People have been shocked by the images of destruction and violence coming out of Great Britain in the past few days. But if they tracked the steady loss of freedom and the simultaneous rise in the number of Britons dependent on the largesse of the state over the past few years, they should not be surprised.
The Heritage Foundation’s annual Index of Economic Freedom documents a steady decline in U.K. scores since 2006. British freedom has been dragged down by heavy government spending. Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s deficits to fund Keynesian stimulus spending devalued the British pound, leading to a loss of monetary freedom, but did nothing to restore economic growth.
British property rights have suffered, too. The seemingly paralyzed U.K. government has grown so large and politically correct that it took five days and millions of dollars in property damage for authorities even to consider using water cannons. Meanwhile, shop owners were left with nothing but their fists to defend their property from the mobs. Tragically, in Birmingham two brothers and their friend died in the process.
Several commentators have made the connection between decades of statism in Great Britain and this horrific outcome. As Max Hastings noted, “years of liberal dogma have spawned a generation of amoral, uneducated, welfare dependent, brutalised youngsters.” And, as Theodore Dalrymple points out, a “population thinks (because it has often been told so by intellectuals and the political class) that it is entitled to a high standard of consumption, irrespective of its personal efforts; and therefore it regards the fact that it does not receive that high standard, by comparison with the rest of society, as a sign of injustice.”
Perhaps these riots will mark the turning point for Britain, and Prime Minister Cameron will now receive the political support he needs to make the deep cuts in government spending needed to turn around a once proud, but now decaying, society. One can only hope that the riots have the same beneficial political effect on the U.S. side of the Atlantic, too.