New Zealand’s social compost bomb


Imagine a pile of compost in the open, with slightly moist conditions appropriate for bacteria to get to work fermenting. It slowly warms up from the interior as the fermentation process generates heat. The heating might cause bits of compost to fall off the pile as the heat causes it to expand. Eventually if the right conditions exist long enough, suddenly you have combustion.

Now imagine a society with large numbers of unemployed, a combination of both locals and foreigners who do not necessarily get on, living together. Mistrust is high with petty crime, drugs and alcohol fuelling fights and occasionally brawls. Decades of no social planning has led to low quality sprawling estates full of agitated people. With all of these elements present and the passage of time, a situation where this society is ready to ignite is more real than not. And the trigger might be something as simple as a criminal act, or the authorities, frustrated with the situation decide to arrest someone to make a point.

It happened in Paris in 2005 in their housing estates, where large numbers of youths, many of north African origin began rioting over the lack of jobs and welfare assistance. The French Government response was glacial in nature, and the unrest was able to spread. It also happened in London in 2011, where for no apparent reason large scale rioting broke out in August of that year, caused in large part again by a lack of social planning, but which interestingly enough – with worrying portents for the future – seemed to draw in some middle class and surprisingly well educated young people who should have known better. Hundreds of millions of Pounds worth of damage was done to businesses across London, though to their credit when it came the British response seemed to be firmer than the French.

Could it happen here in New Zealand?

Sadly the answer is yes. Like France and Britain, communities here with large numbers of unemployed youth, with gang populations and a ready supply of narcotics and alcohol are social composts just waiting to ignite. We don’t know what the temperature at which self combustion is. Nor do we know how close that pile is to igniting.

New Zealand needs to understand that these tinderboxes exist for reasons often debated in public, in Parliament and in the media, but ultimately unanswered. A combination of abysmal social planning by central Government combined with ideological agendas based on a perceived need for an economic theory that is ultimately starting to come unhinged. Unfortunately local councils by allowing alcohol stores and gambling locations to set up in their vicinity, often only exacerbate the problem.

It starts off as a social problem, but then it becomes a law and order problem, and ultimately it becomes an economic problem. New Zealand is in the social problem stage, where it has not ignited into a law and problem, as it seems to do in France where the failure to plan for the economic and social well being of its large immigrant population is perhaps the greatest single failure of the French Government. But ultimately it becomes an economic problem as the sheer weight of unplanned for pressures starts to build up. Will it go full circle and lead to a social collapse? In France, which may soon reach the economic stage, time will tell. In New Zealand, if we are wise, we will act to address our social compost bomb now.

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