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Will Crime Become The New Cost Of Living?

By Tim Wilson, Executive Director, Maxim Institute

A rogue shooter loose in a CBD; innocents slaughtered; a city shut down; the perpetrator dying in a fusillade of police fire. Describing the event, the Prime Minister tears up before the cameras.

So ends a week during which the Government attempted to demonstrate toughness on crime. It announced a youth justice programme that one commentator scowled, “…felt, looked, and sounded like one (Corrections Minister Kelvin) Davis had been tasked with drawing up on the back of a napkin on his flight from Northland to Wellington the day before.”

At present, the chief concern for the New Zealand voter is widely agreed to be the cost of living.

Yet last month, market research firm IPSOS noted a slight decline in living costs as the main motivator for voters. That survey also indicated that crime had leapt to become the second most urgent concern. Forty per cent of those asked felt this way, the highest level since the survey began in 2018.

Might crime become the new cost of living, this election’s central issue?

I suspect it already has, hence the government’s response, which some have described as a turnaround. In politics, perception creates reality. Being seen as soft on crime is a political liability. This has been verified by a 2019 survey out of Italy; when politicians emptied the jails, voters punished them. IPSOS reports that National is viewed as the most able to deal with crime. Add that to declining poll numbers for the current Prime Minister, and the Beltway is suddenly energised.

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Moreover, though—according to IPSOS—two-thirds of voters are still worried about the cost of living, crime is dramatic in a way that inflation isn’t. Perhaps we’ve grown somewhat accustomed to inflation. Meanwhile, incidents like the shooting dominate headlines uniquely and dramatically. Expect more of this; the current media model incentivises reporting on what generates clicks and views.

National leader Christopher Luxon has described crime as “out of control.” Arguments about this continue. In fact, the picture is complicated. Reporting is easier for some crimes. In an excellent piece drawing from the New Zealand Crime and Victims Survey, the Herald’s Derek Cheng notes that the 1.7% increase in victims of crime over last year translates to 78,000 people. That’s a lot of unsettled voters.

At a recent Maxim Institute event, economist Cameron Bagrie noted that polarisation has severe economic consequences, as does the malaise in education. High crime rates, too, are symptomatic of deeper societal issues.

They describe multivalent dysfunction. Yes, it’s a corrections system that releases violent offenders using cultural reports that insiders describe as not well-regulated. Yes, it’s the availability of guns. But it’s also violent families, eroding purchasing power, and our declining levels of literacy and numeracy in schools.

Economic data summarises human behaviour; crime data summarises and heightens fear; hence its power. The upcoming election will offer an opportunity to tackle this hydra-headed monster. Expect to hear, read, and talk more about crime.

*Maxim Institute is an independent think tank working to promote the dignity of every person in New Zealand by standing for freedom, justice, compassion, and hope.

© Scoop Media

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