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‘Austerity and Anarchy’

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Anyone who says the riots don’t have anything to do with the cuts should have a read of ‘Austerity and Anarchy: Budget Cuts and Social Unrest in Europe 1919-2009’, a discussion paper issued under the auspices of the Centre for Economic Policy Research’s international macroeconomics programme and currently doing the rounds on Twitter, which looks at the relationship between budget cuts and civil unrest across Europe since the end of the First World War:

The results show a clear positive correlation between fiscal retrenchment and instability. We test if the relationship simply reflects economic downturns, and conclude that this is not the key factor.

So much for ‘criminality pure and simple’.


  1. apiontek says:

    Interesting research, though it’s worth saying that anarchy does not equal instability, and people should stop using the word that way. When state economies become unstable, perhaps it leads to chaos, but anarchy would require widespread familiarity with peaceful self-organizing practices, and to enact them, and would not be chaotic, except perhaps from the perspective of people who would stand to lose privileged positions of power.

    • Thomas Jones says:

      Quite right about ‘anarchy’; I suspect they were just going for a snappy title, perhaps with echoes of Matthew Arnold… The word doesn’t come anywhere else in the paper.

    • loxhore says:

      Sounds like it would work, until the least peaceful ‘self-organizing’ group realised it could live better by taking advantage of the most peaceful.

  2. simonpawley says:

    The riots are political events, and they have political causes (the relative importance of long-term and short-term causes is debatable, but my own guess would be more long-term; the cuts can perhaps be regarded as a sort of trigger). But those facts do not necessarily mean that we can talk about ‘politically-motivated violence’, a phrase which seems a real stretch for almost all of what has happened in the last five days. If you think about Greece in recent months, and compare it to the last five days in England, I think you will agree that it’s much easier to talk about political motivation in the former case than in the latter.

    • Thomas Jones says:

      Absolutely: the underlying causes of the riots and the motivations of the rioters obviously aren’t the same thing, even if (vice versa) David Cameron would like to pretend they are.

  3. nutopian says:

    Whether the riots are linked to political events or not is irrelevant. Those attempting to find causes are usually trying to find someone to blame, a guilty party. Whatever the cause or inspiration, the simple fact is that this is a criminal uprising which was perpetrated by individuals who could have chosen not to act in this way, and therefore, any guilt or blame is on the rioters, and not the state.

    • Thomas Jones says:

      Thanks for clearing that up.

      • loxhore says:

        ‘Mindless’ has been the word. If you call something ‘mindless’, perhaps you’re saying, ‘I cannot conceive of the circumstances or motives that would cause this behaviour in me: therefore, these people are other than me to the extent that they don’t have minds like mine.’

        • Bob Beck says:

          Yes, “mindless” and “senseless,” on first hearing, sound better — more certain, or more tough-minded — than “incomprehensible.” On closer examination, they mean the same in this context. (“Incomprehensible,” in its turn, means “I don’t, or can’t comprehend it”).

          All of them are wallpaper words, applied to cover a gap or gaps in one’s understanding.

        • outofdate says:

          I think ‘mindless’ there probably means something like ‘insufficiently educated’, or ‘ill-considered’, which comes to the same thing. The mindlessness is at the root of the problem, surely. You don’t get a lot of highly educated, considerate rioters, do you? Even the French Revolution relied largely on ill-informed rampant mobs (there was no one worth liberating in the Bastille).

          Assume for the sake of argument that a certain class — let’s call them the Eloi — thought it was in their interest to create or at least encourage the growth of another class — call them the Morlocks — who would do the heavy lifting, and could in turn expect a certain amount of looking after if, say, they were no longer able to lift. Now assume the Eloi decided for one reason or another to give notice of the agreement, and the Morlocks therefore no longer considered themselves bound by it, and a radical rethink of their relationship was in order… A lot of the head-scratching seems a bit, like, where have you been?

      • nutopian says:

        Well, someone had to state the obvious. Otherwise there would be a real danger of this board descending into the wet realms of postmodern victim culture.

  4. SJG says:

    I once forgot to lock my car and someone stole the radio. The thief was clearly to blame but that didn’t stop my friends from telling me I was a fool.

    • nutopian says:

      Perhaps you just overestimated the altruism of human nature for a brief moment. We know the reality of human nature, and that is precisely why we all lock our doors at night.

      • Bob Beck says:

        You talk as if the “altruism of human nature” is in some way distinct from the “reality of human nature.” Or as if theft (or violence) is fundamental to, or even identical with, the “reality.” Are there no other important aspects of “human nature” — whatever that is, exactly?

  5. herrk says:

    Moreover, SJG’s friends – I guess – did not consider SJG as sympathizer of thiefs, just because he stated the obvious correlation between theft and his own carelessness

  6. ChrisRoberts says:

    ‘criminality pure and simple’ These words exactly explain the riots. A crime is an act. Motivation means little to the victim, the end result is the same. There is a purity in anarchy: a concentrated effort by a mob to effect maximum damage, the “Clockwork Orange” effect. The simplicity lies in who come out victorious, there is nothing else and most importantly, who wins. All the hand wringing in the world will not stop future riots. DNA rather controls the world then. Except for me of course.

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