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Theodore Dalrymple
Sloppy Riot Thinking « Back to Story

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Dear Graham,
you see, the bankers should know better the rules of the finance markets than their customers, because that is why they are paid for. That is their goddamn job. If the mutual agreement of the customer and the banker turns out to be a disaster, then of course the banker is to blame. For some reason in some Eastern European countries bankers encouraged their debtors to indebt in swiss francs, whis lead to them now paying twice as much as the original monthly payment. In other countries bankers were more sane and didnt offer this kind of swiss frank loan.
I think the comparison between looters and bankers is unfair to the looters myself.

This piece has at its heart a flaw, evident in this passage:
But if you were to ask me which I should prefer—to live through a recession whose human cause was diffuse and imperfectly clear, or to have my house looted or burned down by a mob of young people—I know what I would answer.

Dalrymple's description of the recession is laughably euphemistic. I think what we are seeing in the riots is quite understandable civil unrest and rage.

I'm no fan of thug life and thug culture, far from it. But Dalrymple is wearing blinders if he can't understand the banks role in a massive looting of society and personal wealth. And if my house was being burned and looted I could run. I actually have fire insurance.

There's no insurance to excessive deflation in real estate market value instigated by bankers dishonesty, and let's be real, that was rampant. The profiteers are living high, and most are seeing their futures shrivel before them.

The banking/industrial complex is responsible. Buying a home is an act of faith in a country's economy. The banks destroyed the economy on both sides of the Atlantic. When people take out a mortgage, they are told that the bank will not loan them money greater than the value of the property.

The fact that people trusted their country's ability to regulate an industry that was in fact acting like looters does not make those people complicity in what happened. It only shows that the financial system and the country were unworthy of those who put their faith in those institutions. Hence the riots.
References to white collar crimes are not going to cut it as criticism of the author's point.

A white collar crime is only such if it IS a crime, ie breaks the law.

A substantial majority of commenters in the UK and elsewhere are making no distinction between that and, say, just getting a large annual bonus or making foolish lending decisions. Foolish lending decision in which, the author is unusual to point out, the government regulators and the borrowing public were wholly complicit. These latter groups made the same mistaken assumptions and sought to benefit from them the same way.

That they now call for bankers' heads and decline to offer up their own is a degree of hypocrisy that itself should be criminalized.

I do not want to hear one bankrupt home mortgage holder complain that some evil banker forced him to borrow.
To me, the sloppy thinking consists of:

1. Thinking that the crimes of the rich directly cause the crimes of the poor. I am not going to defend bankers, I wish more were in jail honestly, but one thing has nothing to do with the other. It is not as if your average looter had any significant information about the current economic situation or the financial crisis. Maybe he or she had a vague feeling of persecution, but it's not like they were all out there reading the Economist.

2. That feelings of anger "must" be vented, that anger is a finite substance like nuclear waste that absolutely has to go somewhere. If there is injustice, apparently someone has to suffer because anger can't be dealt with internally or constructively, it builds up, you know, and "has" to explode.

3. That it is OK to react violently and criminally to unfairness (real or perceived).

4. That poor people are nothing more than automata that can't take responsibility for or choose their actions. If a banker is dishonest, then a poor(er) person apparently just reacts mindlessly, like a dog that is given an electric shock. The subtext is, you can't blame the poor person for what they do, or hold them accountable for their actions, because they don't have minds of their own or agency or the ability to make choices.

I find these attitudes troubling. If we all go around reacting to unfairness, we're going to live in a miserable world in which might will make right and thugs or warlords will own everything. Life is unfair, but we have to choose whether to react constructively or destructively.
Bastiat wrote that there is no greater evil than the conversion of the law into an instrument of plunder.

I can understand the good doctor's commitment to respect for the law, but sadly we don't have 'law' anymore. What we have now is a great ficticious instrument by which everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone else.

To top that, the life of every citizen of the EU is governed by over a million of different local, national and international laws, totally impossible to enforce at all times. Respect for the law is only possible when the laws are few and well written. Having over a million laws is the same as having over a billion laws which, for the individual suffering under them, is basically the same as having no law at all.

London just found out what that is like.

In my opinion there is no difference between plunder as such and legalised plunder. Both should be condemned and I am dissapointed to see Dalrymple defending the conduct of certain bankers on a legal technicality.

Then again, Bastiat also wore that there is a strong disposition in all of us to believe that anything lawful is also legitimate. That this belief is so widespread that many persons have eroneously think that things are just because the law makes them so.

Bankers, MP's, journalists, the police and all other fine pillars of the community may not all be corrupt, although some undoubtedly are, and may not all have broken the law, but many of them have certainly broken the spirit of the law. We also have 3 wars going on for no good reason. What can we expect with such immoral leadership?
I'm sadly disappointed Mr. Daniels. I have recently been introduced to your writings and have become something of a fan. I am sympathetic to your views and especially appreciate those insights that can only be gained by the real life experiences you have had in your work.

However I can't disagree more. You really need to dig deeper into the workings of the financial industry over the last couple decades. You really need to reconsider the magnitude of damage of these white-collar crimes. This is where I feel you are most wrong. The damage is immense.
There is so much to say I'm not sure where to begin - the recent revelation of SEC wholesale destruction of evidence, or Moody's whistleblower are just the latest. I'll leave it as this: Your characterization is just not correct.

I hope that in your reconsideration you will damn all wrong doing with Just measure.
Thank you very much.

More on this point than on any other, the Daily Telegraph reader comments have become almost unbearably stupid and thoughtless. Thank you in particular for noting, for the benefit of the American audience as well, that improvident lending is the fault not only of the lender. Few things are more insufferable than to listen to someone whining that they have taken on too much debt and it is all the lenders' fault.
Very interesting points. Thanks!

My blog:
rachat pr¨ºts rachat de credit
Focus on young hooligans rioting is facile and lazy. It is so open. Why your fixation on the foibles of the poor? Why are there so many red herrings in the media to distract attention from the corruption, greed, selfishness, thievery, etc. of the "elite?" Maybe because it is more sly, covert, sneaky, complex and underhanded and so takes more work to uncover?
Mr D. writes: "You can lead a man to a loan, but you can’t make him borrow".

Well, you can dupe financially illiterate people into taking a sub-prime lone whose terms the person in question does not understand. The person will be unable to repay the loan. If it's a mortgage loan, the person's home will be reposessed and the person may end up homeless.

The procedure is less brutal than looting and arson, but the result is not much different. I do not find people who sold sub-prime loans any better than looters.

Having said that, I join Mr D in his condemnation of the rioters. It was not the crooked bankers who lost their homes and livelihoods in the riots, but ordinary hard-working people. And the looters seem to be really greedy, cruel, immature and irresponsible. They were not motivated by any lofty ideals, but by the same greed that is the root of the whole financial crisis.
Dear Mary,
ok, then instead of the word "crime" let's use the word "serous moral defect". This would be a way of thinking that is not aware of the destructive consequences of one's actions. Both the looters and the bankers had a serious moral defect, did things that a sane person (=not a total egoist) would not do.
If anyone missed it, the cartoon linked to by Henry Barth says it all. Here it is again, for convenience:

This article, too, makes a valid point.

To compare the depredations of bankers to the London looting is by no means to forgive or condone the looting. One merely wonders at a political and media establishment that makes such a meal of one person's mote, while managing utterly to ignore another person's beam. And perhaps one wonders why an activity that does a little harm is illegal, while a much more harmful one if quite legal and carries high prestige.

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
My compliments to the headline writer.
Dr. Dalrymple's error is implicit in the second paragraph - the assumption that comparisons should made be on an objective and evenhanded basis. The rioters and their defenders will not trouble themselves with such constraints. There are those, the apologists for the rioters will insist, to whom one standard of behavior should apply and a different group to whom a different, harsher, prejudicial standard should apply. All else follows from that view.
"Are pre-2008 bankers the moral equivalents of British looters?"

Recalling AD 325 in Nikaea:

Homoousios? Almost certainly not.
Homioousios? In many cases, quite likely, I think.

Regarding 'legal' vs. 'illegal', it's worth noting that, at least here in the US, the top-dogs in the financial world move seamlessly between Wall St., K Street, and Pennsylvania Avenue. Thus, they're very instrumental in making the laws by which they operate. The foxes rule the hen-house.

(Do I have to add that this is no apology for the destruction of the looters. Both they and the culpable bankers are greedy; the looters expressed their greed in a more violent -- and less global -- way.)
Alexander Grimburger August 17, 2011 at 4:02 AM
It is not constructive indeed, and ill-advised at best, to draw parallels between looters and pre-2008 bankers. That having been said, there were quite a number of bankers and other types of financiers that broke laws and ruined lives.
As Gretchen Morgenson ably illustrates in her book (Reckles$ Endangerment, they have not been prosecuted, sometimes even been promoted.
It is perhaps unwise but irresistable to link this observation to the fact that the Camerons of this world are more befriended with bankers than with looters. Indeed, it might also explain why there are already new laws against main street thugs while we are still waiting for new sharking laws!
I totally agree with Dalyrimple. These lower class looters have destroyed the world's economy through their actions, and now none of them are going to go to prison because of their incestuous relationships with legislators. Now I'm going to write a whole book about it and publish it with an obscure press.
Apologist for white-collar crime?


Are you overlooking the trivial point that he was defending those who had commited no crime?
The changing of the conversation is a typical leftist response any time they are uncomfortable with a topic. If ones talks about, for example, the utter failure of Obama's economic policies, the response is usually a sentence with the word "Bush" in it, followed by emotional invective. Anything to avoid the topic at hand.

Well, for the great brainwashed this is the only way to respond when some fact threatens to upset with their insane worldview.
Tom Welsh has a good point - just as liberal intellectuals shouldn't be apologists for the crimes of lower classes, so Mr. Dalrymple shouldn't be an apologist of white collar crime, just because it is not as apparent and doesn't seem so bad. The destructive behaviour of bankers may cause far more trouble, only it is not so apparent, as in the case of the black riots. Good author o the subject: Arno Gruen.
Unfortunately "thinking clearly" is in short supply while making excuses for all sorts of bad behavior and shortcomings is all too abundant. Of course, there is no excuse for the behavior of London rioters - even if all the bankers in town were complicit in the crash of 2008. Another old adage, "Two wrongs don't make a right." is, unfortunately, another easily disregarded adage.
The bankers probably did brake laws, in case their customers have a right not to be mislead (by presenting them junk bonds as secure and lucrative investments, for example.)
Could it be the barbarians that brought down Rome were inside the gates all along? When mob rule is explained and temporized in here to fore respected venues of opinion one can draw no other conclusion than this: the barbarians are indeed inside the gates in England.
I'm betting all the rioters also litter.

It seems to me that those described in Dr D's latest book, 'Litter', are one and the same.
I won't make excuses for crass low class behaviors on the bankers. That is not even comparing apples to apples. That is like saying: I'm mad that I have to pay an electric bill so let me steal from the neighbor across the alley. Yeah that makes sense you limey morons: you are mad at the bankers so ruin all the shops that provide valued services and make the neighborhood stellar. And ONLY COWARDS inflict damage on the innocent instead of themselves.
Great Article as usual. Only the dumbed down press took this lightly. Everyone else was disgusted with these idiots, and horrified for the people whose businesses were savagely burned to the ground or looted. In this country, this behavior would not happen. Owners would fight back with guns, tasers, baseball bats, anything they can get their hands on.
I had thought from much I had read in condemnation of bankers that it was not 'just' that they had made serious errors of judgement in doing something otherwise legal but that they had shamelessly continued to profit through bonuses and pensions even as the GFC took hold and millions suffered. i.e. they were as shameless in their conduct as the looters. And, of course, their legal activity was only legel because successive governments had argued that the removal of restraints and controls would lead to an economic boom that would trickle down to us all. And, of course, a swathe of the largest Christian church is discredited by half a century (at least) of presiding over the rape and torment of children in its care and politicians who lecture us on morality are milking their expense accounts without a blush. I am as appalled and disgusted by the looters as the author and share many of his opninions but it does not help his case to mis-represent.
He has a point. A good one?
City Journal draws on select panel of erudite and informed journalists and commentaters. To make sense of so many erupting crisies we need clarification and wise judgements in order not to be overwhelmed by a fast changing world.
I just watched a youtube video of a group of African American youth looting a 7 Eleven. It was taken from the security cameras and involved at least 20 to 30 people who simply went in and took what they wanted. It was in Montgomery County, Maryland; one of the wealthier counties just above DC and supposed with the best public schools in the state (translation, very high property taxes). The description said the store manager tripped a silent alarm to notify the police; but the police waited until the 'teens' left before they entered the store. Similarly, there was no investigation, nor further action by the police, who called it a 'shop lifting' incident.

This is where we are and God knows where we are going. Thank the author of this article for some clarity; we don't seem to get it from our leaders.

"We have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men." George Orwell

You say that the rioters broke the law, while the bankers did not. That is moot - to a great extent, especially in difficult financial matters, the law nowadays is what political nominees say it is. Was Jean-Charles de Menezes murdered? Common sense says he was: otherwise, how did an innocent man going about his lawful business get shot a dozen times at point-blank range? Yet the authorities assured us no crime had taken place; nor, indeed, could the possibility even be considered. Moreover, if what the bankers did was immoral and harmful to the nation, why was it not illegal? Obviously because our government failed to regulate banking properly.

Next, you say that if the bankers were guilty, so were "the people" and the government. Again, the finger points at government for not regulating the complex machinery of modern capitalism properly. One begins to wonder if that is even possible. If not, then perhaps capitalism isn't quite as wonderful as it has been made out to be; maybe it is a sort of cultural Titanic. If regulation is possible, then don't we have a series of incompetent governments to blame? Yet where are we to find a competent one? Not at a general election, that's for sure.

You refer to the "rawness" of the injury. But I am more concerned about its sheer size. The bankers have cost this nation thousands, maybe millions, of times more than the rioters did. Like so many boiling frogs, every single British taxpayer (and their dependents and heirs) will have their standard of living substantially reduced for decades to come. Yet apparently no one is at fault.

Lastly, you deplore the possibility that some of the rioters may feel justified in their actions. But what of the bankers and politicians? Not a single one has admitted any fault, and I don't suppose one ever will.

I think you have got matters exactly the wrong way round. The problem, in the eyes of most of us, is precisely that what the bankers did was not against the law - but it should have been! We see everyday crime punished harshly, while men in fine clothes get away scot free after heists that make the Great Train Robbery shrink into microscopic insignificance. The inference is glaringly obvious: our society is unfair, and the people running it are either hopeless incompetents or malicious rogues. In the immortal words of Mark Twain, "Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on or by imbeciles who really mean it". Neither is cause for much rejoicing.
Spot On. The journalism concerned amounts to a consoling patronizing for the rioters.





As someone living in London only a short distance from where some of the riots took place and who has read the commentators Theodore Dalrymple refers to I feel he has (for once - as I usually greatly enjoy his writing) misunderstood the point being made by them. The issue is not whether one action is legal and another not, or even which one gives the most unpleasant experience to the victim. The point is the motivation of the rioters - the shallow materialism demonstrated in their justifications when challenged - appears very similar to that shown by many of the bankers earning large bonuses in the City here.
I don't see anything less tragic as a consequence of the bankers actions either. The people are reacting in the only way left for them to react when they have lost everything to those that the system has protected. When the rule of law fails the citizens the citizens operate outside of the law. Neither side wins.
I find it surprising that most of the comments I have read show no sign of having read or understood what Dr. Dalrymple is saying.

He does not suggest that recklessness, on the part of bankers or anyone else, is blameless. He nowhere excused or palliated their behaviour. His argument is based on the undeniable truth that one thing is one thing, and another another. Criminality is not the same as stupidity. Still less does he, here or elsewhere, suggest that "because something is legal, it therefore requires no moral consideration."

Reading the text is the basic activity froom which, at least for the sane, all criticism must start.
Et Satan conduit le bal!
You are not, I think, giving enough weight to the loss of legitimacy evident in the incompetent, self-serving behavior of the financial elite and the failure of the political elite to hold them, and themselves, responsible.
A lesson on sloppy thinking that includes the idea that because something is legal, it therefore requires no moral consideration.
"For these pundits, the looters only did retail what the bankers did wholesale."

Bankers are part of government. So are the educators. Both groups thrieve on power and want to increase their power if possible.

Most citizens follow powerful people. They get the information that powerful people give to the commentators and journalists.

Supposedly each of us citizens are responsible for our self. But just how easy is that when we have been educated and indoctrinated by the power seekers to follow the powerful people of our society?

I argee: "the looters only did retail what the bankers did wholesale."

They would have done more if they had the same resources that are available to powerful people.

Unfortunately, the doctor doesnt name the slobbish pundits of Daily Mail and the Spectator. They deserve condign ostracism for such stupid and lazy stuff as Dalrymple suggests they wrote. That is indeed a bad sign. I would expect it from many columnists in the US familiar to us from the newspapers and weeklies, naming no names myself, but I havent yet read such guff locally.
"If the bankers are guilty, so are the people and, even more, the government."

To which I say, with at least much as logic, if the people are guilty, so is the government, and even more, the bankers. Mr. Dalrymple, perhaps you can get a mortgage banker to loan you a sense of perspective.
I feel we are very rapidly approaching the time when term "intelligentsia" is now consodered a pejorative..n'est-ce pas?
Glen M. Wilkerson August 15, 2011 at 9:49 PM
Thank you for this and other thoughtful articles. When I read your article I am reminded of a conversation with a distinguished lawyer and Claims person with large Ins. company. This man was true gentleman. He grew up around 1930's in backwoods of Tenn. He stated that he would walk 3 / 4 miles at night on dark roads in an area which was mixed racially. 100% safe. I grew up on lower middle class neighborhood in Texas. No doors were locked. Few thoughts of insecurity. This "riots" challenge PC thinking on all part of cultural and political spectrum. Glen M. Wilkerson
Well, TD has finally misplaced the last bit of his own providence when he whines that the legalized grand larceny of the banks and investment houses is just boys being boys, compared to the violent riots in Britain. Both are scandalous and deserving of swift and definitive action, but only one gets that action. Both rob the public of security and property, but only the disenfranchised are accountable.

Slavery and child labor were also legal, Mr. Dalrymple. I suppose you would have excused those evils as well.
". . . it is not encouraging that journalists—important members of the intelligentsia—. . . "

It's been a long time since one could say journalists are members of the intelligentsia.