Thursday, August 18, 2011

NY Times on David Cameron's Simplistic Moralizing: Wrong Answers

The New York Times finds the moralizing and punitive response of David Cameron to the riots in England precisely wrong-headed and ineffectual:

Making poor people poorer will not make them less likely to steal. Making them, or their families, homeless will not promote respect for the law. Trying to shut down the Internet in neighborhoods would be an appalling violation of civil liberties and a threat to public safety, denying vital real-time information to frightened residents.

Britain’s urban wastelands need constructive attention from the Cameron government, not just punishment. His government’s wrongheaded austerity policies have meant fewer public sector jobs and social services. Even police strength is scheduled to be cut. The poor are generally more dependent on government than the affluent, so they have been hit the hardest.

What Britain’s sputtering economy really needs is short-term stimulus, not more budget cutting. Unfortunately, there is no sign that Mr. Cameron has figured that out. But, at a minimum, burdens need to be more fairly shared between rich and poor — not as a reward to anyone, but because it is right. 

As I've been saying repeatedly lately, this is an old, old moral drama with a predictable outcome: sow the seeds of social unrest through economic injustice, and you're likely to reap a crop of social unrest.  What's perhaps most shocking of all about the self-designated moral arbiters of our time is their inability to read moral lessons so long woven through our cultural and religious history that they're entirely predictable.  While those moral arbiters focus on issues like child-rearing and the decline of church attendance as the only moral issues deserving attention, people's lives are increasingly on the line as jobs vanish, social programs designed to cushion people at times of economic stress disappear, and the rich grow ever richer. 

Folks like Cameron are straining at moral gnats while letting moral camels pass through the sieve of their moralizing analysis of the serious problems we're now confronting, due to the growing disparities between rich and poor in the developed world.

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