Tuesday, August 16, 2011

London Riots: A New Class Struggle

Beyond the issues of age, race and ethnicity, the riots in London may mark the inception of what will become a great global class upheaval.  When income inequality and wealth inequality reach proportions not seen since the Gilded Age, it's hardly surprising that the social and political instability of that era follows.  Let's face it.  The plebs are angry.
Globalisation has made our great cities incalculably richer but also increasingly divided and unequal. More than youth, ethnicity or even race, London’s riots are about class and the growing divide between the classes. This dynamic is not unique to London but is at work in many of the world’s great capitals. Instead of reducing and flattening economic distinctions, globalisation has made them sharper....

Then there is this: our greatest cities are not bland monocultures but the very features that make them dynamic also contribute to their instability. Eric Hobsbawm, the Marxist historian, long ago noted that a combination of density and the poor being close to centres of political power transformed old-style cities into centres of insurrection. It is no accident that the most innovative US cities also have the highest levels of protest and among the lowest levels of social capital and cohesion. Much the same is true of London.

In short there is a real danger that such riots are a feature, not a bug, of cities in the global era. Instead of a shining city on the hill, our urban centres have become divided. Left to its own devices the unbridled operation of the free market will make these divides worse. Just upping the police presence is a recipe for greater disaster. So if our great cities are to prosper, they now need a new social compact.
But a new social compact would require Conservatives to admit that there is trouble in paradise and that is never going to happen.  Certainly not in America where the press kowtows to the Tea Party at every turn and any solution with the word "social" in it is immediately dismissed as a Communist plot to destroy our liberty.

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