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In mid-1984 a newly-elected government in New Zealand tackled severe economic crises by abruptly adopting neo-liberal economic policies to curtail government activities and shrink the national debt. Retrenchment continued into the mid-1990s. New Zealand’s experiment, which attracted wide international attention, originated from an unexpected quarter. A Labor government moved the country from its status as the most regulated OECD economy to the least controlled. The sudden adoption of radical steps remain controversial, criticized as a “blitzkrieg” of liberalization that brought no swift improvements, or defended as an incomplete revolution that ended the circumstances of a growing number of poor exactly when national productively was falling. One indicator of social havoc is the male suicide rate. It rose for young adults, suggesting a connection between restructuring, youth pessimism, and suicide. With many jurisdictions around the world currently embarking on austerity measures, the social consequences of the New Zealand experiment warrant exposure.
A straightforward argument blaming economic restructuring for the rising young male suicide rate is unachievable, because the restructuring occurred when the sexual revolution and youth autonomy were working their way through New Zealand’s domestic culture, when cannabis use was increasing, when young offenders were prominent in remand centers and prisons, and when mental health services were in upheaval. However, the qualitative evidence in the suicide inquest files suggests connections between these trends, the impact of the economic crises on young adults, and suicides.