Riots that started in London’s Hackney neighborhood last week spread quickly across London and to other large British cities, as rioters saw policemen standing back as they looted and burned.
Meanwhile, in major American cities – Chicago, Philadelphia, Milwaukee — a new phenomenon is surfacing – “flash mobs” of black teenagers, utilizing social media to organize (like the London rioters) – who suddenly appear to terrorize whites or loot stores. The Chicago police had to close the city’s most crowded beach, on a holiday weekend, because they could not ensure the safety of bathers.
Max Hastings describes how British welfare policies have created a “layer of young people with no skills, education, values, or aspirations. They have no ‘life’, as we know it; they simply exist.” In particular, they lack the most basic moral sentiment of empathy – for example, for the hardworking immigrant storeowners whose stores they scorched. “We want to show the rich people that we can do whatever we want,” two young female rioters told a London reporter.
Theodore Darlrymple, who knows the British underclass well from his work as a prison psychiatrist, describes young people who have never tasted a morsel of food or worn a garment paid for by money earned. Six hundred thousand Britons 26 or under have never worked a day; 17% of youth are not in education, training, or employed. But dependence does not breed gratitude, only a sense of entitlement to more.
Both the anger and the lack of moral restraint of the mobs reflect the declining culture of big city ghettos. Though more intensive cop-on-the-beat policing has brought American inner city crime rates down in recent years, the result has been increasing numbers of young black men spending much of their teens and twenties behind bars. Apart from crime, those inner cities have degenerated considerably since the 1970s by almost every measure: unemployment, graduation rates, achievements on standardized tests, teenage pregnancies, drug use.
There will be no more Great Society programs to ameliorate the decline because the money is not there. The evidence is mounting, in any event, that the whole panoply of social welfare programs contributed to the social breakdown. Support for single mothers helped black men avoid responsibility for their children. Seventy per cent of black children today are born to single mothers. Welfare further broke the connection between effort and advancement that even the most menial entry level job.
And government has contributed to the high rates of black unemployment in other ways as well. In the last decade, New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles have shed 700,000 jobs between them, leaving an ever higher percentage of inner city populations dependent on government welfare to survive. The progressive impulse for a more orderly, non-polluting, bureaucratic society, requiring licenses and permits for everything, explains Walter Mead Russell, has resulted in fewer and fewer of the metal shops and small businesses that formerly employed poorly educated immigrants and blacks – admittedly in noisy, unpleasant conditions and at low wages, but at least providing first rung jobs towards future advancement.
Black economist Walter Williams points out that at the turn of the twentieth century unemployment for blacks was of shorter duration than for whites. Black unemployment rates were lower until 1930, when a federal minimum wage was first enacted, destroying in the process many of the lower paying jobs blacks had filled. The Davis-Bacon Act, which required the union rate to be paid on all federal construction projects, further disadvantaged blacks, who were denied access to many unions.