in Egypt, Tunisia etc and the UK. Namely, internet social networking & twittering on handheld devices (not PCs) and life being frankly shit for a lot of people. If you think your life is shit and you have only your mates to moan about it to, then you most likely just vent every now and again to get it off your chest. If you start to realise that there are hundreds of thousands of people feeling the same way and maybe are even more extreme (really do not give a damn what happens to themselves) leading to potential for assembling of groups/mobs etc then a spark is enough to set off a chain reaction. This means that the causality that Bill describes is magnified now due to the new circumstances. This is obviously what the Chinese government are so paranoid about. The tipping point for unrest is brought forward in other words due to technology. Perhaps this has parallels with the printing press and the reformation in Germany. You could even argue that the events in Norway are linked – going onto social networking sites and blog comments sections can also cause a positive feedback mechanism in some people reinforcing their already distorted beliefs etc etc.
    The main take away from this is that governments have two choices: deal with quality of life for their citizens (full employment, standard of living etc, reduce inequality) or attack Human Rights (suppress social networks/ surveille/ spy/ incarcerate/ curb freedom of speech). Really these are the two poles now – there is a spectrum in between. Maybe they replace left and right on the political spectrum. Current left and right in western democracies are mainly the same thing now anyway due to the neo lib disease. I suspect that the technology really starts to play into the political arena and affect election results now and short circuit the election funding effects especially in the US, however, I am afraid that the only beneficiaries will be the T-party which will lead to a semi police state with more inequality in the US. In the more advanced (sorry to all Americans) democracies maybe a more enlightened result could emerge where a party that really wants to improves people’s shit lives wins due to the effect of social networks (in the broad sense) and is forced to have an MMT approach (there is no other way to do it).
    Hope I did not ramble too much.

  33. gastro george, I am not the person purporting to have an explanation for the riots. FWIW, I don’t think there is necessarily a rational explanation. The behaviour of large groups of people is often subject to some strange dynamics that do not accord with rationality. Mobs get out of hand and do crazy stuff all over the world. I do not think it is restricted to any particular category of person.

  34. I find it interesting to see how events in the UK and the Arab world are reported. There we are dealing with freedom fighters who are taking it too their oppressive governments. In the UK it is an undisciplined rabble who have no respect for private property and whose parents have not brought them up to be proper people.

    The reality is in both places the government shelters and protects an elite interest at the expense of the common people. If anyone has ever lived in London you will understand it is a city of two distinct types of people, those who have access and those that do not.

    In response to Leon, for an individualist social ordering to function, all social actors must accept the social contract and enter into this. While you say your parents taught you “individual responsibility, hard work, looking after others and to strive to be better” you were also aware that through these action you might achieve a better standard of life. The youth rioting in the UK right now see no such possibility. They see a system that promises a set of conditions, and yet only delivers those to a select group of middle and upper middle class individuals. Their action is a basic repudiation of the social contract that has been offered to them.

    My biggest problem with Leon’s argument is people who make it have been convinced an individualist ordering of society is natural (or course in the west it is banged into our heads from the day we are born). This discourse has been waging war against ideas of collective thought from Hobbes to Hayek, all to advance a particular purpose, that of rule by elites. It is this elite argument that reduces the scope human capacity (invention) to rational utility maximising individuals and defeats the promises of a deliberative democratic system. We live in a neo-feudal society where the richest 5% own 60% of all the resources, the media, the universities, the political parties. We should all be on the streets.

  35. Alex, I’m just trying to point out that motivation is a complex matter. Politicians and the media deploy arguments such as “it can’t be poverty because there was no rioting in Glasgow” or “because one rioter was rich” mainly because it fits in with their prior world view and prejudices, and it enables them to reduce the argument to blaming a small number of “criminal” individuals. It’s a gross simplification and is simply an invalid argument. Now I’m pretty sure that poverty and inequality is ONE motivation for the riots, but somebody can equally say that this is my prejudice. It’s more important that the motivations need to be studied, judgements not rushed into, and banal simplifications should be avoided.

  36. gg, I agree. But on the other side of the coin, “it’s all the government’s fault” is equally an inadequate analysis. As I said, this issue may not necessarily yield to rational analysis.

  37. PS, I think Bill to some extent has undermined his own analysis with his description of what people were like where he grew up – “Many of the parents were alcoholics, working in low-skill jobs with low-pay. There was domestic violence, street violence and a disregard for authority. The men were tough and had low levels of tolerance for cultural finery. They were misogynist, homophobic, racist and probably other words I don’t know.”

  38. PPS, poverty and inequality could certainly have a lot to do with the initial riot. But they do not begin to account for the apparently sociopathic behaviour of youths who pretended to help a teenager who had been punched, then proceeded to pilfer the contents of his backpack. Or those who forced apparently random passers-by to strip naked, then made off with their clothes.

  39. Alex, I don’t think that either me or Bill think it’s “all the government’s fault”. But it is society’s fault. People are brought up in this society, and are allowed to become sociopaths or whatever. Unless you believe in innate evil or “original sin” it is our society that allows this. We all create this society, but some more than others. Such problems require solutions, not blame. As somebody on Crooked Timber commented, we pay for this one way or another. You can choose prisons or social action. It would appear that this government (and the previous one) prefer the former. Which is rather unfortunate for most of us.

  40. As a first time reader I am impressed with the article and with the standard of debate below the line. The biggest problem the government faces is that it simply cannot comprehend why the riots happened. This is because they are rich and totally out of touch. The fact is the riots were entirely predictable because we have a tory government. There is no mistaking the fact that tory governments = riots in the UK.

    The rot in our society is at the top not the bottom. The reason so many people from all backgrounds joined in was simply that it has been rammed into their heads that “Greed id Good” you just get what you want and to hell with the consequences to anyone else. That we have uber rich, over privilidged bankers,politicians and elites lecturing poor peiple about their sense of “self entitlement” makes me puke.

    There is no question that government is the cause.

  41. gg, I refer you to the heading of this post “I blame the British government for the riots”. As regards innate evil, there is in fact evidence that sociopaths, mass murderers etc do have different brains from the rest of us. Apparently the differences are to some extent inheritable. Interestingly, one of the leading researchers in this area had his own brain checked out and found that his brain had much in common with those of mass murderers – yet he is not (yet) a mass murderer. (Sorry, can’t remember where I read this. But it was reputable research.)

    Even more interestingly, there is evidence that the sub-conscious levels of our brain have made decisions up to six seconds before we are consciously aware of having made a decision. I don’t know where this leaves free will.

    As regards sociopaths, I don’t think there is much evidence that we can, at present, change their behaviour. In these circumstances I personally am more comfortable with them being separated from the rest of society, although I do not think this should be in a facility that aims to punish or is substandard. The Alexander McConochie Centre, which is what my local “prison” is called, is more like a five star hotel than the traditional view of a prison. I’m happy to pay for that through my taxes.

  42. This was an interesting bit of commentary I thought, insofar as it points to the obvious utility of the govt doing something constructive and following Bill’s advice vis-a-vis implementing a job guarantee right now:
    ‘We don’t want no trouble. We just want a job’

    I’m not sure what to make of the idea, that some commenters seem to be putting forward, that the JG proposal should somehow be held to account on the basis of being expected to ameliorate all the various inequities and irrationalities of capitalist practice; it’s pretty clear, including in Bill’s post, that life for most was still pretty hard when there was full employment. Life for many now, OTOH, is absurdly hopeless, and it is quite correct to identify this as the outcome of political choices. A JG could, potentially, be a first step towards arriving at a less obscene way of organising our making and doing.

  43. Best analysis I’ve seen of this so far. My friends have all received a copy in the electronic mail. Thanks Bill.

  44. I agree with the post. I am old enough (born in 1954), to remember the era Bill talks about. In my case, I grow up in what was then an outer suburb of Brisbane on the northside. Ours was a housing commision area and quite a few houses (like ours) had returned soldiers and their wives and families. My clear memories start from about 1960. I can remember few alcoholics in the area but then a kid is not always aware of such things. The few alcoholics were usually men with shell shock from WW2 (Rats of Tobruk etc) and kept to themselves. The dramas and anguish were kept indoors by such families. The general tone of the area and the quality of the local schools was a bit better than the picture Bill paints of Jordanville, so I suppose life in Banana-bender land was not too backward. We went to school barefoot winter and summer and thought nothing of it. In fact we hated shoes and played rugby league (not Aussie Rules) on an oval of dirt and stones without a blade of grass. We always had a healthy diet and enough to eat. Sport, cricket, football and some athletics, was our recreational outlet.

    The thing was that full employment did really exist with just 2% frictional unemployment. Government policy was for full employment and part of the welfare state was in place by then. Other aspects were backward of course. Unwed mothers had their babies stolen for adoption by the church “charities”. I never saw an aboriginal for the first 15 years of my life at least as all the dispossesed tribes of S.E Qld had been sent away, probably to Murgon I guess.

    We have made much progress since then of course but since about the Fraser era all this progress has been wound back bit by bit. Austerity now will be a disaster and lead to a second Great Depression.

  45. Rob a bank and you get 10 years The Bank robs you and they get a seven figure pension.

    Factors that contribute to rioting are population size, the breakdown of respect for social order, poverty, the lack of opportunities for personal advancement and Debt.

    Today the people that led the world into debt by their corrupt practises within the Banking, Insurance, and Financial sector have been reappointed by President Obama to head his financial team. No one has been brought to justice for the debt all the world is now paying and rioting about.

    All the banks had AAA status just before they collapsed from Standard and Poor the same people who have just downgraded USA economy?

    University Professors who advised the governments were working without declaring their paid interest for these corrupt banks etc. just before the crash.

    If you check the facts you will find a transfer of wealth from the poorest to the top one percent and these crooks are still running all our economies.
    This was achieved by getting companies like standard and poor to give false assessments of bad debt which was then sold to our pension funds as triple A.
    Whilst ever these crooks go unpunished and are rewarded by huge golden handshakes and top government jobs, riots will get worse.

    We all have a remedy it is our vote and a free press.
    Make sure you give your vote wisely and all the politicians who supported crooked bankers, insurance companies, are swept from power.
    To the press it is time to expose these crooks. Name and Shame

  46. George Friedman: Well you know, I think there’s a kind of model you could argue that people are deprived of things so they revolt. But it’s much deeper than that. Normally, just because you cut benefits, you don’t have these kind of riots. And many of these rioters were not rioting because they were planning on going to university and weren’t going to get an opportunity to do so. You had a great deal of criminality in this and that criminality is interesting because when criminality starts to look legitimate to large numbers of people, that’s when you have a social crisis. I think it’s a mistake to look at what happened in London simply in terms of “well there were social cuts and so that’s why there was a rising.” That rising couldn’t have occurred if the elites themselves hadn’t appeared to be so corrupted, so compromised, and even one could say, so incompetent. That was the real issue that we faced there and I think if you simply say that if you do social cuts then people will riot, that’s not empirically true. It’s when you wind up in a situation where you no longer know who’s in charge nor do you care, that opportunities are created for the criminal class. Far more interesting, the rioters have been the people in London, some of them, who have justified the riots. I’m not saying that as a moral category, justified or not. What’s interesting is that it is not a universal condemnation.

    Read more: Agenda: With George Friedman on a Crisis of Political Economy | STRATFOR

  47. So does Ahmadinejad in his recent interview with Euronews which was done just a week before riots.


    Dear Mr Mitchell

    I agree with your comment
    As well the government cuts and the yearlong underprivileged position [of black and white youth], as the yearlong police violence are responsible for the England riots

    See my underlying comment

    Kind greetings

    Astrid Essed
    The Netherlands





    Martin Luther King


    ”Whilst many seek to pin the blame on the inevitable result of decades of oppression in under-privileged communities, the causes of the riots are swept under the rugs looted from Carpet Right. Inequality is at the heart of this. As long as the police see themselves as above the law, young people will take it into their own hands.”






    In contrary with the British politicians and mainstream media, the riots in England are no ”mindless violence” and ”criminal acts”, but the direct consequence of government cuts, which are especially damaging to poor neighbourhoods. decennialong social deprivation and often unpunished police violence.
    The methods [burning and looting] are wrong, the deadly victims unacceptable, but the fury about the yearlong police violence and the social injustice is legitimate
    This is the resistance of the unheard and humiliated, as Martin Luther King has stated [1]


    The riots were short, but vehement and took place from 6 untill 10th of august 2011 [2]
    What started in the multicultural underprivileged neighbourhood Tottenham [London North] as a peaceful protest against the police shooting of Mark Duggan [3], became a real uprising and spread in and outside London, especially in ciies in the Midlands and North West of England [4]

    Those riots, which started in Tottenham, are often compared with the Tottenham riots, which took place in 1985
    Direct cause was also a death by police violence
    Also in this case the viictim was black

    Tottenham/October 1985
    The Broadwater Farm riots

    After the arrest of a young black man, Floyd Jarrett, his house was been searched by the police, which led to a confrontation between the police and Jarrets family members.
    In the commotion, his 49-year-old mother, Cynthia Jarrett, fell over and died almost instantly
    Later the police was criticized about the way the home searching took place [5]
    After the death of Cynthia Jarrett the socalled Broadwater Farm riots spread, which costed the life of a policeman, Keith Blakelock [6]

    A week before the death of Cynthia Jarrett another black woman, Dorothy Cherry Groce, was shot in her home by the police and was paralysed below the waist for the rest of her life
    The direct cause was the police searching of her son Michael Groce, who was suspected of fitearms offence
    Her shooting was followed by the Brixton riots in 1985 [7]

    Tottenham 2011

    Direct cause was the police shooting of Mark Duggan, a father of four at 4th august in an attempt to arrest him.
    The police sho shot him were part of the Specialist Firearms Command [CO19], accompanying officers from ”Operation Trident”, a London Metropolitan police Unit which deals with ”guncrime in the black community”
    Immediately after the fatal shooting the police spread the runour [which was promoted by the media], that Duggan had fired at the police.
    However, ballistic investigation showed, that Duggan didn’t fire at the police at all [8]

    What really infuriated the people was the lack of respect the police showed to a peaceful protest of family and friends of Mark Duggan to Tottenham Police Station
    No information whatsoever had been given about the cause of his death
    The parents of Mark Duggan found out how he died from the press
    Two days later [9]


    Members of Parliament:

    Striking is, that all British political parties, from conservative to ”progressive” left were unanimous in condemning the riots as ”criminal” or ”mindless” [10]
    Often without any reference to underlying causes or the fact, that this was no isolated outburst of fury, but based on years of protests from mainly black underprivileged neighbourhoods
    Those who did refer to social backgrounds [like financial cuts], nevertheless called for extreme measures to end the riots [11]
    A courageous reaction came fron Labour MP John Mc Donnel, who stated:
    ””MPs and their expenses, bankers and their bonuses, tax evading corporations” had created a “society of looters”. [12]


    It was no suprise, that State reaction was extremely repressive
    Prime minister Cameron laid all ugly cards on the table

    He called the rioters ”criminals” and the riots ”moral decline”
    He spoke about ”culture of fear in the streets”, neglecting the fact, that the years of violent police action had caused a culture of fear among the inhabitants of underprivileged black neighbourhoods

    His measures were tough enough
    16000 policemen were sent to London
    He threatened to use the watercannon, which was never used in England [although it was a common measure of repression in Northern Ireland]
    The use of the rubber bullet also belonged to the possibilities
    His most extreme statement was, that the police was free to use ”all means necessary” [13]

    Yet apart from his repressive means he uses the riots as an excuse to promote extreme police measures [14]


    The British press followed the politicians like slaves
    Agan, from ”progressive” to conservative press, an unanimous condemnation of the riots, often without any reference to the underlying causes [15]
    Besides silly comments from the conservative press [criminality, moral decline], the socalled ”progressive” paper The Guardian used law and order language in her ”statement” to the public to back the police [16]

    The Independent was less worse, but not good enough
    Although they uttered police and society criticism, any relation between police violence/social problems and the riots was denied.
    They called the riots ”mindless violence”, a stupid comment, since there was no reference to underlying causes [17]

    One could compare the reaction of the press with those media, which commented the 11 september attacks without any reference to the deeper lying causes [18]

    True exceptions:
    The Socialist Worker, the Morning Star and anarchist comments

    Between all those negative press reaction, there were two good exceptions, the Socialist Worker and the Morning Star, which DID comment on the years of social deprivation, government cuts, racism and police violence, which had created the riots
    They placed it in historical perspective by pointing out, that the 2011 riots didn’t come out of the sky, but had a background, from the eighties of the former century [19]
    But those are no mainstream media, but stemmed from the resistance, which is not bound by parliamentary ties
    From anarchist view there also was fundamental criticism [20]


    Alondra Nelson [Twitter]

    Politicians and press were in a competition to scream about the ”criminal character” of the riots, ”mobs out of control”, ”gangsters”, mindless violence, etc, etc
    Causes didn’t play any part, the death of Mark Duggan had nothing to do with it
    And more of that nonsense

    But reality shows another cup of soup:

    Of course it is not by chance, that riots have their origin in poor, underprivileged areas as Tottenham, which are plagued by great poverty, unemployment and lack of perspective, especially for young people.
    Recently in Tottenham eight of the twelve youth facilities were closed.

    Add to that racism and systematic police violence with often a racist nature and you have your ingredients for riots [21]


    Since the early eigthies [of the former century] anti racist and socio economical riots took place, often clashes between black youth and the police, but also white youth take part, since they are victims of the same social deprivation
    In most cases, direct cause is police violence or an inedequate police investigation after racist violence against black people
    Underlying causes are the socio economical problems.
    It is not by chance, that looting is directed against the big stores like Sony and banks [22]


    A tight comparision is made with the French riots in 2005 and 2007 and even the Los Angeles riots in 1992
    As well the French as LA riots stemmed from the same origin
    Poverty, a lack of perspective, high youth unemployment
    Direct causes were also police violence
    In the french case, Amnesty International sharply criticized police violence and impunity [23]


    Police violence is one of the greatest sources for riots and is often directed against blacks, although not only
    Causes lie often in racism AND in the fact, that most ”coloured” people live in underprevileged neigbourhoods, where tensions and frustrations are bog because of structural poverty
    Investigation shows, that black people have 25 times the chance to be controlled by the police
    The cases of violent police confrontation are alarming
    Mark Duggan, Cynthia Jarrett, Cynthia Jarrett and Dorothy Groce are the top of the iceberg [24]
    The last ten years, at least 650 people died in police custody [25]



    Two reports about police violence were revealing, the Scarman report [1981] following the Brixton riots in 1981 and the Gifford report [1986] following Broadwater Farm riots in 1985
    Although the riots were condemned, both reports revealed serious police racism and prejudice
    The Gifford report even did a proposal for reforms of the police
    So did the MacPherson report [1999], which was created following the death of Stephen Lawrence [26]


    What makes people furious is the impunity of the police violence
    Investigations take place and reports are written.

    In case of the death of Cyntrhia Jarrett, no police officer has been charged, in the Cherry Groce case the police officer involved has been acquitted.
    The same old story with regard to other shooting incidents [27]


    However, when a police officer is killed, all hell breaks loose.
    During the Broadwater Farm riots in 1985, police officer Blakelock had been killed [28]
    Police maintained a substantial presence on the estate for several months, arresting and interrogating 400 people.
    Eventually 6 men were charged, three minors and three adults.
    The juveniles all had their cases dismissed after the judge ruled the conditions in which they had been held were so inappropriate that their interrogation was inadmissible – conditions included being questioned naked except for a blanket, which was cruel and inhumane, and being questioned without a guardian [29]
    Eventually three adults [Winston Silcott, Engin Raghip en Mark Braithwaite ] were convicted to lifelong imprisonment despite no witnesses and limited forensic evidence.
    The Tottenham Three are Innocent Campaign and the Broadwater Farm Defence Campaign pressed for a retrial. On 25 November 1991, all three defendants were cleared by the Court of Appeal when an ESDA test [30] demonstrated police notes of interrogations (the only evidence) had been tampered with. [31]


    Double standards, regarding human lives
    For any loss of human life deserves the same justice, regardless the victim
    Any human being has the right to life and dignity


    The riots are over after State hugh repression
    16000 policemen were sent to London, the use of the watercannon and baton rounds has been considered, there were mass arrests of 1500 people, mass home searches and harsh sentences by the Courts [32]

    However, nothing has been solved, when the State only reacts with repression and lack of respect for the fundamental rights of any human being, regardless descent

    The right to life
    The right to be free from poverty
    The right to live in dignity

    When the State doesn’t respect those rights and only reacts with repression, when the police is not reformed, the next riots are on their way, when time is ripe

    Moral decline there is for sure
    But then from the side of the State and police

    Kind greetings

    Astrid Essed
    The Netherlands



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