Tuesday, May 25, 2010

There is often a time-lag between economic disaster and social fury, writes Simon Schama

On the brink of a new age of rage

Historians will tell you there is often a time-lag between the onset of economic disaster and the accumulation of social fury. In act one, the shock of a crisis initially triggers fearful disorientation; the rush for political saviours; instinctive responses of self-protection, but not the organised mobilisation of outrage. Act two is trickier. A breathing space gives room for a dangerously alienated public to take stock of the brutal interruption of their rising expectations. What happened to the march of income, the acquisition of property, the truism that the next generation will live better than the last? The full impact of the overthrow of these assumptions sinks in and engenders a sense of grievance that “Someone Else” must have engineered the common misfortune.

Posted by drewster @ 08:57 PM (2377 views)
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12 thoughts on “There is often a time-lag between economic disaster and social fury, writes Simon Schama

  • You can view the full FT article by searching via Google

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  • It seems outlandish to consider, but as a historian, I can see no reason why not – Apart from the Sheeple being too lazy to revolt…. Being unable to afford food would be an incredible motivator though, I imagine.

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  • We have certainly arrived at an event horizon for UK sovereign debt. Cuts or *horror of horrors* higher interest rates.

    I don’t see social unrest as especially far off in the UK. Around 1 in 4 under 25s is unemployed. That’s an awful lot of rightfully angry young people with not an awful lot to do during the day. Who know how much their ranks will swell by in the coming months.

    Lessons from history are that when you get large numbers of angry disenfranchised young folk with little to do other than protest, riots are never far behind. Look at Paris or even the ‘Summer of unrest’ which didn’t happen last year but will probably happen this year and next.

    recaptcha: Banks tumbler (first time. I’m not making it up)

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  • I for one am looking forward to it.

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  • the number cruncher says:

    When I feel the rage flow through my veins I need the wisdom of Kipling to realise its danger,

    “If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken. Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools”

    If…

    I am sure the populist right wingers will be will be salivating at their chance of power – beware your colleagues Mr Wadswoth…

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  • World cup will keep em docile for a bit….

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  • What tom101 says. Also, I don’t really think the British are predisposed to riots. We’re not like the Greeks or even the French. Maybe it’s just the grey British weather (in which case the forecast of a barbecue summer is worrisome), or maybe we’re secretly happy to be miserable, like Eeyore. Either way I don’t think there’s much risk of major social unrest in the UK.

    That said, there may well be local disturbances in deprived areas. Time to sell that buy-to-let terraced house in Burnley or Belfast.

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  • Lag?

    We’d have to have the economic disaster first. Unemployment is running at 2.51 million which is much better than in previous recessions. Our national debt as a % of GDP is lower than that of Germany and France and when we sell the banks, we’ll distance them further. Our economy has been growing for 8 consecutive months (including predicted April and May figures). Our new government has already mostly secured the goodwill of the people and the markets.

    As drewster says, we’re not given to rioting but even if we were, the UK has, on several occasions, experienced unemployment of over 3 million without coming close to mass rioting. By all means predict economic doom but we’ve to get there before we start citing ‘lags’ to explain the absence of riots

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  • Lives In A Cave says:

    Are the peasants revolting? No, of course they won’t. There are far too many creature comforts for today’s 1-in-4 uneployed young people. Hunger is simply not conceivable. 24hr supermarkets, X-box, Sky TV, Youtube. Its a zombie state today, wake up! Do you think the Pll Tax riots of 20 years ago would happen today? The sheeple have too many distractions. HD anyone? 3DTV anyone? Lotto anyone? Historical comparisons need to be taken in today’s context – Society has moved a lot more than society has realised and society doesn’t know what it is or what it stands for (13 years of Labour nanny state did that to us). Ditto the HPC; individually, we all roll over and take it, because we have to.

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  • Thebulltrap says:

    Agree with the World Cup – That’s the next excuse for a sluggish market no?

    Drewster, we are a docile bunch in general, but we did once have a civil war (Granted that was fought over religious and ideological principles…. but still). Grab your pikes boys, it’ll soon be time to march on parliament!

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  • Flashman,

    I agree. The article is more relevant to other countries. This doesn’t mean we’re spared though. Unrest in our trading partners has a negative economic impact on the UK since we’re more reliant on external trade than most. Consider the London-listed mining companies with operations in all corners of the world; or our banks with loans to unstable countries. It’s particularly bad for bondholders and shareholders – if Greeks or Thais are rioting, they can’t be working to pay interest or generate profits. In short, social unrest is bad news for rentiers. It’s worth considering if you have investments.

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