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Insights 20: 9 June 2023
Report launch: Paving The Way - Learning from New Zealand’s Past to Build a Better Future
Podcast: Oliver Hartwich and Chris Quin discuss serious retail crime in New Zealand
The Australian: Oliver Hartwich on how New Zealand's crime rates are out of control

Beating crime with evidence-based policies
Dr Oliver Hartwich | Executive Director |
Taking an unusual step, Foodstuffs North Island addressed the escalating retail crime rate in the country in a media release this week.

The retailer reported an increase of 38% in retail crime incidents between February and April 2023 compared to the same period last year. Shoplifting alone saw a staggering rise of 57% over the past 12 months.

Increased crime across New Zealand is part of a broader wave of lawlessness. A total of 516 ram raids were reported by the police in 2022, and gang membership appears to have increased (though precise numbers are naturally hard to ascertain).

The Government has responded poorly to these alarming trends. Fog cannon subsidies are unlikely to reduce crime significantly.

To tackle crime effectively, a thorough strategy grounded in reliable evidence is necessary. Research suggests that crime reduction requires a multifaceted approach that goes beyond traditional criminal justice interventions.

For example, University of Ottawa criminologist Irvin Waller emphasised the social issues leading to crime. In his book Less Law, More Order: The Truth About Reducing Crime Waller argued that tackling family violence and insufficient job training are more effective than incarceration or harsher penalties.

In their comprehensive review, Reducing Crime: The Effectiveness of Criminal Justice Interventions, Amanda Perry and her co-authors reviewed over 100 studies examining the effectiveness of criminal justice interventions in reducing crime. They highlighted the importance of evaluating interventions based on their costs and benefits.

Most recently, Jennifer Doleac summarised the empirical evidence on how to intervene with existing offenders to reduce criminal behaviour in the Journal of Economic Literature. Among her findings was strong evidence that increasing the probability of punishment reduces recidivism across a wide range of offenders.

Contrary to such empirical findings, the Government has primarily engaged in wishful thinking. Its simplistic goal was to lower the prison population – and indeed, it has fallen substantially over the past five years.

That would have been a positive outcome had it resulted from a reduction in crime. Unfortunately, the opposite is the case.

Considering the current crime wave, a return to evidence-based policies is overdue. By focusing on what works, tracking progress, and rewarding success, New Zealand can break the cycle of crime and create safer communities.

The cry for help by Foodstuffs North Island is a stark reminder of the urgent need for evidence-based public policy.

“20 hours free ECE” not quite what was promised
Linda Meade | Member |
The Budget’s flagship announcement presented an enticing proposal: 20 hours of early childhood education (ECE) per week for children aged two and over, funded entirely by taxpayers, due to commence in March 2024.

Nonetheless, there appears to be a hidden cost. This so-called free provision conceals a potential economic impact that could be substantial.

To be clear, there is a good case for ECE. Numerous studies have shown the extensive benefits of quality ECE for child development. Furthermore, readily available ECE significantly enhances workforce participation, notably among women.

However, it is vital to highlight that fulfilling regulations does not always imply providing quality ECE.

A complex array of rules oversees every aspect of ECE services, from the physical environment and activity supervision to the allocation of funds. These regulations came into existence as most childcare services, excluding kindergartens, operate outside the purview of the state, run by private organisations or community groups.

Intriguingly, bodies such as the Education Review Office and the Ministry of Education seem to concentrate more on confirming regulatory compliance than on assessing the quality of services.

This discrepancy originates from the fact that existing regulations place a major emphasis on meeting minimum safety standards rather than fostering educational excellence. A prime example is the mandated adult-to-child ratios: 1:5 for children under two, and 1:10 for those aged two to five years.

And here lies the issue with the government’s promise of “free” ECE. The stark reality is that these services come at a cost.

While the government may pick up the bill, it only finances the bare minimum. Parents, however, are led to believe the service is entirely free.

This gives rise to a dilemma: the service cannot be genuinely free if parents face additional charges, even if those charges are for superior quality.

Consequently, in this context, “free” implies merely meeting minimum standards, limiting parental choice, and potentially fostering an inequitable system. Only those parents who can avail exactly 20 hours of ECE weekly will enjoy the privilege of it being “free.” Any extra hours will attract a fee, effectively shattering the illusion of a free service.

In conclusion, the “20 Hours Free ECE” policy, while seemingly a blessing, may not be as advantageous as it first appears. Its definition of “free” is heavily conditioned, restricted to minimum standards and limited hours. Parents seeking a more comprehensive, quality-driven ECE service may find themselves facing additional costs.

That is not quite what the Government promised in the Budget.

Surveillance is freedom
Dr James Kierstead | Research Fellow |
Last year, Kiri Allan was forced to withdraw the government’s latest ‘hate speech’ proposals, only a year or so after Kris Faafoi was forced to shelve similar plans.

We have no doubt that you were as dismayed as we were by these developments (or lack of developments).

After all, how will we stop authoritarianism without regulating citizens’ speech?

That’s why we welcome the Department of Internal Affairs’ new plan to regulate online content.

The plan is to regulate any platform with an annual audience of more than 100,000 or 25,000 subscribers. That makes sense – 25,000 is almost the population of Taupo, so any group that big could present a real threat to civilization. And how will the government be able to stop authoritarianism without keeping a watch on private groups?

The plan mainly seems to have social media platforms in mind, but email lists don’t seem to be excluded, which is obviously a relief. After all, how will the government be able to stop authoritarianism without keeping a watch on people’s mail?

The idea is to have platforms draw up a new code of conduct with help from the government, and then to have the DIA issue fines to platforms that don’t comply. All of which makes sense, because how are we going to stop authoritarianism without penalties for speech?

Especially as these proposals are carefully designed to only catch the most flagrantly Fascist content, like adult content in video games. As history has shown, keeping a lid on titillating video game characters is crucial to stopping authoritarianism.

The new regulatory system will of course also be designed to ‘achieve outcomes that reflect Māori perspectives, needs, and aspirations.’ Government agencies telling ordinary people what they really need is another thing that’s crucial to stopping authoritarianism.

Note, finally, that as things stand there’s no provision for any input from Parliament or elected representatives on the codes of conduct that are going to be used to regulate content. Which is obviously a good thing. Parliaments and elected representatives have a well-known tendency to get in the way of the fight to stop authoritarianism.

The last thing anyone would want, of course – especially our public-spirited civil servants – is to allow people to make their own decisions about what they see and say online. We’d might as well just welcome authoritarianism in with open arms.  

On The Record

Initiative Activities:   
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  • Global inequality in well‐being has decreased across many dimensions
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