All the young rioters will have had long experience with the justice system’s efforts to confer impunity upon law breakers.
The youth of Britain have long placed a de facto curfew on the old, who in most places would no more think of venturing forth after dark than would peasants in Bram Stoker’s Transylvania. Indeed, well before the riots last week, respectable persons would not venture into the centers of most British cities or towns on Friday and Saturday nights, for fearâ€”and in the certaintyâ€”of encountering drunken and aggressive youngsters. In Britain nowadays, the difference between ordinary social life and riot is only a matter of degree, not of type.
A short time ago, I gave a talk in a school in an exquisite market town, deep in the countryside. Came Friday night, however, and the inhabitants locked themselves into their houses against the invasion of the barbarians. In my own little market town of Bridgnorth, in Shropshire, where not long ago a man was nearly beaten to death 20 yards from my house, drunken young people often rampage down one of its lovely little streets, causing much damage and preventing sleep. No one, of course, dares ask them to stop. The Shropshire council has dealt with the problem by granting a license for a pub in the town to open until 4 a.m., as if what the town needed was the opportunity for yet more and later drunkenness.
If the authorities show neither the will nor the capacity to deal with such an easily solved problemâ€”and willfully do all they can to worsen itâ€”is it any wonder that they exhibit, in the face of more difficult problems, all the courage and determination of frightened rabbits?
The rioters in the news last week had a thwarted sense of entitlement that has been assiduously cultivated by an alliance of intellectuals, governments and bureaucrats. “We’re fed up with being broke,” one rioter was reported as having said, as if having enough money to satisfy one’s desires were a human right rather than something to be earned.
“There are people here with nothing,” this rioter continued: nothing, that is, except an education that has cost $80,000, a roof over their head, clothes on their back and shoes on their feet, food in their stomachs, a cellphone, a flat-screen TV, a refrigerator, an electric stove, heating and lighting, hot and cold running water, a guaranteed income, free medical care, and all of the same for any of the children that they might care to propagate.
But while the rioters have been maintained in a condition of near-permanent unemployment by government subvention augmented by criminal activity, Britain was importing labor to man its service industries. You can travel up and down the country and you can be sure that all the decent hotels and restaurants will be manned overwhelmingly by young foreigners; not a young Briton in sight (thank God).
The reason for this is clear: The young unemployed Britons not only have the wrong attitude to work, for example regarding fixed hours as a form of oppression, but they are also dramatically badly educated. Within six months of arrival in the country, the average young Pole speaks better, more cultivated English than they do.
The icing on the cake, as it were, is that social charges on labor and the minimum wage are so high that no employer can possibly extract from the young unemployed Briton anything like the value of what it costs to employ him. And thus we have the paradox of high youth unemployment at the very same time that we suck in young workers from abroad.
The culture in which the young unemployed have immersed themselves is not one that is likely to promote virtues such as self-discipline, honesty and diligence. Four lines from the most famous lyric of the late and unlamentable Amy Winehouse should establish the point:
I didn’t get a lot in class
But I know it don’t come in a shot glass
They tried to make me go to rehab
But I said ’no, no, no’
This message is not quite the same as, for example, “Go to the ant, thou sluggard, consider her ways and be wise.”
Furthermore, all the young rioters will have had long experience of the prodigious efforts of the British criminal justice system to confer impunity upon law breakers. First the police are far too busy with their paperwork to catch the criminals; but if by some chanceâ€”hardly more than one in 20â€”they do catch them, the courts oblige by inflicting ludicrously lenient sentences.
A single example will suffice, but one among many. A woman got into an argument with someone in a supermarket. She called her boyfriend, a violent habitual criminal, “to come and sort him out.” The boyfriend was already on bail on another charge and wore an electronic tag because of another conviction. (Incidentally, research shows that a third of all crimes in Scotland are committed by people on bail, and there is no reason England should be any different.)
The boyfriend arrived in the supermarket and struck a man a heavy blow to the head. He fell to the ground and died of his head injury. When told that he had got the “wrong” man, the assailant said he would have attacked the “right” one had he not been restrained. He was sentenced to serve not more than 30 months in prison. Since punishments must be in proportion to the seriousness of the crime, a sentence like this exerts tremendous downward pressure on sentences for lesser, but still serious, crimes.
So several things need to be done, among them the reform and even dismantlement of the educational and social-security systems, the liberalization of the labor laws, and the much firmer repression of crime.
David Cameron is not the man for the job.
This piece originally appeared in Wall Street Journal