Economics behind Britain's riots?

Aug. 9, 2011 at 4:29 PM
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WASHINGTON, Aug. 9 (UPI) -- Large portions of London and other British cities are continuing scenes of raging, mindless violence amid the worst wave of rioting in recent European history.

Gone for good is the image of Britain as a particularly civil society where cups of tea and polite discourse solved all.

Debris from looted stores, broken shop windows, vehicles set alight and buildings torched are the current image of London. And mobs of hooded youths tossing Molotov cocktails, bricks and stones are others.

London's Metropolitan Police are rushing in reinforcements from outside the city to swell their numbers from 6,000 to 16,000 and are considering using rubber bullets for the first time.

Armored vehicles have taken to the streets to break up mobs of rioters and looters whose numbers grow steadily.

By tradition, rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons aren't used by British police but amid the scale and breadth of violence since Sunday tradition may fall to the wayside.

"We'll do everything necessary to restore order on Britain's streets and to make them safe for law-abiding citizens," said British Prime Minister David Cameron, who cut short a vacation to return to London. "This is criminality pure and simple and it has to be confronted and stopped."

More than 525 people have been arrested since violence erupted Sunday in an area called Tottenham and which then spread to numerous compass points around the city through Twitter posts and exhortations.

Tottenham, Clapham, Streatham, Hackney, Croydon, Camden, Lewisham, Deptford: battle grounds all. Even middle-class Ealing and gentrified Notting Hill have been caught in the contagion of youth on a rampage.

"The sight of blood to crowds begets the thirst of more, As the first wine-cup leads to the long revel," the English poet Lord Byron once wrote.

The spark to the initial rioting is simple and understandable but the underlying causes and implications for its spread should give the rest of Europe and the United States pause.

News reports say trouble stemmed from the police shooting of a 29-year-old suspected drug dealer. When police failed to notify the dead man's family of the killing and full circumstances, a protest was called for outside a Tottenham police station.

A rock was thrown and the convulsion began. Soon stone-throwing and looting spread elsewhere as newscasts reported the violence and participants allegedly began sending Twitter messages calling for uprisings elsewhere.

British youth -- bored, jobless, angry and apparently without moral qualms -- heeded the call.

Not only stores were looted and trashed but public buses and even a children's hospital were attacked by youths said to be appear as young as 10.

Reports now say there has been a noticeable change in the cruising mobs of sociopaths, older youths in cars weren't systematically looting businesses of televisions, clothing and other items.

A likely motivation, or contributing factor to the anarchy, could well be economics. Britain, like virtually all industrialized nations, is deep in the throes of an economic crisis, trying to scale back expenditures by cutting entitlement programs.

In Britain, belt-tightening has included modifications to its subsidy program for people looking for work. Tottenham is said to have 10,000 people searching for jobs, and each available job has some 54 people vying for the position.

Although overall unemployment in Britain dipped from 8 percent to 7.7 percent in February to May, youth unemployment is staggering -- 20.4 percent for those age 16-24 who aren't in school. That the highest such rate in 20 years.

Under 18s are included since Britain has a school-leaver tradition. Those not academically inclined have in the past been encouraged to leave school for jobs in manufacturing and other low-skill industries, which now are struggling to survive given the global economy and economic downturn

The youth unemployment rate for the rest of EU countries is about 21 percent.

Meanwhile, prices for everything from groceries to clothing go up.

It's a good bet the ramifications of joblessness are playing the role in Britain's convulsion, which unlike demonstrations in Greece and elsewhere has no single apparent grievance.

But then, violence doesn't always have an easy explanation. Take for example the flash gangs in Philadelphia that loot stores and invade restaurants.

If there is a lesson in all this, perhaps it's that we're in a time of social, as well as economic, upheaval and more violence is yet to come.

"A mob is the scum that rises upmost when the nation boils." poet John Dryden said.

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