Gehan Gunasekara: America on track for its own riots

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Gehan Gunasekara, senior lecturer at the University of Auckland Business School, believes a rebellion in the United States might be beneficial.

In official statements, British politicians have been quick to label the rioters in that country as "mindless" and the unrest as the work of a few hooligans, and perhaps they are right in that the immediate effects and targets of the violence seem random and not the focus, say, of a concerted political movement.

But is this too simplistic?

"This is the uprising of the working class. We're redistributing the wealth," one anarchist looter is reported as saying.

Such sentiments may be the exception. However, they cannot be dismissed so easily. The fact that the majority of the disaffected youth and ethnic communities are not articulating their motives does not mean they do not exist. Historians commonly identify proximate and underlying causes for events. In this case the spark that set the flames alight was the killing of a man by police but, clearly, the kindling that allowed it to spread was firmly in place.

These deeper reasons include the economic recession, unprecedented cuts in public services and the denial of educational opportunities. The lack of jobs might be tolerable provided other opportunities such as training are available. But a sense of hopelessness breeds resentment, and governments, including New Zealand's, ought to pay heed.

The country most vulnerable in this regard is the United States where budgetary paralysis will inevitably lead to huge cuts in public services, since no increased revenue through taxes on those who can afford to pay them is now possible. The Tea Party-dictated "compromise" guarantees this.

In a famous letter to James Madison, Thomas Jefferson wrote that "a little rebellion now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical".

In the natural world storms serve a cleansing function in striking down dead trees and making way for fresh growth. When the wheels of the political machine are as comprehensively jammed as they are in the US, only a storm can fix the malaise.

On a recent trip to that country, I observed a great deal of anger from ordinary people, not only at the failure of their politicians, but also at the small minority of mind-bogglingly wealthy individuals who, in most cases, pay little or no tax and at the lobbyists (reputedly 600 for every member of congress) who serve their ends. This is a classic recipe for revolution: all the ingredients are there, they just have not coalesced yet.

Some might say this will never happen and that the elite and the wealthy are secure in their many gated communities. But the elite in many Middle Eastern countries felt similarly secure until the Arab spring began and the torrent unleashed there has yet to run its course. The targets in the United States are likely to be those executives who continued to draw bonuses and golden handshakes, funded most contentiously from the public purse. The lobbying firms are another, as are the banks.

This is not to condone the actions of the British looters whose victims, more often than not, have been hapless small shopkeepers and businesses, hardly the purveyors of high finance. Be that as it may, the violence has shaken the political elite in that country to the core and alerted it to the fact that all might not be well.

A similar upheaval in the United States would not, perhaps, be a bad thing. Another famous statement by Jefferson - to do with the tree of liberty and the blood of tyrants and patriots - comes to mind. Americans would do well to ponder who the modern day tyrants are and whether they exist, not in the office holders themselves, but those moneyed elites that fund and manipulate the political system in that country to their own ends.

The United Kingdom riots were entirely predictable, they were just in the wrong country.

- NZ Herald

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