It takes great originality and imagination to derive comfort from the rapid rise of crime and social disorder in Britain, but somehow The Economist—a journal not usually associated with those particular qualities—manages to do so. Dr. Pangloss was a stern realist by comparison.
The Economist freely admits that British youth is the worst behaved and most antisocial in Europe. It is worse educated, drinks more alcohol, takes more drugs, commits more crime, and has more children out of wedlock than any of its continental counterparts. You might think that there is not much room for consolation there.
But wait, says The Economist: the disorder is not confined to one section of the population or to one social class—after all, the Queen’s grandchild, recently caught smoking dope, seems drawn to the same amusements as the semi-literate child of a single mother in the slums. Therein lies the ground for The Economist’s optimism: Britain’s notorious class system is at last breaking down. Soon everyone will be enfolded in the warm embrace of popular culture. The actual content of that culture does not matter: what matters is that everyone should share it. Equality is the measure of all things, and bad behavior is less bad if everyone indulges in it.
The Economist’s willful blindness to what is happening in its country of publication is typical of British middle-class reluctance to see things as they are. The magazine rejoices that “Social superiors and authority figures who once commanded automatic deference now have to earn it”—as if the young people who stole 700,000 cell phones last year from people in the street were political philosophers rather than unscrupulous thieves, whose existence in such large numbers made life a torment for millions of people.
The Economist’s almost unbelievable smugness is perfectly captured in its conclusion. The idea that young people demand that authority now be earned rather than merely ascribed, it says, is a good thing: unless you are “an old woman on an inner-city estate or a teacher in a sink school.” Not only does this imply that the ignorant muggers of old ladies have the right to decide who is and who is not an authority worthy of respect, but it frivolously dismisses the sufferings of the 30 percent of the British population that lives on such estates, the violence and disorder of which is now spilling out into more orderly parts of the country. Street crime in Central London, for example, is out of control. There is more crime now in London than in New York during its worst period: but still the British intelligentsia takes no notice of it.
There is only one hope left for Britain: that some of the senior staff of The Economist (and other, similar publications) should be robbed, mugged, burgled, and assaulted, preferably several times. Only then might they wake up to what is happening on their doorstep, and to the real meaning of the breakdown of authority.