Copeland: What societal problems have the London riots exposed?

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14 August, 2011
By: Daryl Copeland

Former diplomat; research fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute

One of the defining characteristics of globalization is its tendency to produce winners and losers by polarizing, economically, socially and politically, within and between nations.

The appearence of severe inequalities – in incomes, opportunities, and future prospects – after decades of generally narrowingun gaps, has been one of the most worrisome consequences. The triumph of neoliberalism has social democracy on the run most everywhere, and not least in Canada.

For the past several years I have spent  about a month a year teaching at the London Academy of Diplomacy. During those very pleasant interludes, it has struck me that London has become a world city primus inter pares, a cosmopolitan global crossroads and network node for business, finance, culture and education.

There is really no place quite like it, and these features make the rioting there and in other UK cities all the more disturbing.

For those who are in a position to benefit from it’s status as a world city,  London presents vast possibilities and is a wonderful place to live and work.

For those stuck on the bottom, disenfranchised and alienated, with little to lose and less to look forward to, desperate measures hold considerable appeal. On the surface it may appear as thuggery and criminality, but those were not merchant bankers or international financiers in the streets.

It was mainly the underclass, and at a more profound level, the violence may also be interpreted as a response to growing distributive injustice and a failure of political vision.

In combination with the market meltdown, near complete political dysfunction in the USA, and the extreme vulnerability of the highly centralized systems upon which globalization depends,  we are entering uncharted territory.

We may also be sitting on a powderkeg, with the disturbances in the UK symptomatic only of the fuse igniting.

If that observation is even close to the mark, then things may actually get worse, and possibly very much so.

Something has to give.

A radical course correction seems essential… if it is not already too late.

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