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August 16, 2011


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I'd agree it's not about moral decay. I'd also put forward that when everyone starts these opinion columns with 'it's not about race' that they're quite possibly wrong, and I'll put forward some evidence for that too.

“We examine the causes of rioting using international data, evidence from the race riots in the 1960s in the U.S., and Census data from Los Angeles, 1990. 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.”


In the detail of the paper they identify that in countries with a large proportion of city-dwelling population that ethnic diversity is the strongest correlate with rioting, more-so that any other economic factors.

Just to anchor myself at the top of this very slippery slope, this is NOT to say that any particular race is prone to causing riots. The point is that natural variations in opportunity and wealth will occur between ethnic groups (because of altruism bias, family connections, lack of social mobility, etc...) and if they are visible to each other, riots are more likely to happen. It's really a case of "what you don't know won't hurt you". Interestingly, in the paper they observe that ghettoization reduces the effect.

Unemployment among young people is ~20% at this point and although I don't have figures, I'm guessing based upon published education figures (Afro-Caribbean boys under-perform at GCSE) that this is quite a bit worse among some ethnic minorities.

To connect this to your recent points about social networks and 'hyper-imitation', perhaps the increased density of social networks means that even if people are geographically separated, we're still connected and have visibility of how the "other half" live. You can’t ghetto in the same way when you have the Facebook and Twitter.

In summary, this David Cameron, the suddenly powerful Tory one expanding his base by talking about national service and reducing benefits is probably wrong. The other David Cameron though, the nice compromising one we had after the election, the one who talked about the failure of the 'experiment of multiculturalism' in Britain and the need for integration, he's probably right.

Dr Kevin

yes , but i would counter argue that the argument used by marbury is just as stale.

the 'golden age' argument has been used so many times. the main idea being the past was as bad as the present so we cant do anything.

its a lazy argument and offers up nothing in the way of moving forward, except more of the same. even though it appears the social policies of the last 40 years have failed miserably.


Do you really believe that a Golden Age myth is the prerequisite for thinking about how to improve society? If not, I'm not sure what your point is, Doctor. The "we can't do anything" is entirely your own invention.

Christopher Heward

I don't think B is a symptom of A, rather A and B are both symptoms of C, i.e. greed, selfishness and a lack of morality. Therefore in a sense the scenes of the last two weeks weren't directly influenced by the bankers, but both groups took their actions as a result of poor sense of right and wrong, seeking self gain over the benefit of the community.

However, at the same time, it is clear that, excepting the riots, the lives of the poor don't affect the rich, whilst the lives of the rich DO affect the poor, even if the poor don't realise.

Indeed, one of the ways the rich get richer is through advertising. Advertising which makes the poor want more and more things and increases their greed. Consumption is also needed to drive taxes and the economy in general, which improves conditions for investors. So it is in the interest of the rich to promote a culture of consumerism. But not only this, when the poor see the rich doing these things, things that they might not associate with criminality but they see as reinforcing the view that consumption is what it's all about, then they will continue to buy into that narrative, and there will be some that pursue it to the extent of criminality.

Of course, like you say, I doubt this is any different from years ago. I think that things have changed though, whether through increasing communication through the internet and other media, through perceiving we can challenge the authorities, through various things. What was once hidden (the immorality of us as people) is now becoming very prominent.

How we solve that is, well, not really an issue for public policy, because how do you change people's hearts? Indeed, I believe only Jesus can (at which point people will now disregard everything I have said whether or not they agree with it before!), but you can't enforce that on people.

So I guess at the end of the day we have two options. Ignore the problem, cover it over with the actions of the state, whether moralising/law & order or buying off the poor with benefits that never deal with the heart of the matter (as the last 15 years have shown), or we confront the problem, whilst recognising that not many people have an actual solution that will change things. At the end of the day, whether we withdraw the state now or not, as we're seeing around the world the state will soon be unviable and it it's withdrawal will be forced upon us, so we'd better hope the Church pull their finger out and stop trying to moralise the nation and just show and tell people about Jesus.

At least that's what I think. :D Thanks for the blog.


This is not meant to sound as flippant as it does, but increasingly I feel that the riots were a moment of madness, akin not to bankers et al, but to the kids trashing the house while the grown-ups all went on holiday for August. It was a classic meme that got out of control, so that even the otherwise good kids got caught up in it, raiding daddy's drinks cabinet and setting fire to the shed.

James Hamilton

Up to a point, Dr Kevin. I think it IS noticeable that the bulk of critiques of modern society not only reference an assumed change from the past but also look to the past for solutions to current problems. It's always been British cultural practice, although it's not always been dominant: there have been times when the past was considered suspect - between 1945 and 1973, the principle that modern thinking was the best way to deal with modern problems held the upper hand.

Arguably, some results of that modern thinking, if not all, didn't come off - I'm thinking here of neglected high-rise housing, inner city motorways, etc - and enough of the failures were visible enough and impinged upon enough people to tip the balance. For the time being, at least, the old ways are considered best, even if no one quite has the cojones to impose them.

There is a danger also, however, with the "moral panic" view of the riots as nothing new, and it's this: academic expressions of "moral panic" are, quite specifically, critiques of media coverage of crime across the ages. What they are not are historical judgements that declare that nothing much has changed and crime runs at about the same level now as it did in the 50s, 20s, 1880s etc. It's a literary critique, not a historical one.

In practice, the primary sources regarding historical crime are very hard to interpret, but it's highly likely that crime has risen and fallen both quite considerably over time. Our understanding as to why is still very limited, especially when it comes to the wierdly peaceful mid-20s to early 50s.

That our understanding is still limited owes something, admittedly, to the strong attraction academics in the field have towards the broad "moral panic" view, because this view is flattering to the intelligent heavy press/academic journal individual and means that that individual need not himself give up their post-dinner toke, their extra-marital affairs, their clever accountant and their ironic dinner party assertions that the inner cities would be so much more law abiding if the police stopped picking on motorists and went after the REAL criminals..


Why do you presume that causal links have to be manifest in a self-aware context?

As if the only way that the bankers could tie into the England Riots would be through a relevant soundbite or a tee shirt.

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I think that things have changed though, whether through increasing communication through the internet and other media, through perceiving we can challenge the authorities, through various things. What was once hidden (the immorality of us as people) is now becoming very prominent. but i would counter argue that the argument used by marbury is just as stale...thanks for the post..

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