If a group of local children were playing truant from school and hanging around on a street corner, people in deprived areas would be less likely to feel that people would do something about it than those in more affluent areas.
What New Labour doesn’t ask is: why is this?
Here’s my theory – it’s to do with power.
What people in deprived areas are deprived of is not (merely) money; in any historic or global perspective, the average tenant in such areas is amazingly prosperous.
Instead, what they lack is a feeling of power. From childhood, through schooling and into meaningless jobs, the poor learn that they have little ability to control or improve their own lives. This leads them to tolerate bad behaviour and littered environments in a way that richer people – who have a (possibly inflated) sense of their power – do not. They just feel that they don’t have the power to change things.
Worse still, if people think they lack control over their lives, they will naturally behave badly – because what is the advantage in doing otherwise?
Could it be, then, that one solution to the problem of anti-social behaviour is to give power to the poor, ideally from an early age. If you bring democracy into workplaces, estates and even schools, people will get the impression that they can change things. This will give a sense of empowerment that will encourage people to intervene to counteract anti-social behaviour. The advantage of democracy - proper democracy, not an occasional choice between identical managerialists - is that it, eventually, changes the culture for the better.
Alexis de Tocqueville made just this point. The great benefit of democracy, he said, is that it (in the long-run) creates a civic spirit, and an active interest in improving one’s community:
Civic spirit is inseperable from the exercise of political rights…How is it that in the United States…that each man is as interested in the affairs of his township, of his canton, and of the whole state, as he is of his own affairs? It is because each man in his sphere takes an active part in the government of society…Democracy does not provide people with the most skilful of governments, but it does that which the most skilful government often cannot do; it spreads throughout the body social a restless activity, a superabundant force, and energy never found elsewhere, which, however little favoured by circumstance, can do wonders. (Democracy in America Ch 6.)
Sure, I’m not saying this is the only solution. But it’s one that the managerialists are overlooking.