Tom Ferguson: The English Riots – Just Meaningless Sound and Fury?

By Tom Ferguson, Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston and a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. Cross posted from New Deal 2.0

Zizek misses the point: Austerity politics is a social and economic disaster.

In a recent essay, Slovenian theorist and literary provocateur Slavoj Zizek attempts to unpack the political meaning of the riots in England. These broke out in response to the shooting of Mark Duggan by the Metropolitan Police and then spread rapidly from London to other cities. Zizek argues that the riots amounted to an exercise in sound and fury signifying nothing — symptoms of an “ideological-political predicament” in which opposition can only be expressed through meaningless bursts of violence. This is the essence, he suggests, of global capitalism. He takes issue with both conservative and liberal responses, calling out the former for promoting an authoritarian crack down and the latter for trying to find “deeper meaning” in the social and economic conditions faced by the rioters.

The essay strikes me as similar to a lot of Zizek’s other work: too clever by a half, with strained echoes of fashionable appeals across ideological divides reminiscent of, for example, Barack Obama. The difference is that Zizek is a theorist. Thus the discussion is framed in terms of High Theory: an abstract nod first to the left, then another equally ethereal gesture to the right, followed by the claim that both are plainly inadequate.

Alas, the thinner the ice, the faster Zizek skates. He is impatient to get a theory of resistance going, but the fact is that we are only three years into the Great Recession, so his efforts are a bit premature. If you look back at the Great Depression, you will see that distinctively new patterns of resistance usually took three to four years to form. Until then, there was discontent aplenty, but electorates in advanced countries mostly sullenly voted out the conventional politicians in office and replaced them with one or another of the existing moderate “out” parties. Occasionally, there were riots, and in peripheral countries, much worse. But only after the 1931 European financial crisis (sense a pattern?) dragged the whole world down another notch did real swamp creatures swarm out, as unbearable budget cuts and falling national incomes forced progressive social groups to organize more seriously. So I suspect it will be this time.

In contrast to what Zizek proposes, I doubt that what we see now reveals the inner essence of global capitalism or anything else. It’s probably not accidental that he finds political movements in Greece and Spain more constructive — they are further into the crisis than the Brits, whose turn to the right is brand new. The British riots probably reflect the despair and anger of marginalized populations staggering under early shocks of austerity while local authorities themselves reel from cuts in their own budgets. The world has a lot more experience with macroeconomic austerity than most of the media or social science cares to talk about. The social disasters that sweeping budget cutbacks bring in their wake are plain to anyone who wants to see.

Zizek is right about one important fact: Repetition is a basic feature of social history. Unfortunately, it’s not, as St. Augustine thought, the mother of learning. Its deadly spiral now mostly reflects the indifference of elites, the realities of political power, and wretched theories of free market fundamentalism. Zizek probably knows as well as anyone what Hegel’s students reported he said in his famous lectures on Reason in History: “What experience and history teach is this: peoples and governments have never learned anything from history and acted according to what one might have learned from it.” The euro crisis and the disastrous G20 Toronto Consensus in favor of austerity will churn world politics for a long time.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. attempter

    While correct about Zizek’s implicitly bourgeois drivel, this piece seems to have even less content while going in for whitewashing of capitalism on top of that:

    I doubt that what we see now reveals the inner essence of global capitalism or anything else.

    Everything we see now reveals nothing but the inner essence of capitalism. But then it’s part of the Roosevelt Institute’s mission to keep herding people into such emblems of sheepdom as that capitalism isn’t inherently exploitative and criminal, but just shades over into “abuse” now and then.

    the Brits, whose turn to the right is brand new.

    What we today call austerity assaulted British workers and the poor starting in the 80s, and resistance appeared then as well, sometimes successfully as in the rejection of Thatcher’s poll tax (a descendant of the Obama/liberals’ health racket Stamp mandate, which is also a poll tax).

    Its deadly spiral now mostly reflects the indifference of elites

    Ah yes, “indifference”. Like the way the British empire was acquired in a fit of absent-mindedness in the first place. There’s certainly no such thing as kleptocracy and organized crime.

    Even Krugman sometimes gets adventurous enough to blame things on bad apples, not just indifferent ones.

    Of course that’s a lie as well. When they’re not apples in the first place but poisonous berries, then it’s a lie to say that one which made you sick or killed you was just a bad piece of fruit.

    But it is funny that the liberal technocrat Ferguson seems less viscerally scared of those nasty “rioters” than the radical chic Zizek. I guess the whole astroturfing crew deplores the uprising in principle, but how much one acts like a housewife who’s seen a mouse and jumps up on a chair shrieking is a matter of personal temperament.

  2. LRT

    These are being described as riots, but they were not riots in the usual sense. They were mass looting. Its different. They were a fairly simple phenomenon. Substantial numbers of mostly youngish men, in groups, looted designer and high end consumer goods stores, and set fire to one or two large buildings, including a carpet store, for no apparent reason.

    While they were at it, they turned on anyone silly or unfortunate enough to be on the streets with them at the same time, and not one of the participants.

    The separate question is why this happened. No political motivation of any sort was evident. The choice of target, the lack of slogans or banners of any sort, the lack of any profession of ideology or political objective was obvious. The crowds in the Arab cities were shouting slogans. These people were filling their boots.

    The looters were not poor or needy desperate people. An acquaintance who lives in England saw some drive up to an area where looting had broken out, park expensive cars, walk down to the area being robbed, and load up. If you examine the records of the arrested, they are not outside society, they are not looting from any necessity, and what they were taking was not the basics of life.

    There is no evidence whatever that what happened was in any way a movement, or a dissent movement. The poll tax demonstrations and riots were quite different. They did have a political content. The miners’ strike of the same period also was political. This was not.

    What explanation is there, and what if anything could the English do about it?

    Over the years, England has become a culture without standards. The welfare system has brought up girls to produce children as a profession, and has given incentives for them to live in single parent families. In public life, almost all sanctions have been removed. One or two MPs have been prosecuted, but in general, as long as corruption is discreet it will go unpunished. The state education system turns out masses of bored and illiterate school leavers. In fact, the methods used to teach reading and math seem calculated to prevent or impede children from learning. Finally, the very large state sector has few or no work standards or disciplines. The regular scandals in the state health service show the extent to which this has led to irresponsible behavior in the workplace.

    Much of this might be manageable if it occurred in isolation. However, elements of it interact to produce a the disastrous phenomenon of mobs of young male looters. In all societies the only people who can control young men are older men. Their mothers cannot do it. In all societies only clear standards enforce behavior.

    In some ways what you saw in England was soccer hooliganism. Quite comfortably off young men, in groups, getting together for violent affray. This time their target was designer goods. Next time it will be something else.

    What is for sure is that you won’t ever see them in the streets with placards demanding elections or reform of government or representation, or an end to the endless military adventures this and the last government have been engaging in.

    1. YankeeFrank

      Just because people aren’t in rags, starving and shouting political slogans doesn’t mean they are comfortable and well-off. They may look “well-off” by third world standards, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t jobless, poor, with no place to go and no stake in society, constantly harassed by the police, with no real future and no place to even hang around now that their community centers are closed down — they can’t afford there own apartments, live in housing “estates” with their parents in tiny apartments, cannot have productive/fulfilling sexual relationships and have no sense of a future worth living. The reason people don’t have values is their society has shown them values have no place anymore — when the rich and well connected steal the wealth of the nation, commit massive crimes and get away scot-free — indeed get handed the country’s treasury in return for their looting, then why shouldn’t everyone loot? Only those with a real stake in society (in other words either “on the take” or benefiting from the unintentional largess of those “on the take”, or those whose livelihood is in one of the few sectors not yet completely pillaged) will refrain in the end from tearing it down.

      1. YankeeFrank

        And by the way, the common trope of pointing out the opportunistic nature of looting by some who are a little better off:

        “An acquaintance who lives in England saw some drive up to an area where looting had broken out, park expensive cars, walk down to the area being robbed, and load up.”;

        …along with the absence of overtly political themes doesn’t even pass the laugh test.

        The first — the trope used by the right the world over to damn all who require “welfare” payments or food stamps because a few take advantage, is beyond lazy. And for the second: people know when they’re being screwed whether they care to articulate a political context, are conscious of it, or not.

        1. Danb

          “An acquaintance who lives in England saw some drive up to an area where looting had broken out, park expensive cars, walk down to the area being robbed, and load up.” This apocrypha immediately reminded me of comments about the 1968 Detroit riots, where the right wing reaction was, “Negro people in Detroit are really well-off and don’t have anything legitimate to riot about.”

    2. Binky the Bear

      Hilarious parody of 19th century British aristocracy or deranged backwards looking lunacy from some steampunk addled basement dweller?

      Eloi seeks Morlock for stern lecture about how great things used to be, assistance in capturing time machine.

  3. Andrew not the Saint

    Žižek is making it more complicated than it is.

    The rioters know nothing about politics, history, left or right – they are mainly teenagers, school dropouts who only know the ruthless laws of the streets and schoolyards, who’s popular, what brands are cool to own and most importantly, that they have virtually no chances of ever becoming a middle class. They look at their parents and neighbors, who until a few years ago had hope to move up the social ladder, but now with lack of jobs that ladder has all but disappeared. These parents now look like idiots in the kids’ eyes – they tried to do honest hard work all their lives and see where it got them.

    Once the respect for parents is gone, there’s nothing more left. Their neighborhoods, neighbors and even their own bodies can become mere objects to vent frustration on. That’s why the threats of tough prison sentences won’t work – there’s no carrot, nothing to show them that one day they might earn the respect of the wider society. So the riots won’t go away, and the pool of rioters will just keep on growing as the economic depression worsens.

    This is hardly a new phenomenon in Britain – it’s been going on for a couple of centuries, but the easy way out of shipping the underclass to the Americas and Australias is over. The rioters are stuck where they are.

    Perhaps some of them will eventually try to educate themselves on their own and get some political ideas in their heads, but after so much brainwashing both at schools and by the mass media, I really doubt that the majority has the mental capacity to do so.

    I don’t see much hope in the short term. The middle class are too busy trying to preserve the ever diminishing wealth they have and seem to be impotent to make any real political changes, while the century of the nanny state, individualism and self-centredness has rendered them free of any obligation to help their cohabitants.

    In the end, with peak oil, peak debt, peak climate and other peaks – moving to some quiet third world country where the society actually still functions is looking increasingly attractive.

    1. bmeisen

      British efforts to deal with the grumpy poor are more than a couple of hundred years old. The ruling class has typically relied on the strategy summarized so well be Göring: tell the people they are being attacked and denounce pacifists (aka opponents) for lack of patriotism (aka loyalty) and exposing the country to danger.

      The Crusades did away with boatloads of dissent, likewise the wars with France. The heretic and witch hunts were useful for terrorizing the poor. Cornwall duped many into unfortunate compromises. The Wars wth Spain backfired spectacularly by engendering a pirate culture that at first seemed like a handy solution for the swarms of unemployed men who were destabilizing the countryside (read: Robin Hood) but turned into an out-of-control destabilizer in the New World, which was finally brought to heel by press-ganged crews on savagely controlled ships. In the 19th century they sent the disaffected to Australia. More recently recall the looting that occured during the Blitz.

      The British aristocracy reluctantly experimented with democracy, very limited forms of course. And then the labor movement used industrial action to obtain benefits. Still searching for the answer they are relieved to have done with Marxism, now discredited beyond repair. What remains is a flawed parliamentary democracy which is dominated by the 2-party oligarchy generated by anti-democratic first-past-the-post/winner-take-all balloting, the same mechanism that handicaps the USA. The solution is not, as ZIzek correctly argues, marxist ideology. It is a system of proportional representation based on those found in advanced continental democracies. And the British will be happy to know that France is not among them.

      1. Nathanael

        British history has shown repeated cycles of the elite finally condescending to give the lower classes more of a chance — perhaps a bit fairer justice, a bit more money, a bit more voting rights, etc.

        Each time they did so, they managed to stifle brewing revolution.

        The times they really really didn’t do so — Ireland, and the Tudor period — ended up with giant blow-ups.

        Which is consistent with the history of most countries. If the elites are willing to give a little when unrest gets too great, they can keep their elite position. If they aren’t, eventually it’s off with their heads. (This is not to say that they are replaced with something much better; warlords can easily move in and become a new, almost-as-bad elite.)

      2. fajensen

        It is a system of proportional representation based on those found in advanced continental democracies.

        This does not work either: Here in Denmark all politicians represent the same cluster of interests, so you can vote all you like – the result will be more or less the same.

        IMO the represention – and the voters – needed is one that is guaranteed to be made up from people willing to place “the community” above personal self interest. Finding such a group of people is hard – fixing it so that they do not become corrupt is even harder.

        Schwitzerland is perhaps the closest we can get to a real deomcracy.

    1. scraping_by

      Actually, the recent movie “Harry Brown” had a proper riot.

      Michael Caine, as the ex-Marine-turned-vigilante compared the hoodies rioting in the estates to the Irish he fought during The Troubles with something like, “They were fighting for something they believed in. These are just after entertainment!”

      A bit dismissive of the hoodies, a bit sanitizing of the Provos. Last I heard, the IRA still controls drugs and prostitution in the North. If the younguns have any prospects, they’re not worth staying clean for.

  4. Glenn Condell

    I don’t think Zizek would argue against the notion that ‘austerity politics is a social and economic disaster’, in fact I’m sure he’d agree – he is simply making the point that the drivers of the riots were not particular grievances to be addressed, or in support of some program of action or other. There were no placards and petitions, nothing protesting austerity or having a pop at the liberal left or conservative right. It was a pure, unfocussed reaction (a chain reaction really), not exactly equal and opposite to the action which set it off (the Duggan killing) – rather an unexpectedly exponential reaction, a Black Swan of anti-sociality.

    The felt impacts of austerity could well have and probably did contribute to the eruption of ‘impotent rage and despair’ but surely there were other factors, both more recent and of longer standing. Re the latter, I read that male youths in the hotspot communities were 65 times more likely to be ‘stopped and searched’ by police than the average. I also read that some 333 people had died in English police custody between 1998 and 2009 with not one police officer charged in relation to any of them. I have seen too a few things that emphasised the high level of chronic unemployment in these places, and the fact that cheek by jowl with a lot of them are banker/yuppie enclaves of real wealth, close enough almost to smell the roses.

    Then there are more recent sparks to help the tinder catch fire – not least the revelations that many police at all levels are rotten with media money and government meddling, and a little further back, the memory of MP after MP, of all persuasions, admitting to having stolen from the public purse (or trough) via their expenses or thru sweetheart loan deals, etc. If it’s good for the geese it’s good for the goslings, being a democracy that requires equality of opportunity.

    Peter Oborne of the Telegraph has made this point forcefully, and was more morally withering toward the Brit elites than the old pinko Zizek manages to be. Oborne was even on George Galloway’s radio show the other day, there to fulminate plummily in time with George’s caustic Glaswegian brogue. Not so strange bedfellows really – they both want a return to ‘standards’. I agree with them, but what was missing was any concrete suggestions as to what actions we can lobby governments for which might pave some of the road back to a world with standards.

    Zizek’s piece lacks a road map too, but as Mr Ferguson points out it’s early days yet. Still, I’m not sure I agree with the notion that just because it took 4 years for genuine alternatives to arise after the Great Depression that it ought to take just as long now. History hasn’t ended but it has surely sped up a bit since then.

    To me, the road has to be taken one step at a time, and the sort of steps I envisage are epitomised by (for example) the title of the post following this one: ‘Should Banks Be Public Utilities?’ We need somehow to get basic questions like this (plus the Tobin tax, reinstallation of Glass-Steagall, derivatives cleared by audited desk, return to gold, dissolution of the tax havens et al) on to the public agenda. At least in UK and Oz we have BBC and ABC, however compromised, to carry spears like these for us, but it’s hard to see any way to spread such memes in the US (nation-wide air-drop of samizdat perhaps?)

    I can hand-wring and theorise with the best of them (well, the best of the mediocrities anyway) but to me the best way to pave the road to decency and ‘standards’, or simply to reduce some of the ennui and frustration and envy that fuels unrest is to take concrete steps toward refashioning the social contract to more adequately provide for the majority of citizens.

    This means measures designed to unlock the vast hoard of ill-gotten wealth (our wealth, the wealth of a generation) from where it sits poised above us, so full it looks like it will burst any day now, along with the means to ensure such an epochal theft cannot occur again.

    It’s too late for trickle down now, it needs to BUCKET down, and this time real money, not easy credit ARMs. If the rich are taken to the cleaners and there’s still not enough to go round, then turn on the deficit spigot until there is. Invest in education, alt energy, infrastructure and R and D, subsidise a return to manufacturing, incentivise communities to become resilient, engage in major urban renewal projects with a view to sustainability – ie, light rail.

    If nothing else, give the poor money for free and tell them to go and spend it – what they do with it will add to final demand, whatever Buffet or Soros or John Paulson does will not.

    There needs to be austerity alright, but it’s the class of people who recommend it that should be forced to endure it. Who knows, we might even get a ‘circulation of the elites’!

    1. monday1929

      “fulminate plummily” indeed! Love it, even without knowing what plummily means. And as far as “unlocking the hoard of ill-gotten wealth”- I have been a (almost) lone voice calling for Clawbacks. Taking their money will hurt them more than sending them to prison.
      You have my vote.

    2. Nathanael

      The UK is in a better position than the US. In the UK there seem to be far more members of the elite who actually recognize what sort of problem they’re dealing with (witness Oborne — or witness the Bank of England starting to be aggressively anti-austerity).

      In the US, the sane members of the elite are still systematically shut out of power in favor of lunatics like Obama and the entire Republican Party. Pretty much everything is worse here for the lower classes (do you know how many people die in police custody in the US ?!?), and there’s an active and powerful group of religions promoting hatred of the poor (“prosperity gospel Calvinism” might be the best name for it).

      When the US blows, it’s going to blow up much, much worse than the UK, and the people in power are going to react even more stupidly, and more consistently stupidly.

  5. John Ullmann

    The lawless exploitation and fraud of the banker has now met with the destructive force of their impotent & faceless victims. Elites don’t like that sheeple fight back, so they make sure their media calls it “rioting,” “looting” and vile lawbreaking destructiveness.

    They think they should be rewarded for doing “God’s work” when, in fact, they should be in jail cells right next to the looters who they have provoked.

    Three Times is Enemy Action, by Mark Sumner writing at The Daily Kos, is a classic essay that rounds up the precise mechanisms of their frauds over the past decades.

    1. RebelEconomist

      I do wish people would stop droning on about bankers’ responsibility for the present economic problems. As it is, this gets raised by too many people to excuse their own failings (eg living beyond their means), and to justify more public expenditure on them – even though the billions committed to stopping bank failures were supposed to be recoverable loans and capital injections rather than permanent expenditure.

      1. YankeeFrank

        Yes, it is so banal — the droning on of those ripped off and destitute, to search for reasons, and point fingers at those who are to blame. They take on debt only to buy luxuries like dental care, a new roof on their home, food and fuel, the prices of which are constantly rising while wages stagnate and drop, and possibly, perhaps, a new television!! Or a vacation from their stagnant and failing futures!! Or a house they were promised they could afford but only now while the price hasn’t risen any higher!!

        They are weak and pathetic and don’t deserve consideration. They always blame someone else for their problems. Its always a conspiracy theory with no basis in reality, just an excuse for profligacy and sloth. Contrast them with rebel economists who are totally self-sufficient and don’t require anything from anyone, and never experience hardship, poverty, bad health or bad luck, and who of course never blame others for their fate as it is solely in their own hands… rebel economists are gods among men who can never be victimized as their very nature prohibits such a state, indeed even the thought is a clear contradiction in terms!

        1. RebelEconomist

          What did you expect when 1.3 billion Chinese entered the global labour market? I think that it is inevitable that any workers in the developed countries who compete with Chinese workers get poorer in real terms. You can’t blame the bankers for that (actually, maybe YOU could). The bankers have not been angels, but if we attribute too much responsibility to them, we will miss the real challenges that we face.

          1. JTFaraday

            Oh please. Who helped the old real economy dolts figure out how to goose their compensation packages if not the new economy wizards of finance.

            People have exactly the right marks, they just don’t have the full bill of crimes down yet.

          2. Philip Pilkington

            I wasn’t aware that the Chinese labour force WERE directly competing with the West.

            In actual fact they’re not and most economists are aware of this (unless they’re ‘rebels’ apparently). The West produces different goods to the Chinese. They produce low-end goods while we generally make high-end goods. There’s no ‘competition’ going on here. The West compete with Japan and a few other Asian tigers (South Korea) and that’s it. What’s more this has been going on for years.

            But RebelEconomist just trots out the truisms. It’s actually rather dull. Like reading the WSJ or listening to the news. It does leave us with the question: what on earth is he rebelling against? If he is indistinguishable from the establishment political/media class what on earth is he rebelling against? These are question only RebelEconomist can answer…

          3. Foppe

            You do realize these jobs once did exist in the west, and have since disappeared to the ‘east’, right? And that this progressive disappearance (helped, in no small part, by the outsourcing policies of US corporations) is part of the reason why the US started to push borrowing (think of the S&L crisis, and later the housing bubble) as a way to increase AD? (Because there were no industries in which these workers could still find employment)

          4. Philip Pilkington

            Haha! Coated paper, tires and steel pipes. I love it. No microprocessors, no? Hmmm… Strange… Now heavy capital goods? No aircrafts? Nope, just coated paper, tire and steel pipes.

            Knowing something about the tire market I’ll tell you that Chinese tires are pieces of shit. In Ireland a Chinese tire costs half as much as a brand tire — and bursts after six months. No one buys them except chancers and used-car dealers.

            Western manufacturing has gone into some decline, but not much. Manufacturing in the US is still the largest and most important in the world — making up 19% of the world’s output. With the right policy mix they could go further. A real economist would look at the sector in the aggregate. Only a hack trying to make a political point would cherry-pick industries. Oh wait…

          5. RebelEconomist

            If the Chinese are not competing with the Americans in these products, why did the Americans put a tariff on them?

            Next up, cars, trains and aeroplanes. I am not saying that the Chinese have reached American quality standards yet, but they are often cheap enough to win the competition.

            There are not many cherries left on the tree – microprocessor design, advanced pharmaceuticals, software, some machine tools etc. Not enough to support the living standards that Americans would like.

            Wake up to the world as it is, not as you would like it to be.

          6. Philip Pilkington

            No, I’m looking at the world as it is with America as the lead producer. You’re the one engaged in crystal-ball gazing ‘as if’ fantasising.

            First of all, there have been numerous entries into the major markets — Japan and Germany being some, South Korea being another — and while they have spurred competition they have not cut living standards down to subsistence levels as your Ricardian nihilism would suggest.

            Secondly, even if what you ‘predict’ did happen — Ricardo ‘predicted’ the same thing in the early 19th century followed by Marx later in the century and they were dead wrong — there would be a shortage of aggregate demand and the system would break. With cheap Chinese labour producing high-end goods and Westerners (presumably) working on the same products for ever lower wages, there would be no-one to purchase these products.

            Speculate all you want. Think in the long-term like a mystic. But it won’t happen. And dredging up minor industries to ‘prove’ your point is one step away from a mode of reasoning not dissimilar to conspiracy theory. It’s laughable. It reads like the ramblings of an elderly crank who has grown disenchanted with the world in his retirement (might be onto something there…). And no serious person that wasn’t making excuses for their political beliefs would buy into it.

          7. Yves Smith Post author


            I know the coated paper industry intimately. The mills in China are heavily subsidized, they are not even remotely economical on a stand alone basis. The US was gonna file a WTO suit and got chicken, Team Obama decided against ruffling China.

        2. Philip Pilkington

          Haha! Coated paper, tires and steel pipes. I love it. No microprocessors, no? Hmmm… Strange… Now heavy capital goods? No aircrafts? Nope, just coated paper, tire and steel pipes.

          Knowing something about the tire market I’ll tell you that Chinese tires are pieces of shit. In Ireland a Chinese tire costs half as much as a brand tire — and bursts after six months. No one buys them except chancers and used-car dealers.

          Western manufacturing has gone into some decline, but not much. Manufacturing in the US is still the largest and most important in the world — making up 19% of the world’s output. With the right policy mix they could go further. A real economist would look at the sector in the aggregate. Only a hack trying to make a political point would cherry-pick industries. Oh wait…

          1. Foppe

            Manufacturing in the US is still the largest and most important in the world — making up 19% of the world’s output.

            Is that 19% of final products? Or does this include all the intermediate products as well? Because the fact that they “produce” 19% of all final products doesn’t really tell you all that much about US employment if it doesn’t.

      2. bocajane

        Oh and you dont think the banks were living ‘beyond their means’? They took taxpayers money (we are getting ‘drip, drip drip information about exactly how much they got, and it is much more than initially reported, doled out by private bankers under the guise of the Federal Reserve Bank) and are now gambling with it, they same way they were before 2008. Nothing has been done to rein in the banks’ behaviour, and we are now headed towards Recession 2.0, except I fear it will be much worse this time around

        Most of the foreclosures that are taking place right now are due to people having lost their jobs, due to the economic downturn caused by the banks in the first place. So I WILL keep droning on about the banks, because they are the root cause of the current economic gloom.

        As one financial advisor said, asked recently what he was investing in, he replied:

        Guns and ammo.

          1. Nathanael

            And why do you think your proposal didn’t happen?….

            …because it would have hurt the criminal bank executives. The current situation is basically one of criminal bank executives using other people’s money to buy get-out-of-jail-free cards from the government.

            Think about it. We have to address this before we can have a functioning financial system.

      3. Philip Pilkington

        I hardly think that people that wanted to buy a house were failures that were ‘living beyond their means’. Many got trapped in bad mortgages because they wanted to settle down and got bad financial advice from the banks.

        Having worked in the Irish property market during the boom, I find your statement a tad disgusting to be honest.

        1. RebelEconomist

          Ask the renters what they think. I am sure they would find your comment more than a tad disgusting. How much sympathy do you think that the speculative buyers would have had for renters if it had worked out for them? You must have had the property gloaters TV programmes in Ireland; we still have lots of them in the UK, thanks to the BoE.

          I say repossess defaulters’ property (maybe with some government transitional assistance with moving etc), let the housing market clear, and give the renters a chance.

          1. Philip Pilkington

            I’m clearly not talking about speculative buyers. Many people who took on low-end mortgages were just young families. You know this — you just don’t want to acknowledge it as it would show your opinions up for the right-wing moralistic trash talk that they are.

          2. Philip Pilkington

            Oh, and most of what you refer to as ‘gloating TV programs’ are just shows that feature people doing up their dream homes. But then that would be a sin too in your frugal vision of the world. How dare people invest time, energy and money into something they love — that’s clearly a sign that they are ostentatious scum ‘living beyond their means’! Frugality, after all, is life, right?

          3. RebelEconomist


            As far as I am concerned, anyone who took on a debt that they could not honour even in reasonably likely circumstances, such as interest rates returning to just a normal level, was a speculative buyer. And remember, that by paying asking price, they pushed up property prices beyond the threshold of the more sensible, some of whom may well have postponed having a family. And now these speculative buyers are expecting the prudent people to bail them out, not least by artificially low interest rates. Have a sense of fairness!

            If property programmes are about people cherishing something they love, why do they always dwell on the value of said properties?

            Try to be objective.

          4. Philip Pilkington

            Anyone who bought a house at a lower-than-usual interest-rate is a speculative buyer? And you tell me to ‘be objective’? Get real. More moralistic claptrap from the king of frugality, wrapped in his regal gown of horses hair.

            As for the property shows. People talk about the cost of the houses on those shows for a number of reasons. One of them is out of pride — nothing wrong with that, in my opinion, people are proud of little Billy when he beats the other kids in football, they’re also proud of picking up a nice house at what they consider a bargain price.

            Another reason is that people like to compare the value of their property with other properties on the market. When I showed houses we’d get plenty of ‘tourists’ dropping in. I’d often talk to them about their houses and all that. Most weren’t snooty or speculators. Just people interested in houses.

            Yet another reason is people like to think that they might do up the house one day when they have enough money. So, it’s nice to get an idea of what sort of money you can expect to spend.

            But then all this reeks of ostentation and fun. Better to appoint a regulator to ensure that TV shows nothing but shows featuring a stern accountant dressed in tweed lecturing middle-class people on how they should only eat margarine and go on caravan holidays.

          5. JTFaraday

            “Ask the renters what they think.”

            The renters think they did the right thing. The only smarter option was/is to squat the thing out.

            (Good work if you can get it).

          6. JTFaraday

            “And remember, that by paying asking price, they pushed up property prices beyond the threshold of the more sensible, some of whom may well have postponed having a family.”

            You’re absolutely right. People are stoopid.

            That’s why I’m rooting for a big Nanny State to tell you what to do.

          7. RebelEconomist

            “When I showed houses…..” Do I take it that you are/were a property pusher? That would explain a lot.

            Actually, yes, I would regulate what TV could show, especially “lifestyle” type advertisements which encourage people to believe that they are missing out if they don’t have the comfortable, even glamorous, lifestyle depicted. The West, and perhaps the whole world, no longer has the resources to be manufacturing artificial demand for unnecessary consumption.

          8. Philip Pilkington

            Of course you would regulate TV. Because you hate joy and seem to have a pronounced authoritarian/moralising streak — very common on the right-wing of the political spectrum.

            No, I’m not a property ‘pusher’ (they don’t exist, except in your mind; properties in the boom years sold themselves). But I used to occasionally help out showing houses on weekends for one of the major auctioneers.

          9. Philip Pilkington

            “The West, and perhaps the whole world, no longer has the resources to be manufacturing artificial demand for unnecessary consumption.”

            I like this, actually. Remember everyone we’re talking about housing here. Now, the big problem is most countries is that there is TOO MANY houses and this is dragging down inflated property prices. So, there’s loads of EMPTY houses sitting around.

            But then RebelEconomist (no, I’m not going to engage in childish name-calling) claims that we have… wait for it… too few resources. “Wha?” I hear you asking. Yes, that’s right too FEW resources. Strange, no? Yes, very strange, I would say.

            But you see RebelEconomist has be trained to think in terms of scarcity. He also seems somewhat given to making frugal moral judgements by nature. So, he can make these GENERAL statements even if they make absolutely NO SENSE because this is the way he views the world GENERALLY. Of course, that doesn’t change the fact that they make no sense, but he’ll surely now turn around and skew the argument by starting to talk about Peak Oil and the environment and other such non-sequiters that have nothing directly to do with the mortgage/housing markets.

          10. Philip Pilkington

            And as supplement to the idea that we have too few resources here’s an interesting graph:


            So productivity rises but wages stagnate. Hmmm… whatever could that mean? Well goods and services are still being produced on an ever-growing scale — no scarcity there — but at the same time people just don’t have the incomes to make them available. This is the true crisis of our times. But conservative economists will tell you it all has to do with scarcity. Why? Because, as I said, they like the morality that derives from that argument.

          11. darms

            While I wouldn’t regulate or censor the property shows on HGTV & such they do piss me off greatly as they encourage the uninformed to have unrealistic expectations as to what is affordable and in doing so encourage those people to take on unrealistic amounts of debt. A $300K ‘starter home’? $700K for a ‘normal house’? We make very good money yet there’s no way we could afford anything like that & fortunately, we know it. But there are obviously a lot of folks who didn’t henc3e a good portion of the current mess.
            When you loan somebody money knowing full well in advance they will not be able to pay it back you are more at fault than the borrower as obviously most people out there are not all that knowledgeable about money or finance. (Not the commenters here, however)

          12. RebelEconomist


            Regarding resources: Actually we are talking about people looting shops.

            Regarding rising productivity and falling real wages: That is what I meant by increasing competition. You may produce more, but you get less oil, copper, food etc when you trade your output. In the economic jargon, your terms of trade have deteriorated.

          13. Philip Pilkington

            But they don’t consume less. They go into debt. What planet are you living on. This isn’t a zero-sum game with the foreigners taking our ‘stuff’ away, wages have been driven down and the private sector have pissed away their savings and gone into debt. Hence the crisis. It’s a crisis of aggregate demand that has had to be floated for years on a debt bubble just to keep consumption rates in line with aggregate supply.

            Put the pieces together for Christsake. Even if you can’t chastise people with your dreary moralistic claptrap, at least you won’t come across as a complete caveman when you discuss this stuff.

          14. RebelEconomist

            Exactly; we agree on the underlying cause of the financial crisis. But I would say that western politicians should not have just accepted the slide into debt. They should have either geared up their country to compete, as the Germans did with Agenda 2010, or been honest with their electorate about their relative decline and taken steps to resist the debt build-up, like restricting loan to value ratios. There has been a failure of leadership, and while people who ought to know better blame the crisis largely on a minority of “kleptocrats”, we are not even accepting the underlying problem.

          15. Philip Pilkington

            That doesn’t make any sense. It was a problem with aggregate demand. If you accept my argument you would recognise that there was too much being produced and too little purchasing power. This has nothing to do with productivity — in fact greater productivity would have led to MORE oversupply. It was a problem with wealth distribution among other things.

            There was a pool of goods being produced that couldn’t be bought with present wages. So debt was built up to supplement this. It has nothing to do with productivity.

            Are you really an economist? If you don’t understand that, well…

        2. Eric

          No idea about Irish property transactions, but in Ohio I was involved in 4 property closings between early 2007 and mid-2009. In every one of them, the title attorney painstakingly went over the credit being provided to the purchaser: amounts, specific monthly P&I, escrows for taxes and insurance, payment dates, late penalties, pre-payment provisions, what constituted default, the lien against the property. In every case there was specific acknowledgment by the borrower that there was no guarantee of any future refinancing of the loan. People buy things all the time that turn out to be less valuable in the future than they had hoped, and I’m not sure why property – Irish or otherwise – lately has seemed to be considered by some to be some kind of special class of goods where this outcome is to be blamed on others, with the implied message that some public compensation is due.

          1. Philip Pilkington

            And I’m sure those people understood every word of it.

            Look, most people aren’t economists, they don’t think in those terms. They see everyone in the media talking up property. Then they see that their bank manager is willing to give them a 100% mortgage at interest-rates that seem reasonable at the time. The wife is nagging them to get a house in X because it’s near the school she wants to send the kids to. What’s more, our middle-manager has just got a raise because he works his ass off for 60 hours a week, pulling his hair out in a shithole retailer.

            These are the people that came looking for houses at the mid-to-low end of the market. And it was on their backs that the Ponzi scheme was built. In private I told them not to buy. I told them they should rent. But then they’d tell me that they had two kids and they really wanted to own a house. Their brother or their best mate had just bought one and, hey, the wife was getting catty.

            Three years later our middle-manager has his pay cut by a third. The mortgage payments are piling up. The kid has already made freinds at school. ETC ETC ETC

            You can go through the details with people. But that’s not the point. And it never will be — at least, when it comes to housing. It’s the most important purchase of a person’s life. The economic equivalent of getting married. If that’s not recognised then… well… then, frugality and suffering for all.

          2. RebelEconomist


            If someone cannot be bothered to do due diligence on the largest purchase that they will likely ever make in their life, there probably isn’t much point in bailing them out anyway, because they will probably only piss away their money on something else. People have to learn that if they can’t afford it, they can’t have it.

          3. Philip Pilkington

            “People have to learn that if they can’t afford it, they can’t have it.”

            But we’re talking about housing. For young families with mid-range incomes. They should be able to afford this — at least in any sensible world. The government did not step-in and ensure that mid-range property was affordable for mid-range buyers by either stopping a bubble from forming or subsidising this housing (I’d favour the former, obviously). So, it’s on the government to ensure that these people get a break. Simple as.

            Your argument is like saying that people should die of thirst in a world where water is worth ridiculous amounts of money. The point is that the water shouldn’t be sold at such a high price in the bloody first place.

            But taking that into consideration might kill the moral message you’re trying to hand down from your pulpit…

          4. Binky the Bear

            So you missed out on the “you make how much? Let’s put down more, they won’t check” phase of mortgage origination.

            I’ll be gone, you’ll be gone, but they’re handing out free money right now hand over fist.

          5. Yves Smith Post author


            Read The Two Income Trap. We then might have an intelligent conversation.

            Bankruptcies were exploding by 2003! Why? Because:

            1. More competition for decent school districts. Are you telling me people should send their kids to crappy or even physically unsafe schools, or a lot fewer people should have children? Frankly I think the latter isn’t nuts, but try telling people they shouldn’t have kids because they can’t afford them. That’s the REAL good here, the housing prices are derivative. Warren sets out the case long form with tons of data

            2. Two working parents in combination with shorter job tenures and higher odds of serious income loss if the male earner loses his job. You are missing the fundamental change in the job market, that 30 mortgages don’t match jobs of 3-5 year tenures. In the old days, when the man lost his job or his income went way down, the wife would go to work. No such reserve labor any more.

            And no, two income families don’t spend more, in fact, inflation adjusted, their discretionary income as of 2003 was a smidge less than in 1970. And aside from bidding up housing, the other increase in their expenditures was a second car which is unavoidable if you have two working parents.

          6. RebelEconomist

            Yves, get real. The developed world is now competing with countries in which people put up with having one child (China), where even the poor pour their resources into that child to give it the best start in life, and places like India and Brazil, where some people are so desperate that they sell an organ to survive. If, as a result of this competition for real resources, individual Americans do not have enough real (permanent) income to move to be nearer a safe school, hard luck – actually, it would be better if communities fixed the bad schools anyway so that no-one has to put up with them. Can’t people like you and PinkerOne see that, even if the global economy is growing and making the pie bigger, competition may well be making our slice of the pie smaller even in absolute terms, and we have to either organise ourselves to compete better, or accept less pie? It is vital that people like you, with some platform to influence people, identify the deep causes of our problems, and promote viable solutions to them, rather than disproportionately bashing unpopular targets like bankers and promoting seductive but uncertain solutions like MMT.

            And, as I have said to you before, if you want to be taken seriously as a campaigner, make some sacrifice yourself and stop allowing financial industry adverts to appear on your website, especially the dubious ones like payday loans and, I see out of the corner of my eye today, penny stocks to make 100%-1000% returns.

        3. Philip Pilkington

          But they don’t consume less. They go into debt. What planet are you living on. This isn’t a zero-sum game with the foreigners taking our ‘stuff’ away, wages have been driven down and the private sector have pissed away their savings and gone into debt. Hence the crisis. It’s a crisis of aggregate demand that has had to be floated for years on a debt bubble just to keep consumption rates in line with aggregate supply.

      4. Cindy Elmwood

        “I do wish people would stop droning on about bankers’ responsibility for the present economic problems.”

        Who, people like Yves?

        I’m no socialist and I probably agree with you about the nature of the looters here. But the “present economic problems” *are* in large part due to the bankers, i.e. the financial systems in the west which have been deregulated and corrupted over the last 20 years or so, as detailed so well on this blog.

        1. RebelEconomist

          If I recall correctly, the losses sustained on financial assets during the financial crisis were in the order of trillions of dollars. Bank bonuses and dividends were in the order of hundreds of trillions of dollars. So, somewhere, a lot of ordinary people did very well out of the financial crisis (eg pensioners who locked in a pension based on unrealistic assumed investment returns, and house buyers who will never pay the purchase price). Don’t forget them.

          1. Philip Pilkington

            Am I the only one who hasn’t met a single one of these ordinary people? Hmmm… Mysterious. But they’re there — somewhere. Apparently.

          2. JTFaraday

            I know one!! Dean Baker said he sold his DC condo while the market was *quite* frothy.

            My neighbors did okay too. (OTOH, they did move to Florida).

          3. Philip Pilkington

            Oh no, RebelEconomist’s point is much more, erm, subtle than that. He’s talking about the bastards that are having a hard time making interest payments and the fiends who got an okay pension plan (but may have taken a salary cut or be facing redundancy).

            Look not to Dean Baker’s good sense in riding the market, the real evil exists all around us.

          4. JTFaraday

            Phew! The way he was going there, for a second I thought he was ready to call out the austerity police to afflict the comfortable.

          5. RebelEconomist

            I should think you have met many of those ordinary people who benefited from the financial behaviour that led to the financial crisis – just about every baby boomer with an occupational pension, for example.

          6. Philip Pilkington

            Oh! Like my mother and father… who lost their jobs. Yep, they’re riding free and easy.

            You’re so divorced from reality I’m shocked you can get up in the morning without concluding that the world is just a giant hallucination.

          7. JTFaraday

            Baby boomers live(d) in a classed society just like everyone else, and involuntarily “retired” older people, I know plenty.

            Go troll a site with more collective tunnel vision.

  6. RebelEconomist

    I agree that this unrest has had little or nothing to do with recent economic developments; it is a long term problem of a generational-cyclic underclass, with self-reinforcing factors of poor nutrition, lack of stimulation, and few realistic opportunities for personal advancement and therefore little to lose. It is a shame that both left and right have used the riots to promote their existing policies, whereas an eclectic approach might offer the best chance of breaking the cycle. I would like additional resources to be raised from wealth taxes and spent on children, even from conception, with good nutrition, intensive learning and recreational opportunities like hobbies, arts and crafts, music and sport etc, so that kids can develop as near to their potential as possible. And then, if people are looting, declare a curfew after which active looters are liable to be shot.

        1. bmeisen

          Oops! Yes, Cromwell, and he had Levellers shot, but there was likely a fluid relationship between the Levellers and the True Levellers.

    1. YankeeFrank

      How about we start with an end to the economic hollowing out of western nations, with the return of decent jobs and investment… and yes of course more resources for childhood development.

    2. Toby

      “I agree that this unrest has had little or nothing to do with recent economic developments; it is a long term problem of a generational-cyclic underclass, with self-reinforcing factors of poor nutrition, lack of stimulation, and few realistic opportunities for personal advancement and therefore little to lose.”

      This sentence is a contradiction on more than one level. First, your list of problems are all directly related to economics (e.g., how much capital gets directed to education). Secondly, “recent economic developments” do not exist in a vacuum, are certainly part of history far deeper than three to four years. Thirdly, “recent economic developments” show clearly how amoral business is, that it’s supposed to be. The Invisible Hand takes care of social good, not business. Business is about profit maximization, not charity, which is good for society generally because Hand, The Invisible says so. Ergo, selfishness is good for society. Hence opportunism. Hence, grab-it-while-you-can. Fourthly, the self-reinforcing factors you reference surely include the naked greed and corruption of the “recent” financial crisis.

      Then you describe how the state should step up to the plate and sort it out. Once upon a time I would have agreed with you. Now I say, ‘more freedom to self-organize, at local level, to sort this rot out.’ The rot is everywhere, from ‘top’ to ‘bottom’. My brother’s impression after the ‘riots’ (he lives in Finsbury Park), was of a collective sense of self-disgust, coupled with a deep desire to get down to work and change things, locally. He describes it as a boil that has been lanced, with the criminality of the rich and poor exposed as the direct fruits of this latest variant of capitalism, which more and more people are seeing for what it is; extraction and the blind pursuit of monetary wealth.

      1. aletheia33

        “Then you describe how the state should step up to the plate and sort it out. Once upon a time I would have agreed with you. Now I say, ‘more freedom to self-organize, at local level, to sort this rot out.’ The rot is everywhere, from ‘top’ to ‘bottom’. My brother’s impression after the ‘riots’ (he lives in Finsbury Park), was of a collective sense of self-disgust, coupled with a deep desire to get down to work and change things, locally.”

        toby, can you elaborate? it’s so difficult to get much reliable info on what the people on the ground there are thinking and doing. thanks for this report.

        1. Toby

          Sorry, but I’m only passing on an impression my brother communicated to me, his personal reading of events after discussion with his friends and associates, and various local news stories, etc. The self-organization manifested as spontaneous clean-up efforts, folk turning up with brooms, clearing away rubble together, that sort of thing. Also, the Muslim community showed dignity and tolerance in light of some of the deadly racism on display, with calls for restraint being heeded it seems. All in all there appears to be a strong desire to do something locally, to change.

          However, it is not that the self-organization can unfold as it freely as it should–the state is too controlling and paranoid for that–it is rather the case that people should be bequeathed more political and monetary freedom (e.g. with local currencies) so that they might build the healthy, alternative socioeconomic processes to capitalism humanity needs to transition to. The will is obviously there, no matter how inchoately, and need only be freed up to flourish, to strive towards its own potential. Sadly, because these freedoms won’t be granted, indeed, more austerity will be delivered, other ‘riots’ will occur, and conflict will spread further. How destructive and violent this inevitable process proves to be depends on people within state and corporate infrastructure. If history is any guide, it will be horrible.

      2. Philip Pilkington

        Self-organisation is the key. But the key to successful self-organisation is resources. Not that fuzzy ‘Big Society’ claptrap.

        What is needed is a Jobs Guarantee program. With that implemented wages can be directed to community activists who then directly employ people to sort the communities out. Wash down the graffiti; fix the streets and playgrounds; maybe even hire some of the rioting scumbags themselves and give them enough security to start a family and grow up.

    3. monday1929

      Are you advocating the Banker looters to be shot if out past 3 PM?
      You ignore the fact that the bankers are the professional Risk Evaluators- they lent rapaciously to the subprimes (and Primes who are sitting in million dollar homes and not paying mortgages, but oddly finding their property taxes paid by the banks to prevent showing losses on their insolvent books)and the Greeks and all those othert well known slackers.

    4. Philip Pilkington

      Do you have evidence that this had nothing to do with current developments. The map I linked to below seems to indicate that high unemployment and rioting were strongly correlated. The present crisis in Britain has undoubtedly raised the unemployment in these areas, so…

      As for shooting civilians. Well, I’m not going to say anything in response to such a stupid and ignorant statement… anyone else?

        1. Philip Pilkington

          Yes… would anyone from New Orleans care to respond to the… erm… unusual powers that the police were given there and what, in fact, they did with them. Militarising police forces is never a good idea — people soon get a taste of just how ugly war powers can be.

        2. F. Beard

          Yes, anyone from the US care to respond to the proposition that active looters be shot; Reactionary Economist

          Despite the damage they do, banking is legal so I disagree that bankers should be shot.

  7. Thomas

    There were three factors in play, and the mix in each riot was different:

    1) Frustration at perceptions of police brutality/ institutional racism etc. Major factor in starting the Tottenham riots, and relatively minor in most of the others.

    2) Best described by the pupil of a friend of mine who teaches at a school in North London: “Have you any idea how fun it is to go up to a policeman, knock his hat off, and then have him chase you through the estates?” Pure mischief by amoral youths.

    3) Avaricious looting for personal gain. Witness the worst looted shops in the Clapham riots – Footlocker and JD Sports (trainers/sneakers), Debenhams (TV’s), and Carphone Warehouse (mobile phones) – status symbols of the council estates. (as told to me by a friend watching it from his roof terrace, rather than filtered by TV and the newspapers)

    There may have been a small amount of factor 1 in the Clapham riots, but it was mostly factors 2 & 3. Each riot was different.

    1. YankeeFrank

      And yet neither two nor three explain at all why this is happening now and not two years ago, or for the past two decades… and as if this is at all an exhaustive list of “causes”.

      1. ambrit

        Yankee Frank;
        Some threshold has been passed over in England. My guess is that the Austerity measures have made the kleptocratic nature of the Conservative movement, (which I would reluctantly have to agree includes all the major political players now,) obvious to even the ‘dimmest’ of the Working Classes. (Working Class, ha! That demographic always included a very high proportion of ‘unemployed’ people.)
        I humbly suggest that this threshold will be passed here in America when concrete proposals to ‘rebalance’ Social Security are put before the public.

        1. William C

          As a Londoner, I confess that I am still far from clear what was really going on apart from a lot of opportunistic looting. There was clearly a large copycat element to all the riots after the Tottenham riot (fans of Rene Girard will be unsurprised). That seems to have started (if The Sunday Times is to be believed) because the police kept telling a crowd who wanted an explanation for the shooting of Duggan that someone would come and make a statement in a few minutes. No one did come to make an explanation and after a few hours patience snapped, somebody threw a bottle at the police, violence broke out and then the looting started. No doubt one can offer all sorts of deeper social, political and even spiritual reasons for what happened but it will need empirical research to be more confident that we know the answers, though there are some very reasonable suggestions in this thread. So to the answer why now rather than at another time, the answer may be that it was just chance – if the police had handled the crowd seeking an explanation more skillfully then perhaps nothing would have happpened at all.

          1. Finance Guy, Chillin' in the Hamptons

            Well, if the police were killing my neighbors, I certainly would demand an explanation!

          2. Nathanael

            When authority figures make themselves unworthy of respect, and people notice, then the authority figures no longer *have* any respect.

            There is a fundamental way in which society is held together by people believing that basically they’ll get a fair deal. When large numbers of people stop believing that, they *stop caring about whether society survives*.

            As they should. Game theory shows that if you want to get a fair deal and your opponent isn’t interested in playing fair, you have to play scorched-earth tactics.

            The authority figures gamble on sheer force being sufficient to retain power. It won’t be. The key here is that at this point, even among the security forces there is a general distrust of the authority…. what policeman wants to defend criminal bankers?

      2. Thomas


        Are you implying that because my points 2 and 3 three explain at all why this is happening now and not two years ago, or for the past two decades that they must not be reasons, and that London kids don’t enjoy bating the police or stealing stuff they can’t afford?

        Oh, and by the way, my weasel “etc” in point 1 actually means that my list *is* exhaustive.

    2. pws4

      Lisa: So even if a man takes bread to feed his starving family, that would be stealing?

      Rev.: No. Well, it is if he puts anything on it. Jelly, for example.

      Lisa: I see.

      — A clarification from Reverend Lovejoy, “Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment”

  8. Deb Schultz

    Reading this posting after reading the Reuters article on how the US has become the Food Stamp Nation makes me wonder how long a society can wilfully ignore the effects of a false ideology. Look at the pictures accompanying the Reuters article. Those are little children who are living in families that are barely hanging on to respectability, if by that we mean being able to look like they aren’t poor and in need.

    The Reuters reporter has done an excellent job, in that she ties food stamps and low wages together, showing how these people are caught in a system that favors the corporation with government subsidization while they themselves can never access the sort of power that might improve their own lives. And please don’t say they can vote. We all know that voting is ephemeral; the sort of influence and power that is driving these peoples’ lives is not derived from voting.

    1. Michael Palatas

      I am sympathetic to this line of argumentation. In contemporary capitalism unemployment is not a situation in which one has nothing to do. It is a state wherein one is forbidden to do anything.

  9. Philip Pilkington

    Typical posturing. If Zizek actually did some research — but why on earth would a Grand Theorist need to do such a thing — he might have found some interesting things. Like the overlapping of riots and unemployment:

    (Also relevant from an analytical perspective:

    Not so shocking when you consider that people that have no job and nothing to do all day are probably more prone to rioting than those gainfully employed.

    P.S. Posted this on the Links page but seems relevant here. Adam Curtis’ new piece on rioters and other ruffians:

  10. Riotious G. Humor

    Naomi Klein has a much better analysis, including the British Government’s decision to punish via information technology.
    Just think, if you post something on Yves Inc, it could be held against you at some point. Teach ya’ a lesson for bickering about the corrosive status quo.

    England is the most surveilled state in the entire world, and always says “after you” to the US when some international carnage needs to be dispatched. (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya)

    Horrific double standards, it’s what gets us through the day!

  11. Dan Duncan

    Baby B,000,000,000,000,MERS and the Unbearable Lightness of Being.

    “Einmal ist keinmal”: “what happens but once, might as well not have happened at all.”

    It’s a statement that fails to anticipate fiat money in the hands of Baby B,000,000,000,000,MERS.

    The “repetition” spoken of here, refers to a weight. And weight deals with consequence. Take it to the extreme, and you have the weight of the Eternal Return.

    Baby B,000,000,000,000,MERS don’t do Weight (except of course, in the waistline). B,000,000,000,000,MERS don’t do Consequence.

    Instead, B,000,000,000,000,MERS do “Let-It-Be-Done” Money. AKA, Fiat Money, it’s the B,000,000,000,000,MER answer to the burdens of weighty consequence. “Money, after all, is only an illusion”, right?

    In the hopes of finding “balance”—B,000,000,000,000,MERS love that word—they look for “meaning”. [Even when they profess not to be concerned with “meaning”, B,000,000,000,000,MERS still manage to “find it” in the negation of meaning.]

    Those London protests got nothin’ to do with “repetition”, nor Hegel, nor deadly spirals of free-market fundamentalism.

    Those protests are about howlin’ at the moon….Cries of rage against insignificance and weightlessness. The protests are Nature at work. Nothing more. Nothing less.

    A dollar created today is a dime tomorrow. Dollars are fleeting and Modern Money has no weight and no bearings.

    Nevertheless, despite its fiat underpinnings, like it or not, money is subject to the laws of nature: That which is easily created and ultimately fleeting is always rendered insignificant.

    The use of such insignificance as a store of value on the toil of labor is doomed to become unbearable.

    B,000,000,000,000,MER governance can be summarized as “schwerelos Entscheidungen”, which simply means: Weightless Decisions.

    The B,000,000,000,000,MER decisions of 10 Year Wars, unrealistic entitlements, etc., etc are rendered light. Insignificant. Except, of course, for the body-bags.

    The insignificance of each decision made over the past few decades culminates in great suffering, unless, of course—you’re fortunate enough to be a B,000,000,000,000,MER.

    The Unbearable Lightness of Modern Money and Weightless Decision-Making.

    Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing?

    You’re Goddamned right it is.

  12. Michael Palatas

    Why not just say it’s an aggression towards the commodity economy?
    Debordian analysis seems as though it may offer some positive connections.

  13. Michael Palatas

    The police step in as the institutions and ban naked shorting and implement the uptick rule.
    This allows the discovery of low grade human capital to be reassimilated into the system via the biopolitical channels outlined by Foucault.

  14. Deb Schultz

    Philip Pilkington, thanks for the links to the data analysis and maps. The comments to that posting are also very interesting.

  15. Paul Tioxon

    The behavior is a breakdown of the social order. Normally, the population of London, some 7.8 million people get up and go about their business, 365 days a year, year after year. Except for those few days. That is a break down of the social order. It went out the window, or can we call it the defenestration of London and have the high minded here shut the fuck up.

    It is not what most people in that town normally do, to that extent, in those large numbers, for whatever reasons there is or is not apparent to the people who acted out. And act they did. Burning down entire blocks, in several different areas of the city proper, in all directions. So, let me leave with some social science worth looking into, action chains, and communication being 90% non-verbal. The people have spoken with their violence. Do look any further than actions, the words just get in the way. Unless, of course, you are some Homoland Security analist.

  16. Hugh

    Viewed through wealth inequality, kleptocracy, and class war, the British riots, both the riots themselves and the reaction to them, are completely unsurprising.

    Kleptocracy is the state and economy as criminal enterprises. How does one reform a criminal enterprise? The answer is you can’t and don’t.

    At the same time, wealth inequality has made it impossible for whole communities to have any chance at a decent, fulfilling life. So how can we be surprised when they don’t act according to middle class values?

    And that’s where class war comes because class war is not about the stealing (by the elites) but how they keep what they have stolen. They do this by distracting the underclasses and setting them against each other. They blame those marginalized out of the middle class for not having middle class values. Zizek sounds very much like what I call an Establishment liberal. He sounds liberal but does the work for the PTB. He devalues the marginalized by not looking at who and what caused their marginalization. Instead he says they weren’t political, that is they didn’t behave according to the very political precepts they have been marginalized from. They did not embrace the politically acceptable and futile route of trying to reform the unreformable. They were merely violent, and to be dismissed.

    Like attempter, I find Ferguson’s formulations problematic.

    The British riots probably reflect the despair and anger of marginalized populations staggering under early shocks of austerity while local authorities themselves reel from cuts in their own budgets.

    Note the lack of agency and sense of history. Life in these communities wasn’t hunky-dory until austerity came along. These were communities that had already been written off by the PTB and viewed as enemy territory by the police for years. Late stage kleptocracy and its latest ploy for looting, austerity, simply pushed them over the edge. The rioters didn’t simply become rioters. They were trained for the role for years by a kleptocracy that had ground them up and thrown them away.

    I don’t think it ever gets stressed enough how tightly linked liberalism and capitalism are. Rational actors making rational decisions producing rational systems and outcomes lie at the heart of both. Both ignore or downplay the irrationality of human action. This is especially true now where we see irrational kleptocratic elites so dominating our political and economic processes. This does not mean we are doomed but just that we need to look beyond liberalism and its modern descendants, such as scientificism and technocracy. The human condition, both the individual and societal, goes far beyond these. This does not mean we reject them. We just don’t give them primacy. The real question we should be asking is what kind of a society do we want and what kind of a life do we want for ourselves and others. I would submit that we as a society have the resources to guarantee good jobs, education, healthcare, housing, and retirements for all, that a fair and just society is possible, not because it is rational but because it is worthwhile.

  17. Jim

    It may also mean that it is time to take a careful look at culture as well as economics, finance and politics

    Is there a linkage between our increasingly out of control culture and our increasingly out of control financial/economic/political crisis.?

    If one starts with the assumption that our personal inner realm (of thoughts, feelings and intentions)is largely a reflection of an outer realm of particular community norms and ideas (which each of us internalizes while growing up) then one can argue that our individual psychological development primarily occurs through a socialization/culturalization process which creates our individual psychological make-ups.

    For a long period of time Western culture seemed dominated by the image of the ascetic personality which implied institutional limits on the race for status and some degree of constraint on the acquisitive appetite. However, gradual cultural shifts to more impulse-supporting organizational structures has accelerated over the past 100 years.

    I would argue, more specifically, that since World War II local community structures and norms in the U.S. have continued to weaken in part because of the penetration into local communities of the increasingly sophisticated cultural messages of Big Capital, Big Finance, Big Bank and Big State. The essence of their culture message has been that they are the powerful institutional representatives of the unconstrained self—of the belief that there should be minimal restraint on individual desires—especially of the elites own impulses in formulating policy for their personal political, economic and financial benefit For our present leaders there is no authority superior to their own and no rule which cannot be broken in pursuit of a greater centralization of their power. The proper role for the rest of us is passive but unrestrained consumption,continued political docility and dependence and the experience of accelerating personal anxiety and fear.

    The attempted realization of self without communal purpose means that we are more and more on our own with less and less institutional cultural guidance on how we are to live our lives. This continued weakening of social bonds leads to a heightened sense of disorientation and uncertainty about our place in society and even our own personal identities. And our accelerating financial/economic/political crisis (with dramatically higher unemployment, stagnant wages and declining living standards) has only intensified such feelings of disorientation .

    In such a cultural climate the political dialogue becomes focused only on how to best manage the economy or the financial structure or how to best manage us, in order that the stability of the present structure of power can be maintained and the necessity of constructing a new communal purpose can be ignored. All modern political persuasions seemed to have erroneously assumed that a culture which generates a personality structure largely freed of institutional or community constraints is still a culture capable of producing individuals who can act in or have a sense of the public interest.

    Any new grass-roots political movement will now have the responsibility for not only dramatically restructuring democratic power in the financial/economic and political sphere but also for rebalancing our culture.

    One of the great mistakes of the political movements of the 1960s( particularly the anti-war movement) was to not understand that their “counter-culture” only duplicated the unconstrained desires implicit in the cultural narratives and policy choices of Big Capital and Big State.

    It now seem imperative that debate begin on the ingredients of a different moral/cultural vision— one which would again be inwardly compelling and truly counter-cultural in the sense of offering an alternative to the corrupt status-quo through re-connection to a new communal purpose.

    1. Joe Rebholz

      The new communal purpose should be: Develop a political/economic system whose goals are to provide (I don’t care how) the basic human necessities to every human being. These basic human necessities are: sufficient food, water, clothing, housing, health care, all the education anyone wants, opportunities to work with others, to cooperate with others, opportunities for all the usual human interactions: sex, friendship, love. Actually I do care how. We must develop such a system that distributes human necessities fairly and nonviolently and preserves and protects our physical world so that we can evolve with it into the indefinite future. Abandon all existing economic theories. They all have the wrong goals. Or modify one of them. It doesn’t matter as long as the goal of the political/economic systen is to develop a system that provides these human necessities for everyone while preserving and evolving with our physical world. Somehow we have to start with what we have now and modify it possibly severely, step by step, until we get to a system whose goal is to provide these human necessities.

  18. Psychoanalystus

    Just a few comments from a psychological point of view. I am sorry if I have to be a bit harsh.

    1. I lived in England long enough to figure out that the British youth represent a “lost generation”. The British population in general, and their youth in particular, are a degenerate collection of selfish, consumerism-crazed, alcoholic or drug addicted sub-human specimens unable to think beyond the level of your average domesticated animal. Psychologically speaking, the British are by far the most pathological nation in Europe, if not the entire world. Their distorted and pathological psyche is the product of centuries of ruthless empire abuses and now decades of relentless consumerism. To even compare these mobs of primitive British degenerates with the youth protesters in Egypt is an insult to the Egyptians.

    2. I also think that it is an insult to southern Europeans such as the Greeks and the Spanish to compare their actions with the disgraceful events in England. The southern Europeans, as well as the eastern Europeans have a much more community and family oriented lifestyle, where political events are constantly being discussed and analyzed while in a state of sobriety. Most people from places like Greece, Spain, and Eastern Europe have experienced long periods of oppression at the hands of various empires, thus they are well informed about their own history, community, and identity. On the other hand, the British have been thoroughly brainwashed into a “British exceptionalism” mentality that brings along with it a sense of entitlement and historical ignorance, as well as an attitude of superiority toward others (this despite the evidence, pointing that they are, in fact inferior to most other peoples).

    3. Because the British populace is unable to engage in meaningful social interactions with other human beings without first consuming large amounts of alcohol and/or drugs, any possibility that the riots in Britain may have been motivated by true political or social analysis and true dissent is highly unlikely. These riots were simply the activities of drunken thugs driven by consumerist urges comparable to those the lowest forms of animals.

    In essence, let us not insult the youth in Greece, Egypt, Spain, Bahrain, and even Wisconsin, by comparing them with the degenerate brutes in Britain (in this category I include about 95% of the British population).

    I regret if the words in this post were a bit harsh, but I think they need to be, otherwise reality is not able to penetrate that alternative reality created by centuries of ingrained “British exceptionalism” in which much of the British population still lives.

    To my British friends: why don’t you just crawl lack into your nearest pub and soak up your “superior” brains on some cheap whiskey, before hitting High Street credit card-in-hand and run up a spending frenzy.


    1. JTFaraday

      Oh, I don’t know. I watched this the other week and found it sort of moving, (although I also sort of doubt they’ll manage to keep the conversation going).

      “Video: there is no ‘us’ over here”
      OurKingdom, 13 August 2011

      This video depicts a spontaneous London street debate about the riots that gripped the city last week. The producers, FlipLifeTV, explain:

      “This began when we started filming [a man called] Swiss in Clapham [south London] to hear his views on the riots that have been happening in the UK. We ended up in a debate with members of the community that raised many issues that the media are currently failing to portray. It went on for quite a long time and we actually filmed until our battery died but please take the time to watch this video and take on board the important issues that are discussed…”


  19. Roger Houghton

    I think the author is right to pinpoint anger as the most important cause of the British riots. People have been endlessly conditioned to want more, and they expect jobs and handouts to get it, but they are being denied. This is not a problem that can get better without some fundamental changes in our economic/political model. To restore hopefulness and productive competition needs basic change.

    Governments fear and hate change – its unpredictable. Under any alternative system they will be denied the advice of the present power centers who sit in the Treasuries and central banks and pull strings. The gut reaction has always been repression and that is precisely what we are seeing in UK with exemplary judicial awards. We are creating an external proletariat in our own country.

    British people are less well informed than hitherto (thanks MSM) but there is a great reservoir of knowledge and experience amongst the elderly that is presently wasted. A new political dynamic that would help is to abandon Republican / Democrat, Tory / Labor distinctions and create new parties promoting growth on the one hand and sustainability on the other. I have a fanciful suspicion that growth would be the male party and sustainability the female.

    There is a book of other things one might say but that’s enough for today.

  20. Roland

    Psychoanalystus, try not to let yourself think of other people as “sub-humans.” There is no point to that kind of thinking, and no good ever comes of it.

    If London could survive Hogarth’s “Gin Lane,” then it can survive today’s “chavs.” I don’t think Henry Fielding ever denounced the gin drinkers as sub-human.

    Jim’s analysis above was very good. The big market and big government have gradually displaced other social and cultural institutions. The Market has gone from a partial and occasional affair, to occupying most of our consciousness.

Comments are closed.