Rational choice rioting
According to the media I’ve heard tonight, the rioting taking place can only have one of three causes. The media does not like the complexity of real life. The three possible causes are:
- Those involved are mindless thugs;
- Those involved are expressing their anger because they are disenfranchised;
- Those involved are operating under the direct orders of subversive far left organisations.
Let us discount 3), because a) it is silly b) it is from the pen of Melanie Phillips. In this case a=b.
Let us also, with a little more consideration, discount 1 and 2 as explanations for the rioting. This is because, while people may have come together to riot and loot, they are likely to be doing so for different reasons.
Some may be angry that they have no job. Some may be keen to have a free mobile handset. Still more may be there because they fear their friends would call them a “pussy” if they did not attend. Others may be there because they want to be able to talk about it with their mates in the days and weeks to come.
For most indeed the reasons will not be fixed, and may change during the evening. I am sure some will have gone down for a look, and found the temptation of a broken-into off-licence a little too great.
We can, ultimately, establish no single motivation, and it is useless to try. It just makes you sound like Theresa May.
What we can say, though, is something about comparative incentives.
Most people from richer areas, who have jobs or who have a good chance of getting a good job, will not riot in the next day or few because their retaining their job or job chance through not getting a criminal record is greater than any of the other incentives I have listed above.
It’s as simple as that.
People from poorer, more deprived areas and backgrounds are rioting for different, shifting motivations, but they are doing so because they do not have enough invested in what the state can offer them to outweigh the benefits of that rioting.
That is, the state has temporarily failed, because a significant group of people in London have decided it is just not worth living within its jurisdiction.
What we do about it is a different matter, though for myself I think upping the incentive for more people to accept the state’s jurisdiction is a pretty good idea. Nevertheless, the logic of the state’s failure should be inescapable, especially for right-wingers who believe that rational choice theory (RCT) is the best guide for the operation of society.
However, I suspect many of those that believe RCT is a good guiding philosophy for themselves and “the markets” will prefer not to extend thee same conception of basic human characteristics to young Londoners making their own calculations tonight. They’ll prefer to keep on calling them “mindless”.