How government policies helped cause the London riots

By now, most people are aware of the disgraceful and embarrassing “protests” that have engulfed London over the past few days. Looting, burglary and arson are spreading, not only across town but also to other cities, with reports of violence coming in from Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham.

The rioters claim overly extensive and harassing police activity as the cause of the unrest. Not only is this a poor attempt to seek undeserved validation, it is ironic since it is exactly this kind of reckless, irresponsible and brutal criminal activity that justifies extensive police powers in the first place. The causes run much deeper, and although the criminals responsible are largely unconscious of those causes, it is important to understand them. It is not, however, a political protest against the police or a class war.

This is understood by and large, but many are still trying to excuse the rioters’ behavior. Ken Livingston, the former mayor of London, has blamed the violence on the government’s austerity measures. “If you’re making massive cuts, there’s always the potential for this sort of revolt against that,” Livingston said. It is one thing to stand back while Rome burns, but to seize it as a political opportunity by giving the arsonists a principled foundation is disgraceful. It is also misleading. Studies indicate that riots are rarely caused by income inequality, as political scientists Denise DiPasquale and Edward Glaeser write in their paper “The Los Angeles Riot and the Economics of Urban Unrest”:

We find some support for the notions that the opportunity cost of time and the potential costs of punishment influence the incidence and intensity of riots. Beyond these individual costs and benefits, community structure matters. In our results, ethnic diversity seems a significant determinant of rioting, while we find little evidence that poverty in the community matters.

Prime Minister David Cameron has referred to the riots as “criminality, pure and simple.” Criminality it may be, but pure and simple it is not. While cuts in government spending are not the cause of this monstrous show, government has helped cause it. For weakening community bonds and undermining personal responsibility, the top-down government expansion that has gone on for years must be held partially responsible for the riots.

Young people in London are angry that provisions and services have been taken away, which has left them feeling abandoned, disillusioned and without futures, but this does not follow from spending cuts. It is the opposite. The problem is that state spending has been and continues to be used to fund misguided programs of social engineering, creating a system of services so centralized and impersonal that it fails to facilitate social order and detaches youths from the society around them, rather than bonding them to it. Benevolent social institutions cannot be imposed by a central authority. They can only emerge through the willing consent of individuals in communities. Indeed, in the clear absence of government authority, Londoners are coming together to help each other and stop the riots.

For days now, Londoners have been calling for tougher policing, and it may be necessary for the government to take extreme measures to protect the life, liberty and property of its citizens. But what is more important than the how is the why. The lesson here is not that increased spending prevents disaffection and creates sustainable institutions of merit, but rather that an overarching and illiberal nanny state does exactly what it says on the tin. It creates spoilt, lonely and irresponsible brats.

Benjamin Cumming is currently entering his final year of a M.A. in Political Science and International Relations at the University of Edinburgh, having completed a year abroad at the University of Mississippi, where he studied Political Science and Economics. He has represented the United Kingdom in the European Union and is an avid libertarian.

  • Bencumming

    I have not responded yet and I appreciate all your comments. Intelligent forum is the way we should debate these issues and I am jutting in only on one point of information. I am currently attending the university of edinburgh, but I resent your assault on the university of mississippi. If you open arguments with such conceited ad hominem arguments, people will not read further. Nonetheless I appreciate your contribution and look forward to further discussion

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  • Anonymous

    The riots are caused by punks who think it’s fun to run riot and steal. They know they can get away with this behavior because nothing in their world has ever stood hard-and-fast against doing what you damn well please. No one — parent or school or city or state — has made them accountable for their actions. They’ve always gotten off with no real punishment when they misbehaved, so they kept upping the ante, seeking the psychological safety that limits provide. After a certain age there is no psychology involved but that of a criminal thinking the only reason people oppose his behavior is their own perversity.

    This is what Leftist ideology does by undermining the family, the police, any authority at all; and it’s why the Communist states ruled by such draconian force. They had to because of the chaos they had unleashed when they destroyed all the cultural inhibitions, the biologically-based inhibitions, the common sense inhibitions that make up a society. These “inhibitions” are social glue when allowed to function. Once removed, there is no longer any reason for anyone to take anyone else’s word or authority for anything. Hence chaos.

  • mark_robbins

    So–Londoner are calling for tougher policing.  Isn’t it the secrecy of policing that brought about all this violence?  When are the police going to be REQUIRED to where video surveillance badges so we can see what WE PAY THEM to do.  We shouldn’t be harrassed for taking their pictures, video monitoring their arrests, or suffering riots when they overreact in a neighborhood.  If the video were available then all the yobs calls for payback would seem rediculous if, in fact, it was.  If not, then who would pay?  My guess?  The citizens once again.

  • Anonymous

    Cut the bullsh!t. These are feral fukkin niqqers doing whats natural for them.

    • Chris

      You sir are the reason this country is so divided. A vast majority of these folks are not what you think. If you cannot say anything of substance don’t speak at all! 

  • Ggtaskon

    this guy is a wanker

  • Pamela

    I took this picture of a man who used his food stamps in line in front of me; https://whyimconservative.wordpress.com/2011/06/06/charity-why-taxes-and-welfare-are-bad-part-4/#more-36   
    I can see why they are all rioting.  I would be mad too, if I wasn’t getting my taxpayer funded carts of soda.

  • Michael Garvin

    Your perspective is a little twisted as an ideology. I also have a political science and economics degree from a much more prestigious liberal arts college than the school you attended in the good ol’ right wing, radical conservative, ultra-libertarian University of Mississippi deep South. The riots are a clear short term retaliation for the spending cuts designed to undermine the social safety net throughout the UK (which includes better health-care and lower cost education than here in the US) and they are justified as is the austerity measures imposed by UK’s parliament are necessary; look at it as a natural clash between government and its citizens.  

    The bottom line is I understand why you are an advocate for fiscal austerity and an “avid libertarian” as you see your nation’s socio-economic cultural  lean too much to the left, leaving many living off the “dole” as blokes like to say. If you think the London riots are result of spoiled brats (when some of those arrested include young professionals, millionaires, working class adults in their 50’s and graduate students) you are mistaken.This article quotes several sources and completely refutes the political scientists theory you cite that the riots are not caused by income inequality/poor living conditions and capitalist inequality:


    And how can your political scientists assert it’s ethnic diversity as the sole cause (and not poverty) meanwhile in the US, minority groups have substandard living conditions and lower income levels than white Americans everywhere, regardless of the criteria you use as a statistical measure! Social issues are almost always income based; at times fueled by racially based perpetuated stereotypes and of course racism itself is omnipresent. 

    And a forewarning, in decade or so or even sooner, get ready to see a much more violent unrest in the US when the already pathetic excuse of a social safety net is eradicated by these ruthless capitalist, religious zealot, libertarian greedy and horrific human beings (called the GOP) hell bent on  eliminating our social security system and government subsidized healthcare for the extreme poor 6,000 pounds pre tax yearly income ($11,000) to even qualify!  (unlike the free healthcare that is provided to ALL citizens in the UK)

    The UK is doing the right thing becoming more fiscally conservative, but the entire US political system is way to the right of the UK conservative party. Obama is a democratic president and functions as a centrist policy maker (because of the GOP’s power and influence) but would be considered a right wing conservative politician in the UK. If he loses the election and one of these radical GOP politicians come to power that serve only the top 2% of income earners, while continuing to destroy the middle-class and poor through their legislative agenda (290,000,000 people!) this nation’s representative democratic republic will eventually transform into a full fledge oligarchy will a legitimate proletariat/slave class. 

    • jim

      So the prestige of the college you attended means that you are smarter than the person you disagree with.  Of course, that is obvious to a progressive thinker.  Especially when you get to define which college is more prestigious.  I would be curious how many young professionals, millionaires, and working class adults in their 50’s were among the rioters.  I would not be surprised to see graduate students among the rioters, especially those attending the more prestigious universities.

      • Anonymous

        Well said, Jim. I had the chance to attend Harvard, Princeton or any other Ivy I wanted two decades ago, and turned down the chance because of the asinine politics in the Ivies. I have never regretted doing it. The Ivy Leaguers I know all think alike — that they’re smarter than everybody else, better-educated, just better, period. That kind of silly, grade-school thinking just never appealed to me.

    • timbit

      Well said Michael. Seems your prediction is spot on. As I write this note, flash mobs are occuring in the U.S.

      By the way I’m a capitalist. I’ve had plenty of capitalist education, and not so much in the way of liberal arts. I have come to understand however, that our version of capitalism has too much influence over government, and ergo is not true capitalism as large firms and organizations can benefit by powers that are by no means ‘free market’. Admittedly I’m barely familiar with the meaning of neo-liberal, but what I have learned is that most of this groups representations are in fact either false, or in some cases overgeneralizations. For example, higher taxes are bad because they punish job creators. This is laughable. I work with alot of firms as the owner of a boutique business consulting firm….corporate taxes are considered as part of long term business planning and project financing….but I have never observed taxes playing a role in hiring.

      • Anonymous

        Then you just haven’t recognized what you did see, timbit. Taxes inhibit hiring by taking away money that would otherwise be invested in the business. The business can’t grow, or can’t grow as fast or as much, because its capital is diminished to the point that it can’t. This is simple common sense. You only have so much capital to work with, and when govt takes a hefty part of it thru taxes, the results are easily predicted. Take away a million bucks via taxation from a corporation that was going to expand, and you keep it from expanding — hence from creating the jobs that that expansion would have entailed.

        There’s another role taxes play in hiring, and that’s when the govt is so clearly anti-business (as Obama’s govt is) that those with money simply choose not to invest because they know some IRS creep is going to come after them every which way.

        It has been shown empirically that the most govt ever gets from anybody in taxes is about 19%. Raise the rates beyond that and people put their money elsewhere to keep it safe or they just hang onto it. Below that rate you actually encourage honesty, since most of us know it takes money to run govt and don’t mind paying a reasonable amount in taxes. But beyond 19% people (and corporations) seem to feel justified in cheating because they think the govt has gone beyond reasonable bounds. By not investing, the job creators don’t create new jobs.

        There’s a third way taxes inhibit hiring when the govt is so clearly predatory as this one (and the Bush one before it, and the Clinton one before that, and the other Bush one before that) is, and that’s when the tax structure is so capricious that you can’t get the same answer on your tax liability from any two IRS agents.People with money feel they’re being held up by govt, and refuse to expand or invest. This directly keeps jobs from being created.

        Another way taxes inhibit hiring is by constantly changing, so that businesses can’t predict the rules even a couple of years out. No one is going to expand when he fears the tax rates are going to keep going up. It’s a similar principle to that on which gun sales went thru the roof when Obama was elected. People knew his stance on guns and wanted to get theirs before he outlawed or penalized gun sales to the point that they wouldn’t be able to get them. If you can’t project the tax landscape a few years ahead, you’ll just pocket your capital rather than risk losing it to ever-higher taxes.

    • Strawberryfieldsforever

      America appears to be the centre of the world to you? Your approach is not very academic to be honest, I would have thought your ivy league education would have thought you to look at each issue as unique, while being open and critical. The UK is not the US, the way the US is run from the cost of education to healthcare to housing is horrific. Hopefully the UK is not heading in that direction. Yours sincerely, a student of the University of Glasgow (In the top 1% of universities in the world – as if it even matters)

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