Anarchy In The UK 2011 Redux

“Don’t Know What I Want But I Know How To Get It”?

I’m still scratching my head over the riots in London this week. If ever there was something that made so little sense, well, these riots were it. It seems I’m not alone in thinking that the riots were pretty strange given that for all the ascribed motives the phenomenon of who turned out to be doing the looting and getting caught flew in its face of class prejudice in both directions.

Laura Johnson, a university student accused of looting during the London riots, could be thrown off her degree course.

The 19-year-old, who is studying English and Italian at Exeter University, appeared at Bexleyheath Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday charged with theft after police stopped her car and found £5000 ($7860) of electrical items, allegedly looted from a branch of Currys in Charlton, south-east London.

Exeter University has warned Ms Johnson, whose parents are company directors, that she could be thrown off her course if she is convicted.

Which goes to show it was not all like the youths running riot in the last section of ‘Harry Brown’.

Anyway, here’s the Leviathan blog in The Economist trying to wrap its head around it.

Leviathan has begun collecting explanations for the turmoil across London and other British cities. On Newsnight, Ken Livingstone, once again a mayoral candidate, expressed the view that the riots were linked to young people’s “uncertainty about the future”. He had, the ex-mayor said, been to inner-city colleges where the pupils were worried about how to complete their courses, after proposed changes to the Education Maintenance Allowance.

That sounds suspect. The behaviour and targeting of the looters does not suggest undue concern about lost educational opportunities or public-spending cuts. However competent or otherwise the government has been in its deficit reduction, it has set out to protect students from low-earning families—and indeed, taxed the rich more highly.

The most intriguing explanation for misbehaviour so far was offered to Mark Stone, a Sky News reporter, who recorded looting in Clapham Junction on his phone. “Are you proud of what you’re doing?” he asked one young woman who was stealing goods from a smashed-up store. “I’m just getting my taxes back,” she replied. As appealing as this may be to Milton Friedman followers (in other circumstances), it is a pretty rubbish excuse for pillaging.

Mr Livingstone spoke amusingly of “clapped out politicians” denouncing criminality—and, in truth, the bromides against the rioters do have a certain ritual quality. One could predict that David Cameron would deploy the word “sickening”—and lo, he did.

Which goes some ways towards putting a circumference around the ball of confusion. Just as people marveled there wasn’t any looting in Japan after natural disasters, we’re left marveling at a section of England that want to go looting in the absence of any natural disaster.

I think this is going to provide more food for thought in the coming years, as it is clear nobody has understood anything as to how such a volatile crowd as (pardon the pun) critical mass, manifested itself like a perfect storm. Then again, judging from how the stock market has yoyo-ed this week, maybe we can put it down to the stupidity of the mob mind in stampede mode. After all, you would never guess the humble cow could amass the devastation of a stampede in numbers, but they can. Why not humans?

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