Unemployment and fraud during the Great Depression in New Zealand

Date21 October 2020
Published date21 October 2020
Subject MatterAccounting & finance,Financial risk/company failure,Financial crime
AuthorRadiah Othman,Rashid Ameer
Unemployment and fraud during
the Great Depression in
New Zealand
Radiah Othman
School of Accountancy, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand, and
Rashid Ameer
School of Global Studies, IPU New Zealand Tertiary Institute,
Palmerston North, New Zealand
Purpose This paper aimsto provide a historical understanding of the unemploymentcontext experienced
by the New Zealand population during the Great Depression, which might have caused people to commit
f‌inancialcrimes, such as fraud, to survive.
Design/methodology/approach The main source of information is narratives from newspaper
articles published by 42 newspapers from 1931 to 1950 that explore New Zealandersexperiences during
declinedeconomic conditions.
Findings During the period studied, New Zealanders suffered because of various challenges, mainly
unemployment. The governments response was criticised by the people who used the newspapers as a
medium to unleash their frustration about the fairness of unemployment relief for the unemployed and
taxation of thosewho were employed. Some people who struggled in between jobs, as well as some who found
themselvesbeing disadvantaged, turned to deviant behavioursuch as fraud. The fraudsters might be thought
of as the victimsof the day, committing a crime of survival, not a crime of choice.
Research limitations/implications This research promotes more historical studies to enrich fraud-
auditing literature. The lack of detailed information reported in the newspapers during this period limits
making specif‌iclinks to individual circumstances.
Originality/value Fraudsters have always been perceived as responsible for their destinies, but a wider
social and political context is rarely examined in fraud cases. The period chosen for this paper represents the
extreme condition in which the elements of motive, opportunity and rationalisation are all interwoven into one.
Keywords New Zealand, History, Unemployment, Fraud, Great depression
Paper type General review
This paper brings to light the aperture of a historical understanding of the context which
might have allowed for fraud during the economic hardship in New Zealand during the
Great Depression. The depression severely affected people who were already in debt and
marginal in the society (Mein-Smith, 2012). By bringing the contextual stories of the past,
the paper illustrates that not all frauds were the crime of choice, and though the context
might be different from the present, it is possible that fraud can also be a crime of survival
Fraud is often clandestine, committed to gain direct or indirect benef‌its through
deception (Wheeler et al.,2015;Johnstone, 1999). The landscape of New Zealand fraud
perpetrated in the twentieth centuryhas yet to emerge widely in the literature. The majority
of the studies exploring the New Zealand context during the Great Depression focus on
Fraud during
the Great
Journalof Financial Crime
Vol.28 No. 2, 2021
pp. 375-385
© Emerald Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/JFC-07-2020-0135
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