An Armed Crowd is a Polite Crowd.

datePosted on 17:51, April 2nd, 2010 by Pablo

I heard this phrase when living on a ranch on the Arizona-Mexico border in the early 1990s. It was prompted by my asking a bartender at a local saloon if she felt threatened by the crowd of drunken, armed cowboys in the establishment one evening.  In that environment, it made perfect sense (in fact, Arizona has just legislated that a person can carry a concealed firearm without a permit, loosening the laws in force during my time in the state which allowed for the open carrying of firearms without a permit but which required a concealed weapons permit). In fact, on repeated visits to that watering hole I never once saw anyone raise their voice in serious anger.

I mention this because statistics have recently been released that show that the incidence of violent crime in NZ has increased exponentially in the last five years. That has led to the National government talking about “getting tough” on crime along the lines frequently barked by its ACT closet authoritarian partners.

But what does it mean to “get tough” on crime? More incarcerations? Longer sentences? More arrests? More convictions? More confiscations of property? More severe punishments? Reinstitution of the death penalty for heinous crimes? More tasering? Arming the community constables? Expanding the armed offenders squads? Increasing liquor bans in public places?  Having the police using more armed force when dealing with crowd control, gang and other collective disturbances? Increasing youth sentences?

I mention this because “getting tough” on crime, at least when phrased in the above terms, does not address the causal mechanisms behind the upsurge in violent crime (which I agree has increased and now become a serious pathology in NZ civil society). One can seek explanations for causes in many places: exposure to media-provided violence at a young age, dysfunctional familities, bullying culture, the pervasive influence of alcohol, the long-standing tradition of civil disobedience and passive resistance practiced by some communities and individuals, now taken to new extremes, the degeneration of popular and civic culture into venal self-absorption–the list of possible causes is long.  But what does “getting tough” have to do with any of these possible causes? Unless a more draconian criminal system is seen as a deterrent to violent crime (and there is much dispute about the deterrent value of things such as capital punishment), how exactly is “getting tough” on crime going to solve the problem?

I must confess to being of two minds, because as an immigrant from the US I have always felt that punishment for serious offenses was a bit of a joke in NZ and that there are not enough resources dedicated to crime-fighting  (in fact, I still believe that NZ is a country where one can literally get away with murder if cunning and meticulous). But I also know that the “tougher” US approach to crime also has done little to nothing to drive down crime rates (in fact, the “broken windows” approach to petty crime adopted in New York City in the 1990s, and in which worked marvels in lowering the overall crime rate in that city, was focused on early intervention at the lower end of criminality rather than on increased punishment for more serious offenses). Instead, US violent crimes rates, not surprisingly, lowered as the economy expanded in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and, not surprisngly, have increased since the recession began to bite hard in 2008. Which is to say, although the violence of socio and psychopaths is unaffected by economic cycles, much of the residual acts of violence tend to overlap with economic downturns when unmitigated by early intervention or causal prevention schemes.

Which brings back the cause-effect–response syllogism mentioned earlier. There is a reason why that crowd in the border town saloon was armed. At the time there were only 2 sherriff’s deputies avaliable to patrol over 1000 square miles of national forest and ranchland strung along the border and extending some 20-50 miles northward. Besides the various stinging and biting small critters and large predators (bears, big cats) that stalked the Sonoran high plateau and mountain ranges in which our properties were located, there were human dangers emanating from across the border as well as from within Arizona itself (organised crime drug smuggling and survivalist militas, respectively). Absent the protection of the state in such remote locales, people actually practiced the concept of self-defense because to not do so invited serious victimisation, often of a terminal sort. As the saying goes, the best home insurance policy one can have in such a personal threat environment is the sound of a pump action shotgun chambering a buckshot round. The point being, that armed crowd had reason to be so given the causal mechanisms at play in that particular crime environment (which I must say, remains one of the most beautiful landscapes I have had the pleasure to experience first hand). Unfortunately, perhaps, things changed after 9/11 and the region is now swarming with Border Patrol, National Guard, roadblocks, fences, audiovisual sensors and motion detectors as well as increased numbers of north-bound migrants, to the point that many long-term residents have moved away in search of solitude and workable land. It turns out, at least in that regard, I left just in the nick of time.

That brings me back to NZ, my adopted home since 1997 and in which I have seen a steady decline in civility during the last decade that is now confirmed by crime statistics. Not being a criminologist or a social welfare expert, I cannot offer any concrete prescriptions, much less a panacea for the upsurge in criminal violence now afflicting Aotearoa. But what I can say is that it does no good to play the role of chickenhawk or attack poodle by fulminating about getting tough on crime without linking the thirst for punishment to an understanding of what drives violence and insecurity in the first place. In fact, until the latter is identified, addressed and ameloirated, then the former is just another way of pouring salt into a gaping wound.

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43 Responses to “An Armed Crowd is a Polite Crowd.”

  1. jcuknz on April 2nd, 2010 at 21:00

    Somewhat relevant to your first para … have you noticed that when a road is re-surfaced and there is no centreline drivers tend to keep left as opposed to their normal practice of driving to the centreline?

  2. SPC on April 2nd, 2010 at 23:15

    Ignoring

    1. the media’s small town focus on crime combined with a growing population.

    2. the impact of economic conditions on the general crime rate – which will exacerbate greater focus on intervention in domestics.

    3. the impact of p.

    There is a demographic factor at play.

    While there may be no greater level of violence when violence occurs it is more serious. Thus more assaults are investigated and more charges are laid. In the old days Pakeha would exchange punches and that would be that. But now those who throw some of the punches do damage and the person hit is hurt and thus an assault charge and the crime stats.

  3. Hugh on April 3rd, 2010 at 02:11

    You know Pablo I’d be interested to see the crime statistics you’re referring to. Every criminologist I’ve spoken to over the past ten years has seemed pretty confident that there has not been anything that could be described as an upsurge in violent crime.

    Not to say that there aren’t problems that need to be addressed. Even if violent crime was shown to be on the decrease it would be valid to ask what could be done to reduce it further. But I wonder if you are allowing your discernment to be overly influenced by media coverage of some high-profile incidents of violent crime.

  4. Pablo on April 3rd, 2010 at 02:45

    Hugh:

    The stats, which come from the Police, are reproduced at http://www.kiwiblog.co.nz/2010/04/crime_stats-3.html.

  5. Ag on April 3rd, 2010 at 04:00

    I remember returning to NZ in 1992 to find an upsurge of violent crime. For the next couple of years, gangs of young Maori boys would roam the streets in imitation of African-American street gangs and commit assaults and muggings. It got quite bad for a while. A man was thrown off the bridges near where I lived in Hamilton, by a couple of these “homies”. Luckily he survived.

    But it all went away after a few years. No idea why, but the economy was terrible those years as I remember and most of my friends could not find jobs.

  6. Alex on April 4th, 2010 at 20:11

    What about the police saying that the increase in violent crime is due to increased reporting, and that most of the increase is in domestic violence (as opposed to knife wielding hooligans ready to accost good law-abiding white people on every street corner)?

  7. DeepRed on April 4th, 2010 at 21:25

    I suspect also the “Broken Window Parable (not related to New York’s broken windows policy) has a hand in the whole affair. If an enemy doesn’t exist, concoct one instead.

  8. Idiot/savant on April 5th, 2010 at 11:06

    Unfortunately, perhaps, things changed after 9/11 and the region is now swarming with Border Patrol, National Guard, roadblocks, fences, audiovisual sensors and motion detectors as well as increased numbers of north-bound migrants

    You forgot the racist “minutemen”, who terrorise those immigrants (and indeed, anyone they assume to be an immigrant – i.e. anyone who isn’t white), and in some cases murder them. Enabled, of course, by lax gun laws.

  9. Pablo on April 5th, 2010 at 12:39

    I/S:

    The Minutemen were out there when I lived on the border and I was thinking of them along with other weirdos when I wrote the term “survivalist militias” in the post. You will be interested to know that the AZ Minutemen have abandoned their patrols due to lack of interest (other Minutemen groups still operate in Texas and California). I am not sure that the AZ actually murdered anyone, but do know that some were prosecuted and sentenced for terrorising migrants at gun point. Right now the biggest “terroriser” of brown folk is Sheriff Joe Arpaio up in Phoenix/Maricopa County. In fact the Feds have sued him for conducting anti-immigrant aids in contravention of federal and state law. But all of this is off the point of the post…

  10. SPC on April 5th, 2010 at 14:02

    The unstated issue is of course growing income disparity (since the 80′s market reforms) – which is what voters chose more of in electing National.

    Otherwise the issue is demographic. Earlier the urbanisation of young Maori who moved into cities looking for work (while many did some joined gangs) and now the changing population especially at the younger age group (where crime is more likely) which is heavily unemployed at the moment.

  11. Tom Semmens on April 5th, 2010 at 14:14

    The mummy at this feast of middle class hand wringing over crime is the fact most crime is perpetrated by the underclass on the underclass. Fearful middle class whites living in Takapuna are no more likely to be victims of crime now as they were forty years ago. Poor whites/brown people are much more likely to be the victims of poor whites/brown criminals than nice white folk in their well alarmed homes in effectivly racially segregated leafy suburbs. Like the USA, there is a clear racist and classist element at play in the fear and loathing of crime and criminals of the authoritarian right in NZ.

    It is a pity, Pablo, you weren’t here recently to observe the truly bizarre reporting that occured when 3000 (largely) brown people turn up for (largely) minimum wage jobs at a newly opened supermarket in South Auckland. Our white, middle class, corporate mainstream media’s astonishment at their desperation and unemployment was a telling indictment of the insular bubble the Pakeha middle class live in – it was as if South Auckland was another country, a strange place no one had ever heard of or visited, and one which only exists in the court report or when an occassional bit of “liberal white guilt” reporting occurs.

    It is no secret that the countries with the lowest crime rates also have the lowest income disparities. Heavily armed New Zealand (like the heavily armed USA) has one of the highest such disparities in the developed world. Violent crime can hardly be a surprise when large sections of our society are permanently locked out of any share of the wealth they see every day on their TV’s and with their own eyes. These people have no interest in buying into the values, social controls and morality of a ruling society that mocks and denies them at every turn. For these violent criminals, there are no rules because there were no rules in the first place. At the moment, our society is locked into an unsustainable status quo where a demographically declining white settler class (together with a tiny Moari Iwi elite who have no interest in altering the status quo) is concentrating ever more wealth into it’s hands and an expanding underclass of “white trash” and brown poor are left to viciously squabble amongst themselves over the crumbs. And when that squabbling overflows and impacts on nice people, the media will engage in sensationalist reporting that will simply reinforce the cycle of fear and repression.

    All of this is, of course, entirely predictable – the new right which dominates both the USA and NZ WANTS to create this sort of society to fufill it’s Randian dogma of how the world should be. So far, its all been entirely according to plan for them.

  12. DeepRed on April 5th, 2010 at 15:35

    Tom: good points. Wealth gaps in any nation sadly tend to correspond with sizeable presences of ‘involuntary minorities’. The longer the wealth gap is kept under the carpet, the greater the likelihood of something civilly nuclear, like Brixton in 1981 or Los Angeles in 1992.

    Colin James wrote some nuanced commentary on the issue five years ago, and it’s still relevant.

  13. Psycho Milt on April 6th, 2010 at 08:26

    The mummy at this feast of middle class hand wringing over crime is the fact most crime is perpetrated by the underclass on the underclass.

    So? Are we meant to be chuffed that although violent crime is on the increase, we personally aren’t that likely to be affected?

    Like the USA, there is a clear racist and classist element at play in the fear and loathing of crime and criminals of the authoritarian right in NZ.

    Something which is inevitable, given the class and race makeup of the criminals combined with the fact that the people doing the fear and loathing are humans.

    Violent crime can hardly be a surprise when large sections of our society are permanently locked out of any share of the wealth they see every day on their TV’s and with their own eyes.

    Well, “locked out” except for the free public education system, the public health care system, comprehensive accident insurance coverage and a generous welfare system. What NZ no longer provides is enough well-paid and permanent unskilled or low-skilled jobs for the number of people who regard education as beneath their dignity.

    Pablo: unfortunately, this “get tough on crime” blather with no attempt to look at causes is par for the course in NZ. The previous govt indulged in similar blather and introduced increased sentences, reduced parole rights etc, all without reducing that upward trend in incivility and violence.

  14. Carol on April 6th, 2010 at 10:55

    Colin James wrote some nuanced commentary on the issue five years ago, and it’s still relevant.

    Actually, James’ comments on the Brixton 1981 is a bit lacking in understanding of many of the nuances involved, and really is taking another angle altogether. The Brixton riots were partly a result of the interaction between long-term institutional racism in English society and judicial system, interwoven with poverty that affected ‘black’ and ‘white’ people. But Thatcherite policies, especially towards policing, were the immediate trigger.

    I was living in Stockwell (next to Brixton) and working in the area during the 1981 riots. I remember the time well – including hearing the experiences of local people I knew who were involved, and seeing the local media coverage. This was slightly different from the international media coverage, which talked it up as a relatively uncomplicated ‘race’ riot.

    ‘Race’ was definitely a factor, but not necessarily in the ways it was explained in the international media.

    The immediate trigger for the Brixton riots was a Thatcher government police strategy in Brixton, officially labelled “Swamp ’81″. It was a get-tough-on-crime strategy which targetted crime in Brixton in a particularly heavy-handed and insensitive way. It incorporated an element of (fairly informal & ingrained) racial profiling that was a long-term element in policing the area, prior to and after 1981.

    The riots were largely anti-police and the rioters including a mix of Afro-Caribbean and Anglo/caucasian locals.

    WIkipedia looks to me to have about got it right:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1981_Brixton_riot

    However, in relation to Pablo’s intitial post, the Brixton riots now work as a cautionary tale about the effects of getting tough on crime, without attending to the dynamics, history, perceptions etc of the target community or communities.

  15. Tom Semmens on April 6th, 2010 at 13:03

    So? Are we meant to be chuffed that although violent crime is on the increase, we personally aren’t that likely to be affected?

    The point is crime is concentrated in certain sections of society. Pablo talks about “rising crime” as if he has internalised the media message that crime affects everyone equally. Clearly, it does not.

    Something which is inevitable, given the class and race makeup of the criminals combined with the fact that the people doing the fear and loathing are humans.

    Oh! It’s inevitable! Phew! Well we need not worry about THAT then. Thanks for the heads up.

    Well, “locked out” except for the free public education system, the public health care system, comprehensive accident insurance coverage and a generous welfare system. What NZ no longer provides is enough well-paid and permanent unskilled or low-skilled jobs for the number of people who regard education as beneath their dignity.

    We have a two step public education system that is anything but fair. The Free system is appropriately under resourced and under funded for the sorts of damaged goods it has to try and educate. The other “public” education system is tightly linked to the private system (actually largely “intergrated”) and is by, of, and for the middle class and is designed to tilt the playing field as early and as much as possible in favour of the middle class elite. The purpose of our free education system has been subverted by middle class capture to implicitly lock in as much as possible existing class boundaries. Any objective look at our education system merely underlines my point about the unsustainable nature of the middle class hold on our society.

    As anyone who experiences the public health system knows, it does a simply breathtakingly good job as the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, Of course, all this pre-supposes the underclass in question cares enough to take it’s children to the doctor or has the family and community networks that make rehabilitation and recovery from serious injury a realistic proposition.

    Our welfare system is generous? Really?

    I am sure in your world PM the poor are the architects of their own miserable condition, perhaps you need a time machine so you can transport yourself back to 1870 London where most would agree with you and you would be truely happy. Of course, people like yourself always assume that when you step out of your time machine you are part of the ruling class…

  16. Pablo on April 6th, 2010 at 13:22

    TomS:

    Sorry, but your last comment crossed over the line and violated the comments policy. Personal insults and off-subject diversions are not acceptable (even if I do share your concerns about other actors in the NZ blogosphere). In the interest of civility I have deleted the offensive parts and left in the substantive rejoinders.

    Again, the rule is simple: attack the argument, not the person.

  17. Tom Semmens on April 6th, 2010 at 13:46

    Fair enough, the bitter blow has been sweetened by your sort of agreement!

  18. Psycho Milt on April 6th, 2010 at 14:08

    I am sure in your world PM the poor are the architects of their own miserable condition…

    False dichotomy. A proportion of the poor genuinely are the architects of their own miserable condition – that doesn’t imply that all are.

    I agree with you that increasing income disparity in NZ is worsening the violent crime rate, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that it’s also true that no child in NZ actually has to go to school without breakfast, or suffer from foetal alcohol syndrome, or be beaten senseless by uncaring adults while their parents are down the pub. Income disparity doesn’t impose those things, people do. Please don’t peddle the idea that individuals and their choices have nothing to do with this, because it’s simply wrong.

  19. SPC on April 6th, 2010 at 15:08

    Once there is continual unemployment (which we have despite cyclical highs and lows as this is the economic policy to manage both inflationary demand and allow a reserve flexibility to allow change within the capitalist market system) there will be people who have to live coping with this – being outside the society mainstream.

    This raises two issues of blame – why some are the ones who are those usually unemployed and the way they live while regularly unemployed. But this does not address the issue – there will be some who will be regularly unemployed while we have continual employment.

    Employers prefer not to employ the regularly unemployed – sustaining the cycle. And governments are required by the electorate to prefer tax cuts/middle class provision to the costs of job creation, adult worker education and wage subsidy for the long term unemployed.

    Thus the choice of income disparity, higher crime, more costly policing and prison and inter-generational failure – which allows the welfare dependent and criminals to be blamed for their own failure and behaviour.

    The Americans who realise this and can live with that have chosen to bring in faith based providers into welfare delivery – as if religion (conversion of the underclass) will somehow make the system work. Of course the poor who vote with the Christian right are perpetuating the economic system concerned. It reminds me of poor laws – the deserving poor get continuing charity when their welfare cheques run out.

  20. SPC on April 6th, 2010 at 15:14

    PS Of course the unconverted, the undeserving end up on the streets and eventually prison (where they do not vote).

  21. Tom Semmens on April 6th, 2010 at 17:38

    Please don’t peddle the idea that individuals and their choices have nothing to do with this, because it’s simply wrong.

    Let’s discuss a counterfactual here. Are you really trying to claim that had the Kahui twins “merely” suffered the run of the mill horrific physical and mental neglect and abuse of so many children in the underclass and had survived to be about four now, where they would now be preparing for their school experience, they would be equipped with any of the tools to learn? Do you really believe by the time they got to high school they would be able to make “choices”?

    “Choice” is all very fine; But it assumes you are equipped to recognise a choice in the first place. It assumes you even care to make a choice. It assumes that you have some sort of compass by which you’ll know what the right choice might be. It assumes you have the simple literacy and intellectual skills by which may measure the relative merits or otherwise of choices you may get offered.

    What NZ no longer provides is enough well-paid and permanent unskilled or low-skilled jobs for the number of people who regard education as beneath their dignity.

    Putting aside the dripping contempt of those you consider beneath you in the last part of your statement, work is everything, especially for men. Work is a reason for a man to get up in the morning. It gives order to your life and – most important of all – it gives a man dignity. I really don’t care if the jobs are low or unskilled, and I really don’t care if they conform to some precious economic dogma’s measure of whether they are “real” or not. We need to provide these jobs because when heartless bastards like Douglas and Prebble and Richardson got rid of them without a second thought in foresty, on the railways, in the freezing works – you know what? That was the beginning of generational devastation of lives that these crime stats represent. It has taken us a quarter of a century of social vandalism to give us the Kahui twins, the murders, the drug fuelled ghetto violence of some parts of New Zealand. That is where we are at today, and I hope you and the rest of your NACT voting mates are happy with the progress to our Randian nirvana. It’s going to take us fifty years to fix it. And we start by putting jobs first, second, third and everywhere else.

  22. Psycho Milt on April 6th, 2010 at 18:44

    Let’s discuss a counterfactual here. Are you really trying to claim that had the Kahui twins “merely” suffered the run of the mill horrific physical and mental neglect and abuse of so many children in the underclass and had survived to be about four now, where they would now be preparing for their school experience, they would be equipped with any of the tools to learn? Do you really believe by the time they got to high school they would be able to make “choices”?

    I’m claiming that income disparity didn’t abuse them, people did.

    You might want to go back to Pablo’s post, specifically this bit:

    Not being a criminologist or a social welfare expert, I cannot offer any concrete prescriptions, much less a panacea for the upsurge in criminal violence now afflicting Aotearoa.

    I’m not one either, and doubt you are. (I’m also not a NACT voter – ie, I’m happy that we have such good public education, health and welfare systems here.) We don’t have a simple explanation for the increase in violent crime. Income disparity may well exacerbate the crime rate, but it doesn’t explain it.

  23. Andrew W on April 6th, 2010 at 21:09

    work is everything, especially for men. Work is a reason for a man to get up in the morning. It gives order to your life and – most important of all – it gives a man dignity.

    If you believe that all men are keen to work you’re not living in the real world. Youth unemployment has risen at a higher rate than that of the older working population because the minimum wage, higher youth rates, and poor employment attitudes amongst the young have priced the young out of the labour market, I’ve employed young people, way too often they cost more than their labour is worth to an employer.

    I really don’t care if the jobs are low or unskilled, and I really don’t care if they conform to some precious economic dogma’s measure of whether they are “real” or not. We need to provide these jobs because when heartless bastards like Douglas and Prebble and Richardson got rid of them without a second thought in foresty, on the railways, in the freezing works – you know what? That was the beginning of generational devastation of lives that these crime stats represent.

    Are you saying that unemployment didn’t exist before the mid eighties economic reforms? If so you must be too young to remember the far higher unemployment rates that were too often prevelent before those reforms.

    It has taken us a quarter of a century of social vandalism to give us the Kahui twins, the murders, the drug fuelled ghetto violence of some parts of New Zealand. That is where we are at today, and I hope you and the rest of your NACT voting mates are happy with the progress to our Randian nirvana. It’s going to take us fifty years to fix it. And we start by putting jobs first, second, third and everywhere else.

    You think these sorts of crimes didn’t occur before the 1980′s? Seriously?

    The fact is that the social security net is far more extensive today than it was in the decades between WW2 and the Lange Government, attitudes have certainly changed as a result of the vast social welfare spending, people are far less capable of taking responsibility for themselves, the State is expected to provide all the solutions now.

    “An Armed Crowd is a Polite Crowd.”

    People act more responsibly when they haven’t had their responsibility, and power, handed to state agencies, – or in other words, treat people like children, and they’ll act like children.

  24. Tom Semmens on April 6th, 2010 at 22:20

    Andrew W, in the words of leading ACT intellectual Rick Giles, your arguments are so powerful it isn’t necessary for them to contain facts!!

  25. SPC on April 6th, 2010 at 22:22

    Andrew it’s a pity facts get in way of your argument.

    The rate of youth unemployment was falling through the last decade until the global recession and that included the end of the youth rate and the raising of the minimum wage from 9 to $12 period.

    As for your belief that unemployment was high pre 1984 – well yes, but not since 1940. The extensive social security net you see since then is simply the outcome of unemployment.

  26. Andrew W on April 6th, 2010 at 22:54

    Tom, your reply isn’t a reply, it contains no arguments, so I think you’re the one practicing the Giles philosophy.

    I’ll stick with the points made here: http://www.kiwiblog.co.nz/tag/youth_rates
    The facts shown support my argument, higher pay rates for youths have pushed youth unemployment rates well above what might otherwise be expected.

    I never said unemployment was high since 1940.

    The social security net is the product society having greater wealth, whether unemployment was 1% or 10% would make no difference (the benefit has been there in recent times of both high and low levels of unemployment), the difference is that society is more able to support such largess because it is richer, that wealth being the result of changing technology rather than changing politics.

  27. Tom Semmens on April 6th, 2010 at 23:12

    If so you must be too young to remember the far higher unemployment rates that were too often prevelent before those reforms.

    and

    I never said unemployment was high since 1940.

    Well I am glad you cleared that up.

  28. SPC on April 6th, 2010 at 23:36

    The problem with wealth creation that is not dispersed in rising wages and high levels of employment is there for all to see.

    And no, we do not afford high unemployment covered by the social security net, except by paying down debt during the rest of the economic cycle (forgoing tax cuts despite surpluses).

    Unemployment was falling after the minimum wage was increased and after the end of the youth rate. Of course young workers don’t get first jobs during a recession – the claims that youth unemployment would have been less if the wage level for them was lower (is only real if other workers would have been displaced for cheaper younger workers – which may have occurred in earlier recessions). It’s not a serious arguement about unemployment being higher but a statement about how some employers operate.

  29. Andrew W on April 6th, 2010 at 23:36

    Tom, SPC seemed to be thinking that I was claiming that unemployment had been continually high since WW2.
    When I said “too often prevalent”, I was thinking more in terms of the 70′s and early 80′s.

    Being snide only makes you clever in your own mind.

  30. Andrew W on April 7th, 2010 at 00:05

    The problem with wealth creation that is not dispersed in rising wages and high levels of employment is there for all to see.

    But in real terms there is no poverty in NZ today compared with say 40 or 50 years ago, todays poor are poorer in their attitudes, not in terms of their wealth.
    In past decades Tom’s observation that:

    work is everything, especially for men. Work is a reason for a man to get up in the morning. It gives order to your life and – most important of all – it gives a man dignity.

    Was true, it’s far less true today, today society is wealthy enough to be able to afford to treat adults as if they were children, supporting them when in fact they are physically capable of supporting themselves, many don’t fight for that “dignity” because a wealthier society doesn’t require it of them, it’s easier politically just to support them and ignore them, than it is to discipline them into developing that dignity, as an example, discipline in the military is strict, and the product is men who can carry themselves, a fighting unit can’t afford slackers, whereas our wealthy society can.

    SPC, your second paragraph doesn’t make sense to me, your third to me doesn’t make a meaningful point, employers seek the best return on the money they pay in wages, that’s how a market works.

  31. SPC on April 7th, 2010 at 00:09

    No, not so Andrew – the rate of unemployment had not been high since 1940.

    You refer to the 1970′s – then we were reliant on imported Polynesians for the assembly factories as we had a labour shortage.

    Perhaps you would care to relate the unemployment rate in the early 80′s – we did regard it as high at the time. Now what was it, and how much higher was it after the reforms of the 84-87/88 period.

  32. Pablo on April 7th, 2010 at 00:12

    Since the post was about the upsurge in violent crime, let me clarify, from my non-expert perspective, what I think may be the issue.

    At a structural level it would seem to be intuitively obvious that crime in general and crime against property in particular would increase during periods of economic downturn, as manifest in increased unemployment (particularly amongst youth). Times of plenty, conversely, should see a decrease in property crimes in parallel with increased employment, higher wages etc. The bottom line being that when confronted with no other alternatives save than the breadline, many disadvantaged people would opt to disposses those better off of some of their property in order to convert it into the necessities of life (as a broad, general rule).

    But this does not explain the upsurge in violence of the last two decades. That appears to be a socio-cultural superimposition on the structural bases of crime. Whereas some disadvantaged people may decide to exact individual retribution against others as an outlet for their rage and frustration, in times past these people were relatively few and far between, comparatively speaking. But now violence often accompanies property crime and, worse yet, is often seemingly random and senseless. As I have already mentioned, this is not just an issue of psychopaths and sociopaths, who will always exist irrespective of economic conditions. What is at play is violence that is not rooted in mental illness. That is where the non-structural factors must be considered.

    Here the turn to market economics may have a role, in a particularly late 20th century/early 21st century way. As I have posted before, the resurgence of extreme individualist ideologies, coupled with increasingly wide-spead and affordable mass media access to both individuals and collectivities in an environment of decreasing government services, has seen the propagation of a extremely narcissistic and often conflictual, zero sum (when not highly violent), “me first” social perspectives. This has led to the degradation of social mores and civil society in general, and not just amongst the traditionally disadvantaged or non-European elements of NZ society. Think of the crass celebrity culture, the culture of ostentatious consumption, the culture of bragadoccio and insult, the culture of corporate, religious and political impunity and thievery, the perverse relishing of others’ misery evident in the terms “owned,” “fail” and the like (all of which is way too evident in the discourse of blogs). It is not just gang-bangers and the imported gang wanna-be culture that is at fault (which has been accepted into the cultural mainstream and heavily commercialised for profit-making ends). This degradation of mores is pervasive throughout the fabric of society. It might as well be Rome before the Fall, Kiwi style (not that I am seeing an apocalypse any time soon).

    Since the market has no conscience and it is not the role of managers and shareholders to serve as the conscience of society in the absence of state regulation, and because the hyper-individualist ethos now dominant in an increasingly de-regulated socio-economic environment sees all matters as reducible to issues of “individual responsibility,” the decline of civic culture and social mores is not only abetted by the market. It actually profits from the decline. After all, among many other things people make money off of violent videos, porn, gang apparel, stupid reality TV shows and an assortment of “personal defense” equipment. Security services in general are not the only business that profits from crime and social pathology, and so the race is on to dredge the bottom of market-facilitated degradation.

    Since addressing the root causes of violence is a public good rather than something on which profit can be made, in a tax-cutting, down-sizing political climate, the solutions to the causes of violence will go wanting while short-term opportunists and profteers make the most of social decay.

    To that can be added alcohol, welfare dependency, various forms of familial dysfunctionality and the introduction of acclerants like “P” (since soporifics tend not to provoke violence in users, whereas accelerants have exactly the opposite effect). As I said in the post, the list of the contributing superstructural variables is long.

    Perhaps it is not all the market’s fault and as flawed creatures, we are doomed to be overcome by our own excess and greed. But that was why the idea of a social contract was first ventured, why the notion of the state was first proposed, and why in recognition of that fact political communities have throughout time deliberately engaged in collective self-restraint and individual and collective self-limiting strategies in order to achieve mutually beneficial and collectively optimal social outcomes.

    At this juncture in NZ’s social evolution, appreciation of that fact appears to have been lost on the current government and street thugs alike.

    Sorry for the long comment. The good debate of the last few days got me to thinking a bit further on the subject, although again, I make no pretense at expertese.

  33. SPC on April 7th, 2010 at 00:18

    Andrew our modern political economy chooses to carry unemployment and call them dependents, rather than provide jobs. For this you blame the attitude of the unemployed. That makes you an apologist for wealth creation divorced from full employment.

    As for the second paragraph – you claim wealth creation affords the social security safety net. For part of the economic cycle it does so only on credit.

    As to the third paragraph – the only way in which youth unemployment is higher (when there is no youth rate), is if employers discriminate based on age in their hiring if/when there is a youth rate. It does not speak to job creation and total employment levels. Any group will have lower rates of unemployment than otherwise if there is discrimination in their favour.

  34. SPC on April 7th, 2010 at 00:23

    Pablo, there was a Behavioural Science Unit study (FBI) back in the 80′s. It looked at an international comparison – it’s conclusion speaks to this issue, where income disparity was related to ethnic/racial identity there was would be a greater crime problem. They found Scandinavia and Japan were very mono-cultural and very egalitarian and thus had very low crime levels.

  35. Carol on April 7th, 2010 at 09:26

    Hmm. Well, SPC, I just had a bit of a look around some articles in academic journals on Japan’s crime rate and explanations for it. I didn’t see any references to racial or ethnic identity.

    In its literature review, this article repeats some of the conculsions I saw elsewhere.

    42 Criminology 179 (2004) Vol 2 (1)
    Explaining Japan’s Postwar Violent Crime Trends; Roberts, Aki; Lafree, Gary

    http://heinonline.org/HOL/LandingPage?collection=journals&handle=hein.journals/crim42&div=15&id=&page=

    The prior research tends to conclude that “social disorganisation” compared with the degree of social bonding is the significant factor in previous studies and their explanation for Japan’s low crime rate – including violent crimes such as homicide. Social bonding is defined as being to do with the strength of family and community ties (seen as unique to Japanese culture), which have tended to decrease in recent years.

    Divorce and female participation in the work force is expected to increase social disorganisation, as does increased urbanisation. However, there isn’t a significant increase in crime in relation to such changes in Japan.

    Also, Japan’s crime rate was fairly similar to that in countries like the US and UK before the 1960s.

    The authors don’t totally discount social disorganisation as a contributing factor, but don’t think it’s a major factor. OTOH they do conclude that the relative strength of the Japanese economy has been a more significant factor than previously thought. They also rate age structure (young men commit most of these crimes) and clean-up rates or certainty of punishment as the 2 other main factors.

    Their stats also show that clean-up rates & certainty of punishment for crimes has more of a deterrent impact on the amount of robberies, but not as much on violent crimes like homicide.

    Furthermore, in recent years, Japan’s violent crime rate has started to increase. The authors relate this to a lingering recession and the end of the certainty of life-time employment.

  36. Tom Semmens on April 7th, 2010 at 13:23

    Pablo to look at but two points you mention in your long post:

    “…the resurgence of extreme individualist ideologies,… … has seen the propagation of a extremely narcissistic and often conflictual, zero sum (when not highly violent), “me first” social perspectives… …To that can be added alcohol,…”

    Let’s examine the how interwoven these two are, because it illustrates to my mind how difficult it is actually create an environment where we can make meaningful improvements to crime stats, and to peoples lives.

    To reduce alcohol fueled crime, the state would have to adopt some or all of the following policies:
    - Return the drinking age to 20 or even 21.
    - Ban liquor sales in supermarkets.
    - Ban liquor discounting.
    - Ban Sunday and/or Monday liquor sales.
    - Restrict the hours of sale, number and location of wholesale liquor outlets.
    - Re-introduce early closing for bars and clubs.

    All of these things have existed in New Zealand in my lifetime, yet one only has to read them to imagine the implacable hostility the reintroduction of some, any or all of them would meet from entrenched business interests and their mouthpieces like the editorial writers of the NZ Herald. They would couch their commercial interests in terms of prevailing extreme indivualist ideology, and the Herad – the same paper that makes such play of crime statistics – would thunder at the attack on rights and personal freedom. Yet we know the link between violence, road accidents and a myriad of social ills can be directly linked to drink – as did our great & great great grandparents, with the temperance movements of the early twentieth century.

    This is just alcohol sales we are talking about. An easily demonstrable win backed by a wealth of research for any government wanting to reduce crime and improve the life of the community in general. Yet neither Labour or National would touch such reforms with a barge pole. Easy then to see why an attack on structural inequalities like income distribution are still but a pipe dream.

  37. SPC on April 7th, 2010 at 14:20

    I would join the critics of your “alcohol prohibition” policy and suggest a more practical alternative.

    First – why hassle the many because of the drinking problem of the few? It would not change drinking of alcohol outside licensed premises, only encourage people to stock up on supplies. At licensed premises, it would encourage binge drinking and have drunk patrons leaving en mass at the same time – with all the policing problems that causes. As to the age – when the age was 20, most 18 year olds were in bars and or buying from licensed premises.

    There is a better way to manage the problematic public drinking of the few. That is by tackling it directly and that means defining a level of public drunkenness by blood alcohol content. Bars and clubs should be required to screen “drunks” from entry and as for managing patrons becoming drink – some sort of identification system (based on time of entry) triggering a further test (before buying drinks some time later).

  38. SPC on April 7th, 2010 at 14:30

    Carol, of course studies of Japan’s crime rate would not focus on ethnic or racial identity – given it is so mono-cultural that was not an issue anyone would have any reason to focus on.

    I am not surprised that the recent loss of full employment has contributed to a growing crime problem.

    My point was that in an international comparison – in the 1980′s – Japan and Scandinavia stood out for low crime rates and the reason posed was their egalitarianism and mono-culturalism.

    At the time there was growing income inequality in countries with immigration or multi-cultural populations and a related growing crime (because of the loss of full employment after the 70′s stagflation – the adoption of monetarism instead of Keynesian policies and then globalisation) – in the USA the Reagan-Volcker recession left many US (ethnic) communities with heavy unemployment.

  39. SPC on April 7th, 2010 at 14:40

    I suppose, one could say that where there is a heavier concentration of unemployment and that heavier concentration of unemployment is related to ethnic or racial identity – there is going to be greater social disorganisation within that community relative to the wider society and the ethnic/racial community is not going to be a fully cohesive part of that wider society.

    This is true whether it is Paris, or London, or Auckland or LA.

  40. Tom Semmens on April 7th, 2010 at 15:27

    First – why hassle the many because of the drinking problem of the few?

    SPC, without wanting to be rude I think all you’ve done here is provide a QED of the absolute ideological carapace of “extreme individualist ideologies” that Pablo speaks of. You need to start escaping the oppressive embrace of neo-liberal ideology and consider, for a second, that we may be our brother’s keeper. Ask yourself what is so important about booze that you consider restrictions on its sale offensive, if those restrictions result in a safer, healthier, less violent society? Why does alcohol – which can be controlled by some simple, easily enforced rules agreed upon by society at large that history has shown us to be an effective way of reducing alcohol consumption, crime and disease – instead require your ideologically driven, complicated, decentralised compliance scheme that experience time and time again shows will be largely ignored and therefore be totally ineffective?

    Like I said, I think your reply powerfully reinforces my point rather than diminishes it in any way.

  41. SPC on April 7th, 2010 at 15:47

    Really, Tom. I suppose that speaks to the whole issue of whether ideology or belief has any place in the regulation of human behaviour.

    You clearly favour a centralised regime (and object to decentralised approaches only targeting those who drink to excess), applied over all – and suggest resistance is ideological, or has something to do with alcohol.

    Well, no actually. When there is no need for it, regulation to that extent, is simply authoritarianism for the sake of it.

    Given my option has not been tried and where it has been in Oz (where clubs now use blood alcohol tests to limit entry) it works well, I am not averse to a trial of the 2 approaches.

    Only the Tolley’s with an agenda would insist otherwise.

  42. Tom Semmens on April 7th, 2010 at 16:30

    Actually SPC I don’t “favour” anything. What I am saying is it quite possible – indeed it has been so within my lifetime – for a healthily democratic civil society to decide that restrictions on alcohol constitute a significant public good, and to act accordingly.

    Insofar as I tend to prize empirical, evidence based solutions (perhaps a legacy of my British heritage – certainly, the reasonableness of empirical British liberalism compared to the virulent continental excesses of which neo-liberalism is but another rabid strain is something I find most agreeable) over the application of dogma then perhaps I can plead guilty to favouring one solution over another. I certainly reject your scheme as foolish because the neo-liberal approach you advocate has been consistently applied and has consistently found to fail, not surprising given it contains the perverse idea that the perveyours and profiteers from liquor should be handed the task of regulating drunken behaviour. Objectively that is a nonsense, something any intelligent person should be able to comprehend.

    This all does speak to Pablo’s wider point though. If someone is so prepared as you to die in the ditch over something as absurd as profits for beer barons – piously shrouded in the tattered cloak of liberty though they may be – what hope have we to substantively recreate a wider civil society if in doing so we challenge even bigger, more powerfully entrenched neo-liberal shibboleths?

  43. SPC on April 7th, 2010 at 17:11

    Oh Tom, you begin with an outright lie, you clearly favour something.

    Your post drips with self-righteousness – the “healthily democratic civil society” “acting for the public good” would do as you suggest line. You claim empirical support for your proposal (where is it applied and where is the evidence it works well) and say any alternative has failed. The same line would have been used by Douglas, TINA, back in the 80′s in advocating for neo-liberal reforms. The convergence is uncanny. Those who know better than the rest of us, really are a lot alike.

    Blood alcohol testing of patrons has worked for those Oz clubs using it – who wants drunks on the premises, they are not good customers and they annoy those that are. All public society needs to do to reinforce that voluntary approach is to make it mandatory – now where has that been tried and failed in practice? You say it has failed – where?

    The obvious back-up to the approach of a declared drunkenness by blood alcohol is to make being so “drunk” in a public place an offence. Thus patrons arriving at premises and refused entry would be liable for arrest if they came across police – so when refused further drinks in a bar they would know they needed to sober up before leaving. Of course people would have to behave soberly or risk testing and arrest if they drew attention to themselves.

    This is the best way to constrain problem drinking, not inconvenience to the rest of the public, guests, and tourists – before and after events etc.

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