Thursday, July 10, 2014

Crime and Punishment (or lack thereof) in far northern Norway

The New York Times again this week featured a story from Arctic Norway, in particular the island chain of Svalbard, also known as Spitsbergen.  (The earlier story was noted in my recent blog post about my trip to northern Norway). Andrew Higgins's story is "A Harsh Climate Calls for Banishment of the Needy."  The gist of the story is that homelessness and unemployment are banned on Svalbard, which has a particularly positive impact on the crime rate.  Higgins suggests Svalbard as a manifestation of Ayn Rand's vision and contrasts it with the Scandinavian norm of a generous welfare state.  These policies are credited for creating a place that as close as Europe gets to a "crime-free society."  Indeed, the place has just six police officers and one detention cell, last used for two days last summer.  

Higgins quotes governor Odd Olsen Ingero,  
“If you don’t have a job, you can’t live here,” Mr. Ingero said, noting that the jobless are swiftly deported. Retirees are sent away, too, unless they can prove they have sufficient means to support themselves. 
* * * 
Even Longyearbyen’s socialist mayor, Christin Kristoffersen, a member of the Labour Party, wants the town — named after an American industrialist, John Munro Longyear, who founded it in 1906 — to stay off limits to all but the able-bodied and gainfully employed. 
“This is a very special kind of place,” said the mayor, whose town has all the conveniences of a modern urban area, including an airport, high-speed Internet and even a high-end restaurant, but faces such a struggle to survive against the elements that it has no place for the jobless or infirm.
Although the story mostly credits the no-homelessness, no unemployment policy for the low crime rate, Higgins also notes some practical deterrents to crime:  
elsewhere run-of-the-mill crimes like car theft are an exotic and very risky business in a place where there are no roads out of town to escape on.
The story's dateline is Longyearbyen, population 2,040, the administrative capital of this region, which is an unincorporated area overseen by a state-appointed governor, Mr. Ingero.  As suggested by the quote from Mayor Kristoffersen, Longyearbyen has an elected local government.  

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