As last weekend's atrocity in Orlando showed, the United States isn't a peaceful place. For an advanced country, we have a disturbingly high level of violent deaths (particularly among black Americans) and a high level of economic losses linked to that violence. In fact, looked a certain way, you might wonder if the U.S. is really that advanced at all.
One of those ways is the Global Peace Index, which uses 23 measures of peace to rank 163 countries. The U.S. comes in 103rd place, putting us ahead of Honduras (with its very high murder rate) but behind countries generally thought of as more violent (Angola and Georgia, say). We may have avoided military conflicts at home, but we're nowhere near the peace levels of the most peaceful, which the index says are Iceland, Denmark. and Austria.
The index, put together by the Institute for Economics and Peace, an international think tank, defines peace as "the absence of violence or the fear of violence." It covers three "domains": the level of ongoing domestic and international conflict; the level of "societal safety and security" (things such as murders, terrorism, and riots); and the level of militarization, both domestic and international. We score particularly high for the last measure (partly because we have a very big defense budget) as well for indicators like incarceration rates.
The report notes that U.S. homicide and violent crime rates have dropped in recent years, but that spending on prisons and police has increased at the same time. The IEP estimates that we have "violence containment costs" of $6,681 per person, and that altogether these expenses amount to 12% of gross domestic product. That makes us the 42nd biggest national spender on security—hardly a good thing when you consider what this money could be used for.
Generally, the world became slightly less peaceful last year, according to the index. A total of 81 countries improved their scores, while 79 went backwards. Not surprisingly, the Middle East and North Africa are the least peaceful regions, while Europe—which has eight of the top 10 countries—is the most peaceful. The general lack of global peace costs the world $13.6 trillion, or 13.3% of GDP, including $2.5 trillion from crime and interpersonal violence alone.
Read more from the report here.
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