The Index’s top five most peaceful states have some of the highest population percentages with health insurance, the lowest percentages of teenage pregnancy, the highest high school graduation rates, the greatest educational opportunity, the least inequality among all household incomes, the best perceived access to basic services (e.g., clean water, medicine, etc.), the least amount of poverty and the lowest rates of infant mortality. Given published findings by credible economists regarding correlations between inequality, poverty and violence, none of these rankings is terribly surprising.
Graduate your students, insure your residents, provide basic services, prevent teenage pregnancy and infant mortality, and lower poverty and inequality rates, and the less prevalent and pervasive violent crime, homicide, incarceration, policing and small arms trafficking will be. A state’s ability to provide for its population in these areas dramatically increases its capacity to lower its levels of violence.
Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida, then, whose budget cuts this year have eaten away at education, health care, basic services or economic opportunity, would do well to reconsider. For Wisconsin, a mere 25 percent reduction in violence would save the state almost $1.7 billion annually. For Ohio, the same 25 percent reduction would save it more than $3.6 billion annually. For Florida, the savings would surpass $9.3 billion -- just for reducing its violence by 25 percent.
Halve the violence in all three states and you’d save almost $30 billion, but these are conservative cost calculations. On homicide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calculate that for each life cut short by homicide, the economy loses $1.65 million (medical costs, loss of lifelong employment, economic productivity costs).
On incarceration, this country spends $80 billion annually on its correctional system, at about $35,000 per inmate. Total costs of this lost productivity: $97.7 billion. On violent crime, the total cost to this country in 2009 was $94 billion (medical costs, lost productivity), more than half, or $58 billion, of which was associated with assault, $11 billion with rape and half a billion with robbery.
America’s tendency is to pursue policies that react primarily to violence, not aim to prevent it. As a result, not only is America less economically prosperous, it is less peaceful. The way forward, then, is to learn from what the index is telling us. A peace dividend is possible, but primarily through policies that prioritize equal opportunity, health, education and poverty alleviation. By doing so, America saves lives and saves money, a proposition that should appeal to the pragmatist in all of us.
Honda represents Silicon Valley and serves on the House Budget and Appropriations Committees. Shank is the U.S. Vice President at the Institute for Economics and Peace.