Explaining Southern California's economy

I predict a riot: Economists who studied the L.A. unrest made some troubling discoveries

LA Riots Collages

Mae Ryan/KPCC with archival photo by Gary Leonard

A fire blazes at 165 S. Vermont St. in Koreatown on April 29th, 1992. Did ethnic diversity and high unemployment cause the L.A. riots?

It's the 20th anniversary of the L.A. riots and here at KPCC we've been digging deep into the legacy of those bad days for the city. But it's also the 16th anniversary of just about the only serious economics paper I can find on why the riots might have happened. 

"The Los Angeles Riots and the Economics of Urban Unrest" was published in 1996 by Denise DiPasquale, then at the University of Chicago, and Edward Glaeser at Harvard. As far as I can tell — and I made a number of unsuccessful attempts to contact both authors — DiPasquale now runs an outfit called City Research. Glaeser, meanwhile, has become a pretty well-known economist, particularly for his work on urban economics. 

In 1996, the L.A. riots were fresh in the minds of most Americans, who had watched the chaos unfold in real time on T.V. after the Rodney King verdict was announced. Trying to figure out why the riots might have happened was important, especially because, as DiPasquale and Glaeser note in their paper, the country hadn't endured a large-scale riot since Miami in 1980. But the authors' conclusions were, and still are, controversial.