Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Remember London

Just a thought about London prompted by Doug Saunders and this blog post (which appeared in a Naomi Klein tweet that was, I think ironically, RTd by Andrew Potter).

We would do well to remember what's happening in London the next time someone tries to suggest that unemployment payments, child daycare, free healthcare, public education, or any other publicly funded social welfare program is some sort of "charity". The social safety net was developed for a much bigger reason than to simply help the poor. When wealth is systematically removed from the areas in London we're seeing on the news and transferred to The City, and then The City (or Bay Street, of Wall Street) succeeds in slashing their taxes and shredding these social programs, I think it becomes pretty clear that everyone benefits when the highest provide some level of security for the lowest.

This isn't an excuse for the rioters. As Saunders points out there's no political cause being fought for, these kids don't care about public policy or social justice, they're out for a good time and a Blu-Ray player. It's senseless, but it's not random or without cause. They're kids with little education, poor families, no work, no prospect of work, and no hope that anything is going to get better. I'm a functionalist when it comes to the welfare state, and if we can't remember why the structures we created decades ago exist, then we should make an effort to remember what happens when they're taken away.

UPDATE: Another good article.


  1. As Lord Churchill explained to his piers among the privileged class so many years ago, think of taxation as revolution insurance. This is still how a true Tory thinks, versus the new breed of neo-liberal Conservatives.

  2. When I first was discussing riots with my colleague, his first statement was "As much as I hate the rioting itself, but I can understand the mentality and conditions behind it." I was first rather put off by this statement, but if one remains detached, it is a factual observation. Combine that with mob mentality and you get these primal lashings out. The presumption here is that armchair analysts jump right to asserting that they would act rationally to contrast against the rioters. Once again, cognitive studies have shown that humans are the worse predictors of what they do in a future and different emotional and physical state.

    The difficulty of these types of events is the denial that it is indicative much less symptomatic of anything. A cursory reading of reactions would have you believe that marginalizing the relevance of these riots down to abnormality is the most sought after theme. Of course, this is layered on the usual knuckle-dragging finger pointing, but the historical record is quite clear on this: There is a positive correlation between social unrest and economic strife, yet at each point, there seems to be this reflexive urge to deny a self-examination when confronted with most primal manifestations of the human condition.

    In the telegraph piece, there was one comment that made a sharp observation:
    One can only marvel at the cynicism, moral depravity and plain meanness expressed in so many comments, for it explain, better than any sociology treatise, why the social fabric is tearing itself apart.

    Better to look at away than face the reflection I suppose.