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Sunday, May 03, 2015


Understanding Riots

Why do riots occur in one place and not another/  For one cause and not another?  What can be done to quell them?

From the Cato Institute

More than twenty years ago in the Cato Journal, distinguished law and economics scholars David Haddock and Daniel Polsby published a paper entitled “Understanding Riots” that’s still highly relevant in making sense of events like these. Employing familiar economic concepts such as opportunity cost, coordination problems, and free-rider issues, Haddock and Polsby help explain why riots cluster around sports wins as well as assassinations, funerals, and jury verdicts; the group psychology of rioting, and why most crowds never turn riotous; the important role of focal points (often lightly policed commercial areas) and rock-throwing “entrepreneurs” of disorder; the tenuous relationship between riots and root causes or contemporary grievances; and why when a riot occurs the police (at least those in places like the United States and United Kingdom) seldom manage to be in enough places at once, more or less by definition.

The H&P paper helps explain why so many of the memes of the past 24 hours are off base: the “protests turn violent” headlines (yesterday’s riots broke out in different places from where there had been demonstrations), the “Freddie Gray’s family is horrified” stories (irrelevant since this riot, like most, had little to do with sending any message of protest), and, of course, the “what about sports riots?” meme (yes, the riots yesterday have a lot in common with English soccer riots, and it’s important to understand why.) “Authorities looking for ways to explain why trouble has broken out on their watch sometimes ascribe exaggerated organizational powers to ‘outside agitators,

Here's the link to the paper.


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