IT was disquieting to watch the riots in London. It is even more unsettling to think that violent social unrest is occurring all across Europe and North Africa. Most upsetting of all is the inability to predict it.
HISTORY shows that social upheaval often occurs after a significant economic crisis. The economic ruin of World War I helped start various revolutions, even in Finland. The Great Depression was followed by leftist riots in some countries and a rightist coup attempt – the Mäntsälä incident – in Finland.
MUCH of the social unrest we have seen over the past year is also down to money. Youths in Arab nations are despairing over soaring food prices, crippling unemployment and rampant corruption. In Spain, the Indignant are furious over their inability to find a job. In Greece, people are rioting over drastically shrinking disposable income as taxes soar and wages are cut. In the UK, youths first rioted over the costs of education and more recently rioted out of greed, apparently.
HUMANS being what they are, various methods have been tried to predict social unrest. Since many rioters are youths, researchers and economists often use measures such as youth unemployment, income growth and the gap between rich and poor.
THESE are interesting measures, but they have failed to reliably predict future unrest. One, the “Shoe-Thrower’s Index” developed by the Economist, had Saudi Arabia 40% more unsettled than Bahrain. Bahrain had its share of unrest, but Saudi Arabia has not (so far, at least). Interestingly, another had Finland’s social unrest index increasing twice as fast as the global average the past several years.
BUT Finland has a very safe and secure society. After all, the aforementioned-index has Finland as the fifth safest society in the world, nestled happily between Sweden and Switzerland. Which was the country with the most stable society? Norway.
ONCE upon a time I heard that Finland had a society that wouldn’t allow a suicide bomber, until we had a suicide bomber. Then I heard that Finland would never have a mass-murder event, until we had several of them in schools. Now I’m hearing we could never have a Norway-style politically motivated mass-murder event, even though we have a manifesto similar to the Norwegian’s being passed around the bowels of the internet.
I have the troubling impression that many politicians and academics are still under the delusion that “it can’t happen here”. MPs, in a desire to pretend they are doing something for a worried electorate, offer solutions such as making it harder to possess a firearm and limiting free speech on the internet. Forgive me for being unimpressed.
IT can happen here. In fact, it is happening here. If we want the survival of this welfare state, this state that has helped us to have one of the world’s most safe and stable societies, it is time to address the fundamental economic problems. If the economic situation gets worse, so will social unrest.
If the economic situation gets worse, so will social unrest.
Societal Innovation is about how new ways of organising for an uncertain future and may offer insights into how our economies, our education systems, our work, our society may be in the years ahead. It is about finding opportunities about how we might meet the challenges of the future.