Britain, of course, is the original home of the free market. As the first country to industrialize, and to have an enormous comparative advantage, it inevitably adopted laissez- faire policies in the mid-19th century. The harsh effect this had on the working classes and the poor was gradually softened by such Victorian institutions as compulsory education, trade unions and social-service societies. The political and economic catastrophes of the first half of the 20th century buried the idea of the self-regulating market; and a new national consensus was built around the welfare state after World War II.
This all changed starting in the 1980s as successive British governments, Labour as well as Conservative, struggled with high inflation, falling industrial productivity and conflict. The illusion that the nation could be saved only through immersion in a self-stabilizing market economy hardened into a revolutionary ideology, embraced by both major parties, that has shaped today’s Britain.
In that sense, if Tony Blair and David Cameron are “sons of Thatcher,” as the journalist Simon Jenkins puts it, the rioters of today are the grandchildren.