Britain Burning: Are We Next?

It seems to me…

We recently witnessed social unrest in Great Britain.  While this appears to have come as a surprise to many throughout the world, especially here in the U.S., in hindsight it probably could have been anticipated.  Could it also happen here?  Maybe…

A riot happens whenever a crowd engages in collective violence such as beatings, murder, looting, or arson.  We have had our share of major riots in the past though none has occurred in over 40 years.  The Watts Riots in which 34 people were killed, 1,032 injured, and 3,438 arrested occurred in August 1965.  A commission formed to determined the cause of the riots determined they were not the result of outside influence or conspiracy, but rather a reflection of deep, long-standing inner city social and economic chaos.  The Commission cited inferior schools, poverty-stricken neighborhoods, soaring joblessness, and crime rates as part of the disorganization leading to the riots.  To some, the rioters were nothing more than common criminals but to others, they were a rebellion against inequality, poverty, and oppression.  Despite the commission’s recommendations, very few changes were implemented in the following years to improve these conditions.

Less than three years later, on 4 April 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.  At least 110 cities experienced violence and destruction in the next few days resulting in the deaths of 39 people and roughly $50 million in damage.  The worst riots were in Chicago, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. Over 22,000 federal troops and 34,000 National Guard were sent to aid local police – the largest ever called to deal with domestic civil disturbance.  In many cities, the devastation was so great, it still was evident decades later.  While the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. triggered the riots, it was determined the basic causes were the same as for the Watts Riots.

The U.S., like Great Britain, has enjoyed considerable economic growth but both countries now have a greater division in how that wealth is distributed than in the past.  People feel they are worse off financially today than they were several years ago – and they are correct.  The wealthiest 1 percent of our nation’s income share has increased from 8 percent in the 1970s to about 20 percent today.  This gap has even greater racial imbalance with the median income of white households being 20 times greater than that of blacks according to Pew Research.

Unfortunately, the recent debt reduction bill will negatively affect this disparity since it prevents the types of additional stimulus spending our nation now needs.  The result of this agreement will be lower economic growth, higher unemployment, and increased market volatility.  It benefits the wealthy and punishes those lower on the economic ladder through elimination of public-sector employment, unemployment benefits, and retraining.

Our economic growth is dependent upon consumer spending with those whose income is in the lowest 95 percent of our population responsible for 71 percent of the total spent[i].  High income disparity depresses broad-based consumption negatively affecting middle-class shopping patterns, curtailing retail employment growth, and resulting in prolonged high unemployment levels.  Our shrinking middleclass is not a symptom of our economic downturn; it is one of the basic causes.

Meanwhile, all of us must become accustomed to reduced levels of public service.  Businesses face stagnating demand.  Workers face flat or reduced wages and high unemployment.  Everyone faces reduced or lower than anticipated prospects.  All of this results in a potentially explosive environment.

While the British have attributed their recent violence to gangs and “hooliganism”, it was in large part fueled by austerity measures, social program reductions, high unemployment levels, racial imbalances, limited opportunities, and low prospects.  In this, there are many similarities to the Arab Spring unrest – and to conditions here in the U.S.

Apparently, few of the lessons learned following our riots in the 1960s are still remembered.  We could be sitting on a bomb ready to explode – and Congress in their shortsighted budget reduction actions might have reduced the length of the fuse.

That’s what I think, what about you?


[i] Foroohar, Eana.  Stuck In The Middle, Time, 13 Aug 2011, p26.

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About lewbornmann

Lewis J. Bornmann has his doctorate in Computer Science. He became a volunteer for the American Red Cross following his retirement from teaching Computer Science, Mathematics, and Information Systems, at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, CO. He previously was on the staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Stanford University, and several other universities. Dr. Bornmann has provided emergency assistance in areas devastated by hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. He has responded to emergencies on local Disaster Action Teams (DAT), assisted with Services to Armed Forces (SAF), and taught Disaster Services classes and Health & Safety classes. He and his wife, Barb, are certified operators of the American Red Cross Emergency Communications Response Vehicle (ECRV), a self-contained unit capable of providing satellite-based communications and technology-related assistance at disaster sites. He served on the governing board of a large international professional organization (ACM), was chair of a committee overseeing several hundred worldwide volunteer chapters, helped organize large international conferences, served on numerous technical committees, and presented technical papers at numerous symposiums and conferences. He has numerous Who’s Who citations for his technical and professional contributions and many years of management experience with major corporations including General Electric, Boeing, and as an independent contractor. He was a principal contributor on numerous large technology-related development projects, including having written the Systems Concepts for NASA’s largest supercomputing system at the Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. With over 40 years of experience in scientific and commercial computer systems management and development, he worked on a wide variety of computer-related systems from small single embedded microprocessor based applications to some of the largest distributed heterogeneous supercomputing systems ever planned.
This entry was posted in Britain, Budget, Congress, Conservatives, Economy, Jobs, Minorities, Opportunity, Politics, Race, Riots, Social Unrest and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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