The riots that have wracked England in the last week should be a sober warning to the United States: This is what happens when a country breeds a generation of welfare dependents who are happy to bite the hand that feeds them. For days, roaming gangs of young people have engaged in looting, setting fires, intimidating citizens, even killing innocents.
Speaking to a special session of Parliament, Prime Minister David Cameron said, "This is not about poverty, it's about culture, a culture that glorifies violence, shows disrespect to authority, and says everything about rights but nothing about responsibilities."
Liberals in England and the United States have tried to explain the riots by pointing to the Tory government's proposed austerity plans. But it's not the cutbacks in social services that are the problem but the welfare state itself that has taught generations that society owed them a living; that the government -- not parents -- were responsible for raising children; that those who worked hard were either suckers or exploiters; that those who didn't work were entitled to the fruits of other people's labor.
Cameron pledged his government would "address our broken society, we will restore a stronger sense of morality and responsibility -- in every town, in every street and in every estate." But it's a tall order.
In many respects, Britain is in worse moral decline than the United States. About half of all children in the U.K. are born out of wedlock -- a number that has been growing rapidly in recent years. When the Labor Party took control in 1997, the out-of-wedlock birthrate was at 37 percent. It has grown about 1 percent per year ever since and will exceed half of all births in the next couple of years.
In the U.S., out-of-wedlock births are now at 41 percent of overall births, but there is tremendous variation in illegitimate births by race. Such births now are the norm in both the black (72 percent) and Latino (53 percent) communities, but less than a third of white births (29 percent) are illegitimate. In England, however, race accounts for less of the difference in births outside of marriage, with whites having higher illegitimacy rates than some immigrant groups, most notably South Asians.
More than a decade ago, the social scientist Charles Murray warned that the U.K. was fast developing an underclass similar to the one that plagued the U.S. in the 1960s and '70s. In the Sunday Times in 1996, Murray wrote, "Britain has a growing population of working-aged, healthy people who live in a different world from other Britons, who are raising their children to live in it, and whose values are now contaminating the life of entire neighborhoods -- which is one of the most insidious aspects of the phenomenon, for neighbors who don't share those values cannot isolate themselves."
Proof of the validity of Murray's thesis was evident on the streets of Tottenham, Manchester, Birmingham and other neighborhoods and cities this week. Thankfully, the U.S. has not yet succumbed totally to the lure of the welfare state. But the class-warfare rhetoric coming from the White House and liberals in Congress encourages the same kind of entitlement mentality that has infected the U.K.
It is not impossible to imagine an American future with a majority of children growing up in fatherless homes, dependent on government to provide for all of their needs, resentful of the rich and insistent on a larger share of wealth than they have earned. The phenomenon is rampant throughout Europe.
While the American people have, to date, eschewed fully embracing the welfare state, President Obama has tried his best to expand it under his tenure. The only thing that has stopped him has been a weak economy.
The riots in England should be a wake-up call, a reminder to Americans that their instincts in rejecting the welfare state are sound. But the only way to ensure that what has taken place in England and elsewhere in Europe won't happen here is to vote out of office those American politicians who embrace the welfare state.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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