Will the London riots start again? Game theory says that it’s very unlikely.
Riots only start spontaneously when there is a trigger to bring people together on the streets. There is almost no chance of that happening again in London this year. But could a group of provocateurs instigate a riot? And if they can what circumstances do they need?
We will look at a situation where there are a group of people who would like to start a riot, perhaps because they want to cause problems for the government. There are three factors they need to be able to start a riot:
1: A co-ordinated group of provocateurs
The group trying to start a riot have a problem because they have to be able to co-ordinate their behavior. It is in the interest of each individual to stay out of the riot and rely on the others to start the riot, this is the safer option for each individual. Of course, if everyone stays out then the riot never starts.
They need to co-ordinate their behavior so that they all start the riot and don’t leave it to other members of the group.
2: A tense situation
They also need a situation where there are enough other people who will get involved in a riot once they have started it. For this to happen the cost of rioting for those people who might get involved needs to only be a little bit higher than the benefit they might gain. Once the numbers in the riot start to grow the cost will come down below the gain and they will join in (for more on this idea, see yesterday’s post). If the cost is well above the gain then provocateurs starting a small riot will not lower the cost enough for others to get involved.
There needs to be a tense situation where others are already agitated for the crowd to tip into a riot.
3: A weak police response
The third factor that the provocateurs need is the expectation of a weak police response. If there is an immediate and strong police response then there will not be time for a small riot to develop into a larger one and the risk to anyone joining the riot is too great.
No more riots in London this year (hopefully)
Could an anti-government group meet the three conditions above to be able to start riots again?
They can control their own behavior so they should be able to co-ordinate amongst themselves to start trouble.
There will still be tension in the communities affected but as time goes on this will diminish, so there may be others that want to get involved.
The big factor that will prevent a small group starting trouble is the expectation of a strong police response. There have been a large number of prosecutions as a result of the riots and it is very clear that there would be a very fast and very strong police response to any more trouble.
The threat of a strong police response will stop the riots being restarted by a small group of troublemakers.