The Poverty Behind the Riots Is Spiritual, Not Material

The Left, as is its habit, is blaming the violent rioting spreading across England and the United States on poverty, economic inequality and looming government budget cuts.
But as usual, the conventional liberal wisdom has it exactly backwards.  The lawlessness is a result not of too little government but rather of overly indulgent governments and collapsing families.
In London and other parts of England, young rioters have set hundreds of fires, looted and destroyed hundreds of stores, and been involved in scores of violent encounters.  The rioting has become deadly—three people were killed in Manchester last week trying to protect their family store.
Many American cities have also been terrorized—by “flash mobs,” gangs of dozens of teenagers who suddenly run through crowded streets and malls, assaulting and robbing shoppers and passersby, looting stores and destroying property.
There have been strained attempts on the Left to link the violence to government budget cuts.  Left-wing former London Mayor Ken Livingstone blamed the London violence on budget cuts that have not even taken place yet.  “The economic stagnation and cuts being imposed by the Tory government inevitably create social division,” he explained.
A writer for the left-wing Guardian newspaper wrote, “There is a context to London’s riots that can’t be ignored … the backdrop of brutal cuts and enforced austerity measures.”
Similar explanations have been made about the U.S. rioting, with commentators citing Tea Party-induced budget cuts and the high unemployment rate among youths to explain the flash mobs.
But the very fact that the flash mobs have been organized via BlackBerrys and social networking devices tells us all we need to know about just how poor the perpetrators are.  In England, details of those remanded for trial who have appeared in court, as the Daily Mail reported, reveal that many of the rioters and looters come from “comfortable middle-class backgrounds.”
There is a strong racial component to the U.S. violence.  The mobs consist almost exclusively of black teens who target and assault random white people.  At the Milwaukee State Fair recently, scores of black teens assaulted whites they encountered, pulling some off motorcycles and out of cars and beating them, while running past blacks.
These mobs are evidence that many black youths have sadly rejected Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of a society that judges people not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
Some commentators have made absurd attempts to link the violence in the U.S. and England to the recent youth-led uprisings in the Middle East.  But the young Middle East freedom fighters are risking their lives to obtain basic human rights against oppressive autocratic regimes.
The West’s hoodlum youths are products of overindulgent welfare states.  They commit random acts of violence because they have learned that they can do so with impunity from the police and other authority figures.
Some elected officials have come closer to correctly identifying the root cause of the rioting—and it has much more to do with moral deficits than with fiscal deficits.
British Prime Minister David Cameron labeled modern English society “sick,” and said, “When we see children as young as 12 and 13 looting and laughing, when we see the disgusting sight of a young man with people pretending to help him while they are robbing him, it is clear that there are things badly wrong with our society.”
In a courageous speech two Sundays ago, Philadelphia’s mayor, Michael Nutter, who is black, told the plundering black youths, “You have damaged your own race.”
One news report on the London riots said that the violence came “seemingly out of nowhere.”  But we could have seen it coming decades ago.  For two generations, the Left has done all it can do to break down traditional structures of authority, from parents and teachers to the police.
When Western youth learn from an early age that they can defy their parents and teachers with impunity, it is not unreasonable for them to assume they will get the same treatment from the police.
It doesn’t help that we live in a youth-obsessed culture, where many parents look to their children for guidance about how to act, talk and dress.  Many parents, who strive to be their children’s friends, not their parents, desperately seek the children’s approval, not vice versa.
When children are in charge, we cannot be surprised that our culture becomes sex-obsessed, vulgar, obscene and irreverent.
They’ve been raised on the mantra, “If it feels good, do it,” which applies to everything from sex, drugs and drink to food and video games.  But they’ve also been raised in a culture that preaches, “If it doesn’t feel good, don’t do it,” which applies to work, school and listening to and respecting authority figures.
Most of the media will continue to link the mayhem spreading across American and England to material poverty.  But the deeper crisis can be linked to a generation raised with a profound poverty of the human spirit.