Thursday, 23 May 2013

The curse of The Spirit Level strikes again

In August 2011, there were three nights of rioting in London with cars set alight, police officers attacked and shops looted. It was triggered when the police shot a man dead in Tottenham but rapidly became a riot for its own sake as it spread to other UK cities.

This orgy of disorder gave every chin-stroking intellectual an opportunity to speculate about its "root causes". Whatever they blamed—bad parenting, "austerity", poor education, unemployment, 13 years of Labour misrule, one year of Tory misrule or Mrs. Thatcher—the "root cause" was invariably the thing that the intellectual had been warning about for years.

For Wilkinson and Pickett, authors of The Spirit Level, that thing was income inequality...

The poison of inequality was behind last summer's riots

A year on from the riots, the government is still failing to identify their underlying causes

... But how does this social poison work? It makes some people look as if they are worth much more than others – not just a little bit more, but anything from supremely important to almost worthless.

Wilko and Pilko said that some CEOs are paid 300 times more than junior employees and that this creates "fears of inadequacy" which lead to violence. It is, therefore, impossible for Britain "to tackle the social ills contributing to the riots without reducing inequality."

Basically, antisocial societies cause antisocial behaviour. Greater inequality weakens community life, trust gives way to status competition, family life suffers, children grow up prepared for a dog-eat-dog world, class divisions and prejudices are strengthened and social mobility slows.

If only we lived in an egalitarian paradise like Sweden, this sort of thing wouldn't happen, eh?

From the BBC...

Riots grip Stockholm suburbs after police shooting

Rioters have lit fires and stoned emergency services in the suburbs of Stockholm for the third night in a row after a man was shot dead by police.

Incidents were reported in at least nine suburbs of the Swedish capital and police made eight arrests.

On Sunday night, more than 100 cars were set alight, Swedish media report.

... On Tuesday night, cars were torched in western and southern Stockholm, and stones were thrown at police officers and firefighters. One area affected, Rinkeby, saw similar rioting in 2010.

Kjell Lindgren of the Stockholm police told Aftonbladet newspaper that the unrest had spread from the original rioting in Husby.

"It feels like people are taking the opportunity in other areas because of the attention given to Husby," he said.

Earlier on Tuesday, Prime Minister Reinfeldt said: "We've had two nights with great unrest, damage, and an intimidating atmosphere in Husby and there is a risk it will continue."

And, alas, this carbon copy of the London riots has continued...

Stockholm restaurant torched as riots spread

A fourth night of unprecedented riots in Stockholm has seen unrest spread, with a restaurant and up to 40 cars burnt, police told the BBC.

... The Stockholm police spokesman said rioting had occurred in both deprived parts of the city and parts that would be considered "normal".

"My colleagues say the people on the streets are a mixture of every kind of people you can think of," he added.

"We have got Swedes, we have got very young people, we have got people aged 30 to 35. You can't define them as a group.

"We don't know why they are doing this. There is no answer to it."

Swedish sociologists are no doubt already claiming that this could have been averted by higher taxes and more generous welfare payments.


I have no idea who or what "community activists" are but they're blaming it on inequality already... activists blamed high youth unemployment and recent cuts to public services in Husby and the other affected areas.

"This is the kind of reaction when there isn't equality between people, which is the case in Sweden," said Rami al-Khamisi, a law student and founder of Megafonen, a community rights organisation.


Jean Granville said...

The riots are evidently caused by the prevalence of snus consumption.

Anonymous said...

As I believe has been pointed out before, social stratification is not determined by income inequality alone. There have been societies where social status has been very rigid, usually determined by seniority, but the income inequality has been small.

Bucko said...

""Wilko and Pilko said that some CEOs are paid 300 times more than junior employees and that this creates "fears of inadequacy" which lead to violence.""

When I was a junior employee for a fair sized optical firm, my MD drove a rolls and was worth a fortune.

Now I'm fairly seniorish in a marketing firm and my MD drives an Aston Martin and is worth a fortune.

I've never looked at these people with a fear of inadequacy or thoughts of violence. On the contrary, I've looked at them as role models.

I suppose it depends on your understanding of life and your willingness to work for the things you want.

The only people reacting as described by Wilko and Pilko will be those that expect life to be handed to them on a plate and get angry when that doesn't happen. A situation which is created by the very people who are bemoaning inequality.

Christopher Snowdon said...


Japan is one such country. In The Spirit Level, Japan is shown to be the most equal country and it does well under most criteria (eg. life expectancy, infant mortality). It is, however, also the most class ridden country and therefore does not fit the theory W & P propose. W & P get around this hole in the theory in their usual way - by ignoring it.