If you want peace, you should head to Maine

The Institute for Economics and Peace has released its rankings of the most peaceful states in the United States and Maine tops the list. Here is some more information on this ranking:

The index, which defines peace as “the absence of violence,” looks at a set of five indicators, including homicide rates, violent crimes, percentage of the population in jail, number of police officers and availability of small arms (per 100,000 people) to rank the states. The data are drawn from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, FBI and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

On that basis, the institute finds that peace in the USA improved by 8% from 1995 to 2009.

It notes a significant correlation between a state’s level of peace and its economic opportunity, education and health but finds peacefulness is politically neutral — neither Republican nor Democratic states have an advantage.

Maine was ranked first overall because it topped the list of states on three of the five USPI indicators: number of violent crimes, number of police officers and incarceration rate.

There is some interesting regional variation with the northeast generally being more peaceful and the south being less peaceful. I’m sure there are a number of commentators and sociologists who could comment on the these findings about the South.

But, like many such rankings (see a recent example here), I’m sure people would ask whether these measures actually get at the presence or absence of violence. The percentage of the population in jail could be related to violence but there are plenty of other ways to end up in jail. The number of police officers could be related to violence but it could also be linked to funding and perceptions about crime. In terms of the availability of small arms, does this necessarily lead to violence?

Using these measures seems linked to how this organization views peace. According to the full report (page 8 of the PDF), “The methodological framework was based on envisaging a society that is perfectly at peace; a society where there is no violence, no police and no one in jail.” Here is the explanation about using the measure of small arms (page 8 of the PDF): “Additionally, this logic also applies to small arms: “the USPI does not make judgments about appropriate levels of small arms in society but rather considers their prevalence a reflection of the need for self-defense and a potential to generate violence.”

I don’t study in this area so it is interesting to read about how some of these things can ever be measured. Regarding getting a measure of small arms availability (page 10 of the PDF):

Although the U.S. has excellent data for many statistics, there is no reliable data on small arms availability, small arms ownership, or small arms sales within the U.S. or within the states of the U.S. An accurate measure of gun prevalence cannot be calculated from administrative records alone. For this reason many studies on gun prevalence use a quantitative proxy. The proxy used in the USPI is: fi rearm suicides as a percentage of total suicides (FS/S). As this indicator varied significantly from year to year for some states, a five year moving average was used in order to smooth out the variance. For example, the fi gure used for Alabama for 2008 was an average of FS/S for 2003-2007. More detail on why this proxy was chosen is supplied in Appendix B to this report.

The availability of small arms also had the lowest weighting in the rankings.

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