I really dig this -- the author has a ton of background knowledge and looks at the possibility of violent collapse in the US in a non-doomer way. No hysteria, paranoia or cheerleading the apocalypse.
So what makes for non-violent outcomes to social crisis? And could we expect this to apply to a peak everything crisis in the United States? I don't have any firm answers and want to provoke a discussion more than anything else. But here are a few suggestions.
First, in most of the violent outcomes listed above, violence is not a matter of social banditry but is politically organized. In Croatia and Bosnia, politicians “played the ethnic card” in trying to secede from the union and recruited thugs to organize violence against both their political opponents and members of other ethnic groups. Though these groups recruited thousands of men, the desertion rate was astounding, according to John Mueller; most people, including young men, preferred to take their chances with their families than to fight. Ashutosh Varshney has a fascinating study of religious conflict in India, where he shows that cities with similar levels of religious division could have long histories of communal violence – or not. The crucial factor was politically motivated thuggery. Where politicians hired thugs to stir up communal violence, you had riots; where the politicians didn't feel compelled or able to do so, there was no such violence.
In cities, it makes sense to worry about rioting and looting in the event of food shortages. But again, Americans might recall their own experience. In the fuel crisis of 1975, when Arab countries cut oil supplies to the United States in retaliation for U.S. support for Israel in the 1974 war, we had enormous lines at gas stations and some theft (this was when we started worrying about whether our gas caps had locks, remember?), but very little violence beyond a fist fight or two at the pumps. Food riots could be more serious, but these are usually responses to specific events: the government announces a sudden price increase; a bakery closes its doors and rumors spread that the owner is hoarding food; and – always important – the police step in with force.
Most riots, in fact, start with police violence. Police conduct is key, even when people in the street start the violence. SWAT teams can do a lot of damage; they generally exacerbate violence when lots of people are involved. In Seattle, for example, the WTO protests only became “riots” when out-of-town, SWAT trained police crossed their own line in the sand and started lobbing tear gas in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. Young people enjoying life in that area's outdoor cafes, who had had no part in the protests, rose from their seats and started pelting the police with rocks and their own tear gas canisters. In New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, the hysterical news reports to the contrary, violence was almost wholly the work of white vigilantes inspired by those same reports to “defend” their communities against supposed looters.