Wimps Become Economists, Toughies Riot Police

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 2/03/2011 12:05:00 AM
In this day and age, let's just say economists have an image problem. Likely as a consequence of being cheap and selfish as a rule, economists are usually adjudged among the least attractive of academics. While their political perspectives vary, something that unites your Milton Friedman with your Paul Krugman is a certain wussiness that's difficult to transcend. That few economists predicted the global economic crisis--and indeed are culpable of to no small extent--does them no favours, either.

From a prototypically wussy profession, let's moved to a tougher one that actually requires brains as well as brawn. And, in keeping with the times, it's also become open to men and women. It is generally recognized that British police are the best in the world. But, an even more select cadre of British police are British riot police. While it too suffers from image problems, the main difference is that the ire directed towards them is usually the fallout from others' actions. The ironic thing that binds riot police to economists is that economic prescriptions protesters are displeased with are often the cause for riot police to be deployed. For instance, British students trashing parliament towards the end of last year--including quite a few LSE students, I know--had to be...calmed down. Ask the son of multimillionaire Pink Floyd frontman David Gilmour about becoming overexuberant.

While coming home from work the other day, I caught a very interesting article on the drills you must undertake to become a riot policeman in the Evening Standard. Let's say it doesn't involve inputting data into SAS or STATA or any such like. Rather, it involves reacting when folks start throwing stuff at you:
Every five weeks hundreds of police officers who have volunteered to join the Met's [Metropolitan Police] Territorial Support Group line up to face a barrage of petrol bombs, other missiles and verbal abuse from colleagues in order to prepare them for the real thing. Criticism of the Metropolitan Police's handling of recent demonstrations in the capital has been severe. But training for such duties is arduous and regular.

I joined officers in the group at the Met's public order training centre in Gravesend and, like them, donned riot gear weighing three and a half stone, grabbed a shield and prepared for action. The session began, as always, with the so-called shield run. Officers sprinted around a replica town centre in full riot gear and carrying a 5ft 6in shield. The 500-yard course had to be completed in under two minutes and 45 seconds.

Then training began in earnest. The men and women practised drills while facing a hail of flaming missiles. In tight formation the unit marched through the streets, clearing tight alleys and balconies like those of a typical London housing estate. Each officer had to stand firm as protesters hurled masonry, barriers and metal poles towards them.

Engulfed in flames and with bricks raining down on me, I could see nothing through the smoke. Glass shattered as petrol bombs hit my riot shield. I held my breath and closed my eyes, waiting for the choking fumes to disperse, eventually opening them to see a masked man sprinting towards me wielding another blazing bottle.

Someone behind bellowed the order: "Forward!" Reluctantly I raised my shield and headed towards the threat.
In an odd but real sense, the fates of economists and riot police are very much intertwined. In the larger scheme of things, though, the eggheads have far more potential to muck things up than the often reluctant enforcers. A petrol bomb for your thoughts, my dear?