Following the outbreak of serious riots on the streets of Baltimore, I wrote a post yesterday at Cato:
…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.
I conclude that pundits and the news media are continuing to get the story wrong about riots like those in Baltimore, and link to the Haddock and Polsby article itself. The post is here.
P.S.: This is neat: Jack Shafer at Politico takes and runs with some of the paper’s analysis about prevention strategies and the spread of information about riot locations. And Jesse Walker looks further at the role of “outside agitators.”