We are witnessing a widespread crisis of faith in our progressive guardians of the last 30 years. These are the blue-chip, university-certified elite, employed by universities, government, and big-money private foundations and financial-services companies. The best recent examples are sorts like Barack Obama, Eric Holder, Larry Summers, Peter Orszag, Robert Rubin, Steven Chu, and Timothy Geithner. Politicians like John Kerry, John Edwards, and Al Gore all share certain common characteristics of this Western technocracy: proper legal or academic credentials, ample service in elected or appointed government office, unabashed progressive politics, and a free pass to enjoy ample personal wealth without any perceived contradiction with their loud share-the-wealth egalitarian politics.We're seeing the failure of their plans and they no longer have monopolistic control over the media to keep convincing people that they have possession of sort of special insight into whatever they want to pontificate about.
The house of a John Kerry, the plane of an Al Gore, or, in the European case, the suits of a Dominique Strauss-Kahn are no different from those of the CEOs and entrepreneurs who were as privately courted as they were publicly chastised. These elites were mostly immune from charges of hypocrisy or character flaws, by virtue of their background and their well-meaning liberalism.
The financial meltdown here and in Europe revealed symptoms of the technocracy’s waning. On this side of the Atlantic, Geithner, Orszag, Summers, Austan Goolsbee, Paul Krugman, and Christina Romer apparently assumed that some academic cachet, an award bestowed by like kind, or a long-ago-granted degree should give them credibility to advocate what the tire-store owner, family dentist, or apple farmer knew from hard experience simply could not be done — borrow or print money on the theory that insular experts, without much experience in the world beyond the academy or the New York–Washington financial and government corridor, could best direct it to productive purposes.
But now they have either left government or are no longer much listened to — and some less-well-certified accountant will be left with the task of finding ways to pay back $16 trillion. Abroad, at some point, German clerks and mechanics are going to have to work a year or two past retirement age to pay for those in Greece or Italy who chose to stop working a decade before retirement age — despite all the sophisticated technocratic babble that such arithmetic is reductive and simplistic.
In the devolution from global warming to climate change to climate chaos — and who knows what comes next? — a small group of self-assured professors, politicians, and well-compensated lobbyists hawked unproven theories as fact — as if they were clerics from the Dark Ages who felt their robes exempted them from needing to read or think about their religious texts. Finally, even Ivy League and Oxbridge degrees and peer-reviewed journal articles could not mask the cooked research, the fraudulent grants, and the Elmer Gantry–like proselytizing about everything from tree rings and polar-bear populations to glaciers and the Sierra snowpack.
A generation ago, we were supposed to be grateful that a few gifted and disinterested minds were digesting our news for us each day on cash-rich ABC, CBS, NBC, NPR, and PBS, and in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times, summarized periodically on weekend network discussion groups and in newsweeklies like Time and Newsweek. Now the market share of all these enterprises is shrinking. Some exist only because of government subsidy, rich parent companies, or like-minded wealthy benefactors.As the WSJ writes today, the British riots are depressing reminders of the threadbare arguments of the new elites.
The technocratic pronouncements from on high — that Barack Obama was “sort of GOD,” or at least “the smartest president in history”; that a Harvard-trained public-policy wonk alone knew how to save us from a roasting planet — are now seen by most as laughable. An education-age Reformation is brewing every bit as earth-shattering as its 16th-century religious counterpart.
There are also generic signs of the technocracy’s morbidity. It deeply distrusts democracy, most recently evidenced by John Kerry’s rant that the media should not even cover the Tea Party, and by the European Union’s terror of allowing the public to vote on its intricate financial bandaging. It is no accident that technocratic journalists love autocratic China — with its ability to promote mass transit or solar panels at the veritable barrel of a gun — while hating the Tea Party, which came to legislative power through the ballot box.
At this point, even calling these nightly crime sprees riots seems a misnomer. A riot suggests a spontaneous outburst of violent rage, whether or not the underlying grievance is justified. What we have here may have started amid a protest against the police killing of a known criminal and gang member. It has since become something much more venal.The British need to review what happened in New York City in the 1990s and start arresting people for petty crime to send the message that they won't tolerate hooliganism.
The police reaction to the initial looting and burning of the Tottenham High Road in North London resulted in more than 160 prompt arrests. But it also shattered the illusion that the police control the streets. In a few short days, a siege mentality has taken hold across large areas of London, one that the police are actively encouraging by exhorting the law-abiding to stay off the streets in targeted neighborhoods. The criminals behind the looting, arson and robbery know that this can't go on forever, and they've decided to maximize their opportunities while they last.
There is a notion that the criminality is the product of poverty or government spending cuts. That's false. The British government is spending as much as it ever has in history, and the poor in Britain have access to a social safety net that is remarkably generous by any standard. Then, too, the sort of people who torch cars and smash plate-glass windows to get at the jewelry and televisions inside are not, we suspect, highly correlated with those most put out by the reduced hours at the local library.
If there's a mystery here, it's that the recent violence is itself such an extraordinary happening. As writer and former prison doctor Theodore Dalrymple recently told this newspaper, "the question in Britain is not why there are so many burglars, but why there are so few." He explained that "only about one in 12 domestic burglaries is cleared up by the police," and that "of the burglars who are convicted, only about one in 12 or 13 is sent to prison."The British government is finally acknowledging that their "minimum force" tradition of policing just doesn't work anymore. The hooligans have to learn that there are consequences to their behavior and trashing their neighborhoods so they can have the joy of burning down their neighbors' businesses and homes is going to result in true punishment. Suddenly, Tony Blair's attitude to minor shoplifting is revealed for the dangerous permissivity that it was.
In other words, a great deal of petty crime has come to be tolerated, excused, or seen as permissible or unavoidable in today's Britain. This attitude is only partly due to the difficulty of the police work involved. It also arises out of a sense of bad conscience—that people wouldn't do these things if they weren't driven to it by injustice or some other putative cause.
But these are not 18th-century sans-culottes, run out of bread. They aren't even Greek communists destroying property in order to demand the continuation of their welfare state. It is hooliganism pure and simple. If it serves as a wake up call, it should be to the fact that the veneer of civilization can be terrifyingly thin.
nterviews with some of the looters have revealed a quite chilling moral vacuum, an absence of any sense that stealing from shops is both wrong and criminal. Other people have got this stuff, comes the refrain, so we have a right to it too. Where did all this start? Try asking Tony Blair. A year before he became Prime Minister he delivered a speech on law and order that came close to condoning shop theft. Blair said that “hard-pressed” single mothers or pensioners pocketing “treats” were not a serious concern. He told a meeting of retailers that the real threat came from organised gangs.What did he think would happen among the criminal gangs that are becoming increasingly powerful among British youth when they absorbed the message behind Blair's words?
And what will be the deterrent to future vandalism when the looters learn how minor the penalties will be for their hooliganism?
Now, just what will these consequences be you may ask? Well, for those over eighteen whatever custodial sentences they do receive, if any, they will no doubt serve just a fraction of their sentences as is common for most criminals in the UK. However, in what will clearly be a perversion of justice, those rioters under eighteen will be treated as if they too are the victims of the very crimes they have commited, as this is the ethos at the heart of the youth justice system. I know this from having worked alongside and in the Youth Offending Service. Within a few weeks many of these rioters that you are now watching loot, burn and terrorise on a twenty four news channel will be on an Intensive Surveillance and Supervision Programme, where they will spend the majority of their ’sentence’ being escorted to gyms, adventure centres, DJ courses and having their lunches bought and paid for and they will even be given the bus fares to attend their ‘punishment’. There will be a minimum of community work as part of their ISSP and in some parts of the country the Youth Offending Service will fail to implement this part of the ISSP. I know this will occur because I have seen it first hand. Another part of their ISSP will involve them sitting in on classroom based sessions where staff will ask them what feelings they were experiencing prior to setting their community alight and how best they could channel those feelings in the future. We may even get them to do some ‘poster work’, as I have heard it referred to, where they will draw and colour in examples of criminal behaviour just in case they were not aware that torching local businesses and throwing masonry at the police, fire brigade and passers by were indeed criminal acts. When this is the system charged with preventing youth crime is at any wonder we have such high rates of recidivism amongst the more serious of young criminals? Many of the rioters you see on the streets will have been through this sytem. They know there are no real consequences for their actions and thus they behave in the manner we are now viewing.The one hope from the miserable stories out of Britian is that the British will realize that their minimum public order policies and punishments are a mistake and adopt true reforms. They will reject the policies of the new elite and adopt simple common sense policies.