Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Respect

One thing you can't fault the Norwegians for is their sense of community. People in Norway grow up, live, and die in the same towns and neighborhoods. They may leave for a few years, returning with a husband or wife in tow, but they do return. Sure, it makes them xenophobic, insular, a bit conservative, but it also lies at the root of their extensive network of social support and the dedication of their oil wealth to the people, rather than to private profits. Norwegians feel a need to help their neighbors, and by extension their fellow countrymen. Health care in Norway may not be the greatest, but its definately there... from your local doctor to the neighborhood legevakt (walk-in clinic) up to the regional hospital. Crime really is low, and community care is present for the sick, elderly, and those with mental health problems or drug addiction.

In England, the Blair government has been on a seven year spree of dismantling communities in favor of centralization. The police forces are being centralized, the hospitals have been centralized, education has been removed from local control, and large retail corporations have been favoured at the expense of small local business. As communities have broken down and the crime rate jumped, Blairs response has been to boost law enforcement, rather than try to rebuild the institutions that support the community. The result has been new laws, new punishments, and fewer civil liberties. Now we have 'Respect'... Blairs latest response to increased petty crime.... a hodge podge of police quick-fixes (more Asbos, parenting orders, and summary convictions) with a dash of short-term, underfunded programs that will be de-funded and forgotten by the end of the year. No attempt to tackle the root causes of antisocial behavior, and an explicit rejection of poverty (which is increasing in England) as an underlying cause. An outside observer can't help but wonder if this is a 'get-tough-on-crime' attempt to boost popularity, rather than a serious attempt to deal with community problems. Perhaps someone should remind Tony that 'Respect' is something he still has to earn?