Peace is profitable: time for the US to invest
The US ranked an abysmally low 82 on the recent Global Peace Index. Unless America invests in the structures to promote peace, it will continue to find itself at war. The peace dividend is worth it: The world could have saved $8 trillion if it had been at peace last year.
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Australia's Institute for Economics and Peace recently released its 2011 Global Peace Index, citing a veritable "who's who" of peaceful countries. It counted up the savings had the world been at peace: more than $8 trillion last year, and almost $38 trillion over the five years since the index was started. Think of what a country such as the United States – which does not fare well on the index – could do with that kind of change.
Produced in coordination with the Economist Intelligence Unit, the index ranks 153 countries. It uses data on each nation's domestic and international conflicts, safety in society, and militarization. Measuring a range of factors from violent crime and homicide levels to incarceration rates and weapons access, the peace index is an important contribution to the global security debate.
In contrast with the Failed States Index and the Terrorism Index developed by Foreign Policy magazine, the Global Peace Index is one of the first indices to assess the true cost of violence and the true economics of peace.
The 2011 peace index shows that the world became less peaceful in the last year. Among the most peaceful nations, Iceland, New Zealand, and Japan emerged as the top three, respectively. European Union countries also fared well, garnering six of the Top 10 slots, with Canada ranking as 8th most peaceful.
Why the US doesn't fare well on peace index
Most worryingly, the US ranked 82nd, far behind its EU allies. This is hardly a rosy picture for America and seems to fly in the face of foreign policy indices that show the US among the most free, democratic, and least failing states. For the US, the domestic data vis-à-vis violence is particularly daunting – though America has improved peace-wise since the mid-1990s because of a substantial decrease in homicides and violent crime.
Still, in the US, every year almost 100,000 people are shot in murders, assaults, suicides, or accidents, or by police intervention – one-third of whom die. Last year, America witnessed 1.25 million violent crimes. With one in every hundred adult Americans incarcerated, no other rich country is nearly as punitive as the Land of the Free, as The Economist put it.
ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE: Dark underbelly of the world's most 'peaceful' countries
The cost of this violence is financially untenable. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that for each life cut short by homicide, the economy loses $1.65 million. For prisons, America spends $80 billion annually on its correctional system – or $35,000 per inmate – a figure that does not include the nearly $98 billion in lost productivity from America's 2.3 million inmates.
America pursues policies that primarily react to violence, not prevent it. It does this despite the fact that we know, from the US Peace Index (produced by the same groups that produce the global index) that the more an American state "graduates its students, insures its residents, provides basic services, prevents pregnancy and infant mortality, and lowers poverty and inequality rates, the less prevalent and pervasive violent crime, homicide, incarceration, policing and small arms trafficking will be."
Reducing violence by a mere 25 percent – a feasible goal, which should be the focus of foreign policy forums – could reap a global peace dividend of at least $2 trillion annually.