Britain’s riots may have captured all the media attention. But it is not the
only place where violent flash mobs have been on the rampage. In Philadelphia,
the U.S.’s fifth-largest
The mayor, who is black, sounded a lot like Prime Minister David Cameron. He
too vowed zero tolerance toward youthful thugs, and blamed the mayhem on
widespread moral collapse. “This nonsense must stop. It must stop. If you want
to act like a butthead, your butt is going to get locked up.”
Family breakdown. Failed communities. Aimless, unschooled youths who loot,
riot, rob, and beat people up just for fun. The problems of Britain’s inner
cities look amazingly like the problems of America’s inner cities. In both
places, the disintegration of the family is intimately linked with social decay.
In the U.S., two-thirds of black kids are born to single mothers and unmarried
couples. In parts of Britain the rate is already that high. Nationally 46 per
The decline of marriage has gone hand in hand with the decline in male
employment. In Britain, the NEET rate among the young (NEET stands for not in
employment education or training) is pushing 20%.
Any way you look at this, it’s a time bomb. Mr. Cameron knows this, which is
why he calls the riots “a huge event in the life of the nation.”
For many of these men, there is no path to manhood. They do not aspire to get married (especially when access to sex is not a problem), and they don’t like or can’t do the jobs (if any) that are on offer. In the absence of other social structures, they belong to gangs.
But the fix isn’t nearly as obvious as the problem. It will require much more than insisting that parents set clearer boundaries for their children. More social programs aren’t the answer either. We’ve been there, done that, for the past four decades of the welfare state. If there’s one thing we should have learned, it’s that the state is totally unable to compensate for broken families.
As for the unemployment crisis among the underclass, you can pick your root causes. Conservatives blame bad attitudes and a rotten work ethic (and correctly point out that in Britain, industrious Poles will work harder for less than the natives will). Liberals blame a lack of jobs in the post-industrial economy. Both sides are right. What neither side will say is that uncomfortably large numbers of young men have neither the attitude nor the aptitude for the jobs that are on offer, and no amount of education will make it so.
Back in the ’70s, a friend of mine taught working-class kids in Britain for a while. “What do we need to learn this for, Miss?” they would ask. They didn’t see the point. As soon as they turned 16 they planned to quit and get a job in the factory. Today the factories are gone, and the coal mines are too. The modern economy cannot absorb the kind of people who are most suited to these jobs. They are, quite simply, surplus to requirements.
This is nothing new in the history of the world – only in the history of our
world. A surplus of unemployable, disruptive young males has often been the
norm. Karl Marx described such people as “vagabonds, discharged soldiers,
discharged jailbirds, escaped galley slaves, swindlers, pickpockets, tricksters,
gamblers, brothel-keepers, organ-grinders, ragpickers, knife-grinders, tinkers,