Here’s a letter I recently sent to The New York Times:
TO THE EDITOR:
Richard Sennett and Saskia Sassen worry in their August 11 op-ed that government spending cuts may be causing the UK riots. They also hint at what that could imply for the U.S.
A problem with their argument is that government spending in the UK has gone up sharply over the last decade. Government spending there is currently about 45 percent of GDP. In 2000, it was only 34 percent. There were no riots then.
A similar story has played out in America. When President Clinton left office, federal spending was 18 percent of GDP. Now it is 24 percent.
If spending cuts cause riots, then we should have nothing to worry about. The fact that we do means something else must be behind the looting.
Washington, D.C. Aug. 11, 2011
The writer is a fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
Rioters and looters have run loose in London over the last three nights. During the day, civilized folk have tried to clean up after them. In a heartening display of spontaneous order, many people are organizing group cleanup efforts using Twitter. Following hashtags like #londoncleanup and #riotcleanup lets people know where they’re needed the most. Facebook groups are serving the same purpose.
Health and safety regulators are trying to stop this spontaneous show of goodwill. The Telegraph reports:
[O]fficers told the volunteers that the decision had been made for the clean-up to be done by the council.
Asked why, an officer said: “Health and safety mainly. There’s lots of broken glass around.”
Many storefronts have broken windows, you see. Broken glass can be dangerous. Better to leave the cleanup to professionals. Someone could get hurt.
This is a different broken window fallacy than the kind one usually sees.