In the 23 December 2020 issue of The Spectator, a London-based journal devoted to politics and culture, Peter Coclanis, an economic historian who serves as an academic adviser to The Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization (AHI), explores “The Long Legacy of Looting” in his native Chicago. Observers of rioting can rest assured of one thing, Professor Coclanis declares at the outset of his piece, “looting has few winners and many losers.”
Coclanis looks back to the rioting he witnessed in Chicago as the son of a tavern owner on Chicago’s working-class West Side. Although his father’s establishment emerged relatively unscathed from the rioting that shook the city in the aftermath of the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968, neighboring areas were burned to the ground. Today, the area where Coclanis used to live has become a watchword for urban blight. His neighborhood never recovered from the rioting of 1968 as the violence speeded up the flight of capital from the area.
In the thinking about the urban violence of 2020, Coclanis warns that what feels good to rioters at one moment may well have dire consequences for them down the road: “Some looter may have gotten himself a pair of shades last spring, but now his baby sister won’t be getting any infant formula because the Arab convenience store is gone. Another got some kicks, but his brother won’t be getting any amoxicillin for that ear infection and his mother her insulin because the Walgreens was looted and burned down.” As legendary banker Walter Wriston pointed out long ago, “Capital goes where it is welcome and stays where it is well treated.”
Dr. Coclanis is Albert Ray Newsome Distinguished Professor and Director, Global Research Institute at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.