London rioting–are we seeing the death throes of the welfare state?
Buried deep in the New York Times story about the ongoing riots in London, the inability of the police to contain them and the fact that they’ve now spread to other cities is this paragraph:
For a society already under severe economic strain, the rioting raised new questions about the political sustainability of the Cameron government’s spending cuts, particularly the deep cutbacks in social programs. These have hit the country’s poor especially hard, including large numbers of the minority youths who have been at the forefront of the unrest.
The underlying cause of the riots had to do with the shooting, by police, of a popular activist in London. The spread, however, is presumably now because of the “spending cuts” the Cameron government has made in an effort to address it’s very serious deficit problem. This on the heels of the same sort of unrest and rioting in Greece when social programs were cut.
The paragraph is intriguing because of the way it approaches the problem. It doesn’t stress the debt or deficit the UK has or the fact that the level of spending the UK is committed too in order to fund the social programs is unsustainable, it instead addresses the “political sustainability” of such cuts.
That’s a very telling point. Substitute “political will” for “political sustainability” and you get the picture. And frankly, that’s what it boils down too everywhere. Do the politicians in charge actually have the political will to do what must to be done to right the financial ship of state?
What has been built by the welfare states everywhere is crumbling. There are large irreparable cracks in their foundations. All are showing signs of unsustainability and that is leading to internal instability. The recipients of the largess taxed from the producers and borrowed on their behalf isn’t going to be there much longer.
That’s the problem. Even the rioters know that the gravy train, in relative terms, is pretty much over. Reality, not politicians, have said so. In fact the politicians mostly have no choice – they either have the means to continue as they have in the past or hey don’t. And the more severely indebted welfare states are hitting that wall.
Add this to the mix though and you see how very horrific this is for the UK:
Beyond such social challenges is the crisis enveloping London’s Metropolitan Police. Even before the outbreak of violence, the police have been deeply demoralized by the government’s plan to cut about 9,000 of about 35,000 officers and by allegations that it badly mishandled protests against the government’s austerity program last winter and failed to properly investigate the phone-hacking scandal that has dominated the headlines here for much of the summer. The force now faces widespread allegations that it failed to act quickly and forcefully enough to quell the rioting at its outset over the weekend.
And of course, citizens there are left not only to fend for themselves in many cases, but have been disarmed by government to boot.
As for the poor “disadvantaged youth” at the center of the rioting? Well it seems they may not be quite as poor or disadvantaged as one would think:
Despite a build-up in the number of riot police officers, many of them rushed to London from areas around the country, gangs of hooded young people appeared to be outmaneuvering the police for the third successive night. Communicating via BlackBerry instant-message technology that the police have struggled to monitor, as well as by social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, they repeatedly signaled fresh target areas to those caught up in the mayhem.
They coupled their grasp of digital technology with the ability to race through London’s clogged traffic on bicycles and mopeds, creating what amounted to flying squads that switched from one scene to another in the London districts of Hackney, Lewisham, Clapham, Peckham, Croydon, Woolwich and Enfield, among others — and even, late on Monday night, at least minor outbreaks in the mainly upscale neighborhood of Notting Hill and parts of Camden.
They’ve used technology to organize flash mobs of looters. It’s anarchy and the police seemingly aren’t up to the job of stopping it.
The BBC and other British news organizations reported Tuesday that the police may be permitted to use rubber bullets for the first time as part of the government’s strengthened response to any resumption of the mayhem. David Lammy, Britain’s intellectual-property minister, also called for a suspension of Blackberry’s encrypted instant message service. Many rioters, exploiting that service, had been able to organize mobs and outmaneuver the police, who were ill-equipped to monitor it.
Rubber bullets, of course, only have an effect if police are where the rioters are. And apparently, that’s not something they’ve been particularly successful in doing here lately.
Finally, harkening back to the fact that the UK has a serious debt and deficit problem and must cut spending, one has to wonder why it is involved spending money on things like this:
On Tuesday, the violence seemed to be having a ripple effect beyond its immediate focal points: news reports spoke of a dramatic upsurge in household burglaries; sports authorities said at least two major soccer matches in London — including an international fixture between England and the Netherlands — had been postponed because the police could not spare officers to guarantee crowd safety. The postponements offered a dramatic reminder of the pressures on Mr. Cameron and his colleagues to guarantee a peaceful environment for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games.
That $15 billion extravaganza will have its centerpiece in a sprawling vista of new stadiums and an athletes’ village that lie only miles from the neighborhoods where much of the violence in the last three days has taken place.
Bread and circuses? The UK is laying off policemen and cutting defense spending, but has $15 bil to throw at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games? One has to wonder about priorities.
All-in-all a very volatile situation which could, given the method being used by the criminals, get worse. In the meantime expect the liberals on both sides of the Atlantic to denounce the cut backs in social spending and demand the rioting “youths” be placated. Political will is a scarce commodity in this world. It may indeed end up the the “political sustainability” of the cuts fall before the desire of politicians to maintain power. Of course that won’t change the fact that the unsustainable spending bill will come due whether they or the rioters like it or not. But perhaps, just perhaps, they can kick the can down the road just enough for them to escape the wrath and blame that will come when that can can’t be kicked anywhere any longer.