British Riots Reflect on a Society Run on Greed and Looting

David Cameron has to maintain that the unrest has no cause except criminality – or he and his friends might be held responsible


by Seumas Milne

It is essential for those in power in Britain that the riots now sweeping the country can have no cause beyond feral wickedness. This is nothing but "criminality, pure and simple", David Cameron declared after cutting short his holiday in Tuscany. The London mayor and fellow former Bullingdon Club member Boris Johnson, heckled by hostile Londoners in Clapham Junction, warned that rioters must stop hearing "economic and sociological justifications" (though who was offering them he never explained) for what they were doing.

We can't be ordered to police in a certain way

Hugh Orde

  1. Now is not the time for police to use water cannon and baton rounds, writes Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers

When his predecessor Ken Livingstone linked the riots to the impact of public spending cuts, it was almost as if he'd torched a building himself. The Daily Mail thundered that blaming cuts was "immoral and cynical", echoed by a string of armchair riot control enthusiasts. There was nothing to explain, they've insisted, and the only response should be plastic bullets, water cannon and troops on the streets.

We'll hear a lot more of that when parliament meets – and it's not hard to see why. If these riots have no social or political causes, then clearly no one in authority can be held responsible. What's more, with many people terrified by the mayhem and angry at the failure of the police to halt its spread, it offers the government a chance to get back on the front foot and regain its seriously damaged credibility as a force for social order.

But it's also a nonsensical position. If this week's eruption is an expression of pure criminality and has nothing to do with police harassment or youth unemployment or rampant inequality or deepening economic crisis, why is it happening now and not a decade ago? The criminal classes, as the Victorians branded those at the margins of society, are always with us, after all. And if it has no connection with Britain's savage social divide and ghettoes of deprivation, why did it kick off in Haringey and not Henley?

To accuse those who make those obvious links of being apologists or "making excuses" for attacks on firefighters or robbing small shopkeepers is equally fatuous. To refuse to recognise the causes of the unrest is to make it more likely to recur – and ministers themselves certainly won't be making that mistake behind closed doors if they care about their own political futures.

It was the same when riots erupted in London and Liverpool 30 years ago, also triggered by confrontation between the police and black community, when another Conservative government was driving through cuts during a recession. The people of Brixton and Toxteth were denounced as criminals and thugs, but within weeks Michael Heseltine was writing a private memo to the cabinet, beginning with "it took a riot", and setting out the urgent necessity to take action over urban deprivation.

This time, the multi-ethnic unrest has spread far further and faster. It's been less politicised and there's been far more looting, to the point where in many areas grabbing "free stuff" has been the main action. But there's no mystery as to where the upheaval came from. It was triggered by the police killing a young black man in a country where black people are 26 times more likely to be stopped and searched by police than their white counterparts. The riot that exploded in Tottenham in response at the weekend took place in an area with the highest unemployment in London, whose youth clubs have been closed to meet a 75% cut in its youth services budget.

It then erupted across what is now by some measures the most unequal city in the developed world, where the wealth of the richest 10% has risen to 273 times that of the poorest, drawing in young people who have had their educational maintenance allowance axed just as official youth unemployment has reached a record high and university places are being cut back under the weight of a tripling of tuition fees.

Now the unrest has gone nationwide. But it's not as if rioting was unexpected when the government embarked on its reckless programme to shrink the state. Last autumn the Police Superintendents' Association warned of the dangers of slashing police numbers at a time when they were likely to be needed to deal with "social tensions" or "widespread disorder". Less than a fortnight ago, Tottenham youths told the Guardian they expected a riot.

Politicians and media talking heads counter that none of that has anything to do with sociopathic teenagers smashing shop windows to walk off with plasma TVs and trainers. But where exactly did the rioters get the idea that there is no higher value than acquiring individual wealth, or that branded goods are the route to identity and self-respect?

While bankers have publicly looted the country's wealth and got away with it, it's not hard to see why those who are locked out of the gravy train might think they were entitled to help themselves to a mobile phone. Some of the rioters make the connection explicitly. "The politicians say that we loot and rob, they are the original gangsters," one told a reporter. Another explained to the BBC: "We're showing the rich people we can do what we want."

Most have no stake in a society which has shut them out or an economic model which has now run into the sand. It's already become clear that divided Britain is in no state to absorb the austerity now being administered because three decades of neoliberal capitalism have already shattered so many social bonds of work and community.

What we're now seeing across the cities of England is the reflection of a society run on greed – and a poisonous failure of politics and social solidarity. There is now a danger that rioting might feed into ethnic conflict. Meanwhile, the latest phase of the economic crisis lurching back and forth between the United States and Europe risks tipping austerity Britain into slump or prolonged stagnation. We're starting to see the devastating costs of refusing to change course.

Copyright 2011 The Guardian

Life in an Age of Looting

Life in an Age of Looting: "Some Will Rob You with a Sixgun and Some with a Fountain Pen"

by Phil Rockstroh

As the poor of Britain rise in a fury of inchoate rage and stock exchanges worldwide experience manic upswings and panicked swoons, the financial elite (and their political operatives) are arrayed in a defensive posture, even as they continue their global-wide, full-spectrum offensive vis-à-vie The Shock Doctrine. Concurrently, corporate mass media types fret over the reversal of fortune and trumpet the triumphs of the self-serving agendas of Wall Street and corporate swindlers…even as they term a feller, in ill-gotten possession of a flat screen television, fleeing through the streets of North London, a mindless thug.

According to the through-the-looking-glass cosmology of mass media elitists, when a poor person commits a crime of opportunity, his actions are a threat to all we hold dear and sacred, but, when the hyper-wealthy of the entrenched looter class abscond with billions, those criminals are referred to as our financial leaders.

Work Harder You Worthless Debt Slave

Regardless of the propaganda of "free market" fantasists, the great unspeakable in regard to capitalism is its wealth, by and large, is generated for a ruthless, privileged few by the creation of bubbles, and, when those bubbles burst, the resultant economic catastrophe inflicts a vastly disproportionate amount of harm upon those -- the laboring and middle classes -- who generate grossly inequitable amounts of capital for the elitist of the fraudster having the life force drained from them by the vampiric set-up of the gamed system.

Woody Guthrie summed up the situation in these two (unfortunately) ageless stanzas:

"Yes, as through this world I've wandered
I've seen lots of funny men;
Some will rob you with a sixgun,
And some with a fountain pen.

"And as through your life you travel,
Yes, as through your life you roam,
You won't never see an outlaw
Drive a family from their home."
--excerpt from Pretty Boy Floyd.

Although, at present, U.S. bank vaults contain little tangible loot for a Pretty Boy Floyd-type outlaw to boost. How would it be possible for an old school bank robber such as Floyd to make-off with a haul of funneling electrons?

Here's the lowdown: The Wall Street fraudsters of the swindler class want to refill their coffers and line their pockets (that is, offshore accounts) with Social Security and Medicare funds. That's the nature of the unfolding scam, folks. Oligarchic rule has always been a system defined by legalized looting that leaves a wasteland of want, deprivation, and unfocused rage in its wake.

Consequently, in the U.K. (and beyond): When poor people's hopes dry up, cities become a tinderbox of dead dreams, and we should not be stricken with shock and consternation when these degraded places are set aflame, nor should we be surprised when the bribed, debt-beholden and commercial media propaganda-bamboozled middle class (who helped create the wasteland with their arid complicity) cry out (predictably) for police state tactics to quell the fiery insurrection.

There have been incidents in which a fire has smoldered for years in an abandoned, sealed-off mineshaft, and then the fire, traveling through the tunnels of the mine, and up the roots of dead, dried trees have caused a dying forest to bloom into flames. The rage that sparks a riot can proceed in a similar manner -- and the insular, sealed-off nature of a nation's elite and the willful ignorance of its middle class will only make the explosion of pent-up rage more powerful when it reaches the surface.

We exist in a culture that, day after day, inundates its have-nots with consumerist propaganda, and then, when the social order breaks down, its wealthy and bourgeoisie alike express outrage when the poor steal consumer goods -- as opposed to going out and looting an education and a good job.

Under Disaster Capitalism, the underclass have had economic violence inflicted upon them since birth, yet the corporate state mass media doesn't seem to notice the situation, until young men burn down the night. Then media elitists wax indignant, carrying on as if these desperate acts are devoid of cultural context.

A mindset has been instilled in these young men and boys that they are nothing sans the accoutrements of consumerism. Yet when they loot an i-Phone, as opposed to creating economy-shredding derivative scams, we're prompted by the corporate media to become indignant.

When the slow motion, elitist-manipulated mob action known as our faux democratic/consumerist culture deprives people of their basic human rights and personal dignity -- then, in turn, we should not be shocked when a mob of the underclass fails to bestow those virtues upon others.

The commercial mass media's narrative of narrowed context (emotional, anecdotal and unreflective in nature) serves as a form of corporate state propaganda, promulgated to ensure the general population continues to rage against the symptoms rather than the disease of neoliberalism. The false framing of opposing opinions -- of those who state the deprivations of neoliberalism factor into the causes of uprisings, insurrections and riots as being apologists for violence and destruction is as preposterous as claiming one is an apologist for dry rot when he points out structural damage to a house due to a leaking roof.

Because of the elements of inverted totalitarianism, inherent within the structure of corporate state capitalism, and internalized within the general population by constant, commercial media re-enforcement, one should not be surprised when a sizable portion of the general populace is inclined to support police state tactics to quell social unrest among the disadvantaged of the population.

Keep in mind: When watching the BBC or the corporate media, one is receiving a limited narrative (tacitly) approved by the global power elite, created by informal arrangements among a careerist cartel comprised of business, governmental and media personality types who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, even if, in doing so, they serve as operatives of a burgeoning police state.

Accordingly, you can't debate fascist thinking with reason nor empathetic imagination e.g., the self-righteous (and self-serving) pronouncements of mass media representatives nor the attendant outrage of the denizens of the corporate state in their audience -- their umbrage engineered by the emotionally laden images with which they have been relentlessly pummeled and plied -- because their responses will be borne of (conveniently) lazy generalizations, given impetus by fear-based animus.

Through it all, veiled by disorienting media distractions and political legerdemain, we find ourselves buffeted and bound by the predicament of paradigm lost…that constitutes the onset of the unraveling of the present order.

"The kings of the world are growing old,
and they shall have no inheritors.
Their sons died while they were boys,
and their neurasthenic daughters abandoned
the sick crown to the mob."
--Rainer Maria Rilke, excerpt from The Kings of the World"

Yet, while there is proliferate evidence that, even as people worldwide are rising up against inequity and exploitation, the economic elite have little inclination to do so much as glimpse the plight of those from whose life blood their immense riches have been wrung, nor hear the admonition of the downtrodden…that they are weary of life on their knees and are awakening to the reality that the con of freedom of choice under corporate state oligarchy is, in fact, a life shackled to the consumerism-addicted/debt-indenturement that comprises the structure of the neoliberal, global company store.

"The rotten masks that divide one man
From another, one man from himself
They crumble
For one enormous moment and we glimpse
The unity that we lost, the desolation
...Of being man, and all its glories
Sharing bread and sun and death
The forgotten astonishment of being alive"
--Octavio Paz, excerpt from "Sunstone"

Accordingly, the most profound act of selfless devotion (commonly called love) in relationship to a society gripped by a sociopathic mode of being is creative resistance. Submission is madness. Sanity entails subversion. The heart insists on it; otherwise, life is only a slog to the graveyard; mouth, full of ashes; heart, a receptacle for dust.

Phil Rockstroh

Phil Rockstroh is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living in New York City. He may be contacted at: Visit Phil's website or at FaceBook.


The London Riots: Put on Your Seatbelt Main Street

by John Rehill

Dateline London: Over 1,200 arrested; 16,000 police, and the violence just moves to other towns. Children as young as 9 years old are being arrested by police. Prime Minister David Cameron says, "If you're old enough to throw a rock through a window, you're old enough to go to jail." Are the London riots a harbinger of things to come?

Those watching the carnage both nearby and worldwide cry out:

How can these young people just run through town smashing and breaking everything-don't they care about the things they are destroying?

What they are doing is against the law-don't they care about the law?

Burning buildings and looting and turning over cars- don't they know that the people who own those cars, didn't do anything to them?

Answers: No, No, No.

Desperate people do desperate things. If there's a message from Main Street England to Main Street America in this mayhem and chaos, it's that hoodlums and vandals are acting badly, put on your seat belts.

In England, like every where else, it's not just the austerity gutting the coffers or acts like the one in which police shot the unarmed and then lied to cover it up, that's causing all of this unrest. It's not just a few bad apples convincing others to let the thief inside of them run with somebody else's goods. It's a culture gone sideways, the creed of winner take all. I got mine and we don't care about you, so get out of the way.

John F. Kennedy said, "Make a peaceful revolution impossible and you guarantee a violent one." Why has history always proven that true so many times? Kennedy was a student of history and understood the toils of the Boxer Rebellion in China at the turn of the 20th century. He studied the rise and fall of colonialists and oligarchs in Europe and Africa. He was very familiar with how mass inequities fuel peasant revolts and how the disenfranchised can lose their self-worth and take to the streets.

To suggest, as Prime Minister Cameron did, that it's gangs leading these riots, that it's criminals and low-lifes that are behind the violence, is disingenuous to those screaming to be heard and insulting to those in harm's way. No doubt the criminal element is opportunistic at such times, and they are getting the spotlight. And there is no doubt that to inflict personal injury on others is unacceptable, but to duck any responsibility to the disconnect of those who see the future wrenching back to no more than a choke-hold, would be a very dangerous case of denial. What are those who are watching their future being thrown under the bus to do?

It's not just to hunger for food that makes one feel meager and deprived. The crowds are mostly young because they're the ones who are watching their futures get bargained away to the same ones that have left the country with their jobs They are the ones who are watching their parents' safety-nets fly out the door as if in a rummage sale, and how they can't or won't do anything about it.

The young are being asked to drink reconditioned sewer water because clean water supplies are dwindling and wonder in what condition it will be in 20 years? They know the infrastructures are crumbling, that the rivers are polluted and little to nothing is being done about it. They see the degree to which the media farms their every move, they see a society squeezing their thin wallets for whatever the market says it's worth, and moreover they see how they are being squeezed out of any say in their future – marginalized and excluded from the debate.

Force-fed exclusion surely breeds contempt. No more should someone make excuses for this madness then should they identify it all by the actions of the portion that are criminally inclined. To see little more that a future of deficiencies is enough to make anyone mad as hell and not willing to take it any more. What are the young to do? It wouldn't be a stretch to deny those who have nurtured and fed this culture of winner take all, any part in what it will take to fix it, to be more inclusive, not exclusive, so to improve the quality of life for us all.

Where are the parents? Maybe it is time for them to get off their butts and be responsible for the conditions they are forcing their children to live under – either through action or inaction. Maybe it's time to make sure the water their kids will be drinking in a decade will quench their thirst, rather then make them sick. There is a reason for revolution, it is usually born from the disconnect between generations and the denial of its very existence. As JFK said "prevent a peaceful revolution and you guarantee a violent one." What will we do – put on our seat belts, or start correcting our mistakes.

John Rehill writes for The Bradenton Times (Florida).


Daylight Robbery, Meet Nighttime Robbery

by Naomi Klein

I keep hearing comparisons between the London riots and riots in other European cities—window smashing in Athens, or car bonfires in Paris. And there are parallels, to be sure: a spark set by police violence, a generation that feels forgotten.

But those events were marked by mass destruction; the looting was minor. There have, however, been other mass lootings in recent years, and perhaps we should talk about them too. There was Baghdad in the aftermath of the US invasion—a frenzy of arson and looting that emptied libraries and museums. The factories got hit too. In 2004 I visited one that used to make refrigerators. Its workers had stripped it of everything valuable, then torched it so thoroughly that the warehouse was a sculpture of buckled sheet metal.

Back then the people on cable news thought looting was highly political. They said this is what happens when a regime has no legitimacy in the eyes of the people. After watching for so long as Saddam and his sons helped themselves to whatever and whomever they wanted, many regular Iraqis felt they had earned the right to take a few things for themselves. But London isn’t Baghdad, and British Prime Minister David Cameron is hardly Saddam, so surely there is nothing to learn there.

How about a democratic example then? Argentina, circa 2001. The economy was in freefall and thousands of people living in rough neighborhoods (which had been thriving manufacturing zones before the neoliberal era) stormed foreign-owned superstores. They came out pushing shopping carts overflowing with the goods they could no longer afford—clothes, electronics, meat. The government called a “state of siege” to restore order; the people didn’t like that and overthrew the government.

Argentina’s mass looting was called El Saqueo—the sacking. That was politically significant because it was the very same word used to describe what that country’s elites had done by selling off the country’s national assets in flagrantly corrupt privatization deals, hiding their money offshore, then passing on the bill to the people with a brutal austerity package. Argentines understood that the saqueo of the shopping centers would not have happened without the bigger saqueo of the country, and that the real gangsters were the ones in charge.

But England is not Latin America, and its riots are not political, or so we keep hearing. They are just about lawless kids taking advantage of a situation to take what isn’t theirs. And British society, Cameron tells us, abhors that kind of behavior.

This is said in all seriousness. As if the massive bank bailouts never happened, followed by the defiant record bonuses. Followed by the emergency G-8 and G-20 meetings, when the leaders decided, collectively, not to do anything to punish the bankers for any of this, nor to do anything serious to prevent a similar crisis from happening again. Instead they would all go home to their respective countries and force sacrifices on the most vulnerable. They would do this by firing public sector workers, scapegoating teachers, closing libraries, upping tuitions, rolling back union contracts, creating rush privatizations of public assets and decreasing pensions – mix the cocktail for where you live. And who is on television lecturing about the need to give up these “entitlements”? The bankers and hedge-fund managers, of course.

This is the global Saqueo, a time of great taking. Fueled by a pathological sense of entitlement, this looting has all been done with the lights left on, as if there was nothing at all to hide. There are some nagging fears, however. In early July, the Wall Street Journal, citing a new poll, reported that 94 percent of millionaires were afraid of "violence in the streets.” This, it turns out, was a reasonable fear.

Of course London’s riots weren’t a political protest. But the people committing nighttime robbery sure as hell know that their elites have been committing daytime robbery. Saqueos are contagious.

The Tories are right when they say the rioting is not about the cuts. But it has a great deal to do with what those cuts represent: being cut off. Locked away in a ballooning underclass with the few escape routes previously offered—a union job, a good affordable education—being rapidly sealed off. The cuts are a message. They are saying to whole sectors of society: you are stuck where you are, much like the migrants and refugees we turn away at our increasingly fortressed borders.

David Cameron’s response to the riots is to make this locking-out literal: evictions from public housing, threats to cut off communication tools and outrageous jail terms (five months to a woman for receiving a stolen pair of shorts). The message is once again being sent: disappear, and do it quietly.

At last year’s G-20 “austerity summit” in Toronto, the protests turned into riots and multiple cop cars burned. It was nothing by London 2011 standards, but it was still shocking to us Canadians. The big controversy then was that the government had spent $675 million on summit “security” (yet they still couldn’t seem to put out those fires). At the time, many of us pointed out that the pricey new arsenal that the police had acquired—water cannons, sound cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets—wasn’t just meant for the protesters in the streets. Its long-term use would be to discipline the poor, who in the new era of austerity would have dangerously little to lose.

This is what David Cameron got wrong: you can't cut police budgets at the same time as you cut everything else. Because when you rob people of what little they have, in order to protect the interests of those who have more than anyone deserves, you should expect resistance—whether organized protests or spontaneous looting.

And that’s not politics. It’s physics.

Naomi Klein

Naomi Klein is an award-winning journalist and syndicated columnist and the author of the international and New York Times bestseller The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, now out in paperback. Her earlier books include the international best-seller, No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies (which has just been re-published in a special 10th Anniversary Edition); and the collection Fences and Windows: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate (2002). To read all her latest writing visit You can follow her on Twitter: @NaomiAKlein.


How the U.S. Is Still Recovering from ‘Supercop’ Bill Bratton

by Jamilah King

When British Prime Minister David Cameron announced plans to contract former LAPD chief Bill Bratton to help sort through the ashes of that country’s worst urban rebellion in recent memory, the connection seemed obvious. Los Angeles is the U.S. city perhaps most synonymous with urban rage, and many credit Bratton for the city’s drop in violent crime that began in 2002. Never mind, say critics, that the the city’s response to its rioting was deeply flawed, or that Bratton himself was nearly a decade removed from its most recent uprising, which happened in 1992.

If there’s any indication of exactly how London plans to respond to the rebellions, which were widely reported to have begun in response to police violence and social service cuts, it’s seen in these startling figures: five reported deaths, millions in property damage, 3,100 arrests, and agreement from lawmakers that the country has a “serious gang problem” that may or may not be facilitated by Facebook.

But while most of the British-based criticism for Bratton’s hire centers around whether it’s appropriate to fly in a celebrated foreign cop to handle what they see as a distinctly domestic issue, there’s an even larger question about whether Bratton’s style of policing belongs in any city.

“If you want to solve violence in the streets that young people are engaged in, don’t look to L.A. as a model,” says Kim McGill of Youth Justice Coalition, a community-based Los Angeles organization that works to curb youth violence.

McGill notes that Los Angeles has a history of exporting its political stars to prominence beyond state borders, and the results have often proved disastrous for communities of color. She points to two of L.A.’s native sons, former presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, who launched or strongly backed the wars on drugs and crime. “We’ve invested billions of dollars and over four decades in trying to refine a model that just doesn’t work.”

Some Britons agree.

“I am not sure I want to learn about gangs from an area of America that has 400 of them,” Sir Hugh Orde, head of the Association of Chief Police Officers, told British reporters about Los Angeles. “It seems to me, if you’ve got 400 gangs, then you’re not being very effective. If you look at the style of policing in the states, and their levels of violence, they are fundamentally different from here.”

Bratton’s brand of policing is premised on fixing things that have the potential to break, and then making them look pretty. He began his career in his hometown of Boston before gong to New York and Los Angeles, and is a strong proponent of the “zero tolerance” approach to fighting crime. That approach, known among researchers as the “broken windows theory”, argues that in order to beat big crime, you’ve got to start small, and early, before relatively petty infractions balloon into violent crimes, or mass rebellions. In New York, the approach was credited with drastically reducing the city’s murder rate. But not before critics accused officers of widespread police harassment of young black and Latino men for petty infractions like loitering, truancy, public noise and jumping train turnstyles. In 1994, Bratton’s first year as police commissioner in New York, juvenile arrests jumped to over 98,000 from just over 20,000 the previous year. In November of 1995, Newsday reported:

The NYPD’s ‘quality of life’ sweeps were jailing an average of 280 young people a day for activities like drinking a beer in public, playing loud music, not having proper identification, loitering, and ‘sneaking onto the train. Four of five arrests in that first year were for nonviolent offenses such as disorderly conduct and drug possession, and half were for violations so minor that they did not require fingerprints.

And while much is often made of Bratton’s drastic cuts in crime, activists claim that his success was largely due to forces beyond his control. McGill points to a decrease in the crack epidemic and an increase in community-led efforts to combat crime.

What helps Bratton tremendously in pushing his program is that he’s not afraid to talk about race. In most cases, Bratton publicly calls out the often long-standing tension between historically white police forces and the communities of color they patrol. Last Saturday, for instance, he encouraged British officials to tackle the underlying racial tensions of the riots.

“Part of the issue going forward is how to make policing more attractive to a changing population,” he told reporters, according to the Guardian.

Once again, he served up the same prescription: hire more cops of color. And that, according to his critics, is how police departments have learned to put colorful band-aids on systemic hemorrhages. “Los Angeles has one of the most integrated forces in the nation, but police brutality has increased, not decreased,” says McGill. “People may get called fewer racial slurs — although that still happens. But if you’re putting people of color in the exact same system with the exact same training, nothing changes.”

Report: UK Riots Were Product of Consumerism

Analyst's report points to 'deeply flawed social ethos' and calls for a shift of emphasis 'from material to non-material values'

by Alex Hawkes

The recent riots in London and other big cities were the product of an "out-of-control consumerist ethos" which will have profound impacts for the UK economy, a leading City broker has said.

The report by Tullett Prebon warns: "The consumerist ethos, in which a materialist vision is both peddled and, for the vast majority, simultaneously ruled out by exclusion, has extremely damaging consequences, both social and economic."

The report, the firm's global head of research Tim Morgan, the report is part of a series one of in a series put out by in which the brokerage in which it analyses bigger issues for the UK. Last month, the broker Tullett Prebon issued a report on the UK's economic situation as part of Morgan's Project Armageddon.

The report details recommendations to resolve what it sees as a political and economic malaise: new role models, policies to encourage savings, the channeling of private investment into creating rather than inflating assets, and greater public investment.

"We conclude that the rioting reflects a deeply flawed economic and social ethos… recklessly borrowed consumption, the breakdown both of top-end accountability and of trust in institutions, and severe failings by governments over more than two decades."

The note pinpoints the philosophy behind the riots as consumerism, which is also "the underlying message of the advertising and marketing industries, and huge budgets are devoted to pushing a message which, updated from Déscartes, is: 'I buy, therefore I am' ".

A typical internet user sees a hundred adverts an hour, the report says, and the underlying message many receive is: "Here's the ideal. You can't have it." Accompanying this is an inflation of government and private debt, a key theme of Dr Morgan's other work.

"The economy has been subjected to repeated 'boom and bust' cycles, above all in property. The overall pattern has been that an over-consuming west has borrowed and spent the surpluses of the increasingly productive and under-consuming East.

"The dominant ethos of 'I buy, therefore I am' needs to be challenged by a shift of emphasis from material to non-material values. David Cameron's 'big society' project may contribute to the inculcation of more socially-oriented values, but much more will need to be done to challenge the out-of-control consumerist ethos.

"The government, too, needs to consume less, and invest more. Government spending has increased by more than 50% in real terms over the last decade, but public investment has languished. Saving needs to be encouraged, and private investment needs to be channeled into asset creation, not asset inflation."

Dr Morgan adds: "A young person who tries to become the next Alan Sugar or James Dyson is as likely to fall short as if he or she sets out to become the next global football star.

"But… failure to become the next Alan Sugar can still leave a person well equipped for a career in management, finance or accountancy. Failure to emulate James Dyson will leave the aspirant with useful engineering or technological skills."


The Politics of the London Riots

As England’s cities have burned and slowly simmered to an uncertain calm, the debate over the causes of the country’s latest outbreak of civil unrest has heated up. Sparked by the death of Mark Duggan, a Tottenham local shot by police on August 4, the once peaceful protests for justice in front of Tottenham police station have since evolved into disorder and riotous violence, spreading from London to Leeds, Bristol, Liverpool, and Birmingham. On one end of Britain’s political spectrum, Labour politician and former London mayor Ken Livingstone has linked the riots to brutal cuts in government spending. On the other end, Prime Minister David Cameron has characterized the violence as “pure criminality.” Senior officers of the Metropolitan Police informed Cameron when he returned from his Tuscan holiday on August 8 that criminal gangs largely coordinated the rioting: “we have said consistently that the people doing this are not protesters, they are criminals.” London riots; photo by Tomasz Iwaniec via Flickr

This depiction, however, flies in the face of evidence that many ‘rioters’ possessed no criminal background whatsoever. Nor did they all fall into one homogenous category. Those charged have ranged from schoolchildren to professional members of the work force. As one resident of Southall, west London, remarked, children as young as 12 were involved in the attacks in Ealing, and the rioters were also of diverse racial backgrounds: “They were black, white, Indian.” 

Although some rioters sought to articulate particular grievances, denouncing discriminatory police searches and the elimination of Britain’s educational maintenance allowance, others have not attempted to justify their behavior, taking the chaos as an opportunity to steal from local businesses. Reflecting on the looting in Enfield, Labour councilor Chris Bond remarked that “it wasn’t anger that I saw, it was more like they thought it was all a big game.”

With homes and buildings vandalized, and communities literally reduced to ashes, it has become easy to dismiss the violence on the street as “pure criminality.” But such conclusions are naive and insufficient. Viral civil unrest should not be reduced to simple terms; the riots have many different elements. Although some rioters have been plainly motivated by opportunism, social, political, and racial factors are also at play. As journalist and blogger Laurie Penny has argued, few people know why the riots have occurred, and “…they don’t know, because they were not watching these communities [Tottenham, Edmonton, Brixton] Nobody has been watching Tottenham since the television cameras drifted away after… 1985.”

The latest violence clearly differs from the 1985 Broadwater Farm riots, when fierce racial tensions erupted following the death of Cynthia Jarrett, a local black woman who suffered a fatal stroke during a police raid on her home. But the current riots also have a racial element. The fatal shooting of Mark Duggan, a young black man, should be seen in the context of the Metropolitan Police’s longstanding record of discrimination against ethnic minorities. In 2009, a report by Liberal Democrat Lord Carlile, the independent reviewer of anti-terrorism laws, confirmed that police were seven times more likely to stop and search black and Asian youths in Britain than whites. The riots have occurred in some of the poorest boroughs of England, in communities where locals have every reason to doubt and despise the forces of law. According to a report by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), since 1998, a total of 333 people have died in British police custody, and not a single officer has ever been successfully prosecuted. As journalist Nina Power writes, these figures make it strikingly clear why “the IPCC and the courts are seen by many, quite reasonably, to be protecting the police rather than the people.” In one NBC News report, a young Londoner was asked whether he believed that rioting was the correct way to express his anger: “Yes”, he replied. “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 2,000 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 is no all-encompassing meaning to the riots, but there are connections that can and should be made. As reporter Landon Thomas Jr. suggests, the riots indicate widespread resentment toward rising levels of youth unemployment. Currently, at least one million British citizens between the ages of 16 and 24 are officially unemployed.  According to a 2010 report by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the UK’s record for social mobility is worse than that of any other developed country. Taking a look at the mobility of earnings in 12 developed states, the OECD concluded that Britain showed the strongest link between individual and parental earnings: 50 percent of the economic advantage that high-earning fathers held over low-earning fathers passed to their sons. In Australia and Canada, by contrast, less than 20 percent of this wage advantage passed across generations.

The unrest also took place against a backdrop of brutal government spending cuts and enforced austerity measures. The boroughs that faced the worst looting and violence are among the most impoverished regions in the country. Hackney, for instance, is not only ranked as the most deprived borough in London, but also holds one of the highest national rates of child poverty, with 67 percent children in low-income families. Similarly, Haringey, the borough that includes Tottenham, suffers the fourth highest level of child poverty in London, as well as an unemployment rate of 8.8 percent - nearly double the national average. As the British comedian Russell Brand has commented in his surprisingly cogent and fluid article for The Guardian, “JD Sports is probably easier to desecrate if you can’t afford what’s in there and the few poorly paid jobs there are taken.”  With fewer jobs, reduced educational allowance, and cuts to youth services, health, and legal aid, many rioters seem completely disconnected from their communities. Politicians would do well to heed the words of charities and workers, such as Camila Batmanghelidjh, who have spent decades aiding disenfranchised youth. Reflecting on the riots and those responsible for the looting, Batmanghelidjh writes: "Community, they would say, has nothing to offer them. Instead, for years they have experienced themselves cut adrift from civil society's legitimate structures”

Yet more cuts are due to occur. Councils in London are preparing to slash their budgets by 24 percent over three years – that's £5bn of cuts by 2014. According to a report by the BBC, this action will “see jobs go in 17 councils” and local services significantly reduced. As protests over UK cuts heated up last March, with protestors demonstrating across central London, the British government released a report, “advocating the provision of more than 300,000 apprenticeships for school leavers, and 15 hours a week of free pre-school education for underprivileged two-year olds.  But the government does not show any interest in these strategies. Although many politicians, including the Conservative London mayor Boris Johnson, want to scrap plans to reduce police budgets by 20 percent, opposition to changes in spending cuts remains fierce. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has warned that any deviation from his deficit reduction strategy could “plunge Britain into the financial whirlpool of a sovereign debt crisis.” In the wake of the riots, Osborne continues to insist that it would be disastrous to relax the £81bn of spending cuts.

However, those attempting to address the riots and their underlying causes would do well to consider the words of sociologist Zygmunt Bauman: “social rights are indispensible to make political rights ‘real’, and keep them in operation.” The link between social inequality and the recent riotous violence cannot be ignored.  In a country where the richest 10 percent are more than 100 times as wealthy as the poorest 10 percent of the population, the recent violence is by no means apolitical.

Rehanna Jones-Boutaleb is a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus.


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