The Corner

London Riots Prove Small Government Is Bad, or Something

In a remarkably opportunistic op-ed today in the New York Times, sociology guru Richard Sennett claims that public-spending cuts lead to riots:

The American right today is obsessed with cutting government spending. In many ways, Mr. Cameron’s austerity program is the Tea Party’s dream come true. But Britain is now grappling with the consequences of those cuts, which have led to the neglect and exclusion of many vulnerable, disaffected young people who are acting out violently and irresponsibly — driven by rage rather than an explicit political agenda.

America is in many ways different from Britain, but the two countries today are alike in their extremes of inequality, and in the desire of many politicians to solve economic and social ills by reducing the power of the state.

Britain’s current crisis should cause us to reflect on the fact that a smaller government can actually increase communal fear and diminish our quality of life. Is that a fate America wishes upon itself?

At ConservativeHome, Tim Montgomerie has a terse response:

This is a nail that has to be lied. For the third year running the UK state is spending more than 50% of national income. Our problems are problems of a bloated and inefficient state. Taxes are meaning businesses can’t afford to employ extra workers and parents need to work extra hours away from the home.

Indeed. Meanwhile, it is interesting to do a quick review of what Professor Sennett has argued in the past. Here is a short Guardian review of one of his books, with the revealing title The Uses of Disorder (I have not read the book myself):

“Suburbanites are people who are afraid to live in a world they cannot control.” In their flight to the more socially homogeneous suburbs, people are choosing a morally and psychologically impoverished environment. Only in “dense, disorderly, overwhelming cities”, with their rich mix of different classes, ethnicities and cultures, do we learn the true complexity of life and human relations: “The jungle of the city, its vastness and loneliness, has a positive human value.” Sennett speaks eloquently of the benefits to individuals and society of diverse, even “anarchic”, urban communities.


Iain Murray’s latest book is Stealing You Blind: How Government Fatcats Are getting Rich off of You


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