Sunday 11 December 2011

Greed of elites caused London riots, not Beckham

They've done some research into the August riots in London, which I wrote about at the time, and have come up with a plan. But first, let's look at the reason they think the riots took place. The Guardian reports:
A "get rich quick" celebrity culture exemplified by The X Factor and the dysfunctional lives of footballers has created a society "out of balance", the work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, says today in an interview surveying Britain after the summer riots.
My take on the riots was that the rioters were aping the 1% that had been created by decades of frantic globalisation. The type of globalisation that allows a four-bedroom penthouse apartment in the building pictured - London's most expensive address - to be rented for US$90,000 a week by a Middle Eastern businessman. But the Tory administration in the UK has decided it was, instead, David Beckham and the X Factor (a reality TV show where contestants try to sing their way into lucrative recording deals). Oh well, at least it's better than their take at the time, which was that the riots were the fault of just plain criminals and thugs.

But rather than point the finger at the thing that has actually caused the social breakdown that created the conditions within which the rioting took place, the Tories have decided to pay a bit more attention to the "out-of-balance" communities that spawned them.
Duncan Smith, who as chair of the social justice cabinet committee is one of the key figures shaping a coalition response to the riots, warned there was "every chance" riots would recur unless structural reforms were made to repair "communities in which so many families are broken".
He is due to call next week for major investment from the private sector to help prevent social breakdown. He will argue that public-private spending can reduce social failure.
So they want to bring in corporations - which created the problem in the first place - to try to solve the dysfunction that lies at the heart of stressed communities throughout the developed world. Bring in companies to fix "structural" problems (it's not just criminals and thugs, after all, the research, which was conducted along with the London School of Economics, says) that bedevil the lower classes. There's something Elizabethan about this proposal. Next thing you know there will be Poor Houses where the indigent have to sew lace or weave cloth in order to earn their meagre sustenance.

The real structural problem in the developed world is not just the result of those decades of globalisation. It's deeper than that. For a start, as Jeff Sparrow pointed out in a recent piece for The Drum:
[N]eoliberalism reshapes the notion of citizenship, so that voters' relationship with their government becomes analogous to consumers' relationship with a corporation. Rather than active participants, they become individual customers, who engage with politics by selecting a candidate at election time just as they choose a product from a supermarket shelf.
Not surprisingly, across the western world, we've seen a long-term decline in political participation. Fewer people join parties or pressure groups – or even pay them much attention. Politics is no longer something you do but something that's done for you: every so often, the political parties court your vote via the media, much as Apple roles out some cool commercials whenever there's a new iPhone to sell.
In Australia and in the UK, furthermore, the relationship between the traditional party of the left (Labor here, Labour over there) and its core constituents - presumably people like those who rioted in August - has changed. The Left no longer protects the interests of its core base. Under Labor in Australia during the Hawke-Keating years Labor became the friend of big business. Under New Labour and Tony Blair in the UK, the party courted the big end of town, pretending that it was revitalising the Left. These dalliances turned out to have had the opposite effect. Noone trusts the Left any more. Of course there is no political protest - they burn shops instead.

The problems that the UK Tories perceive are just more of the same targets that are usually picked out when hands begin to wring among the privileged. Sure, the Guardian/LSE research was right in pointing out that the problem is "an acquisitive consumer culture", but this has nothing to do with reality TV and football players. Rather, it's got to do with the system of money that sits behind those facades. Behind the street frontage of entertainment is a financial mechanism every bit as determined to achieve profitable outcomes as the one that drives the Wall Street trader. These days, everything has become commoditised as, along with globalisation, the power of corporations grows and the power of governments decreases. It's time to start reading Jared Diamond again, the man who says that, in many civilisations through history, greed on the part of the elite results in the collapse of the entire social structure. Famine awaits.

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