What causes a riot in urban America?
The news media, social scientists, and political scientists are eager to offer up the usual stale left wing bromides on urban riots, but at best those bromides are based upon a lot of anecdotes rather than hard data. The plural of anecdote is not data. The disingenuousness of their bromides arises from the clash of facts with their committed leftist politics. Economists were far less political, at least 25 years ago.
A pair of economists working under the aegis of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) applied linear regression computation modeling to various community statistics from a broad range of cities to determine which underlying issues cause riots and, further, to determine their intensity. Their results are a real eye opener and run contrary to the drivel being peddled by the media and academics on this 50th anniversary of the Detroit riots.
The National Bureau of Economic Research is a private nonprofit research organization which distributes its work product to financial officials and the public around the world. NBER is best known as the official arbiter of the start and end dates of economic recessions in the United States, a not uncontroversial subject. Its economists have run the gamut from the good (Milton Friedman, Wassily Leontief), to the bad (Austan Goolsbee), to the ugly (Paul Krugman). As a fun side note, it is comforting to know that an economists’ organization as august as NBER can lose money on their financial portfolio. No crony capitalists there!
The NBER divides its research into 20 programs; one of which is ‘Labor Studies’. Denise DiPasquale and Edward L. Glaeser produced NBER Working Paper 5456, The L.A. Riot and the Economics of Urban Unrest on behalf of the NBER Labor Studies Program. This paper was written after the Los Angeles riots of 1992, but its research reaches back into the 1960’s and across the world to construct its data base.
The DiPasquale/Glaeser study has two major components: a cross-national study which covers urban rioting around the world (including the U.S.), and a cross-city study which covers urban rioting across just the U.S. They assembled data sets on a large number of cities which included dependent variables representing the frequency of riots and the intensity of riots, along with many independent variables suggested by previous studies as being responsible for the frequency and intensity of those riots – poverty, unemployment, ethnic composition, and so on.