Virginia PeaceNix

An Aussie organization called the Institute for Economics and Peace, publisher of the Global Peace Index, has now rolled out a American version, the United States Peace Index, that ranks the 50 states by their “peacefulness.” There are “hundreds of billions of dollars” of potential economic benefits associated with domestic tranquility, asserts the Institute, if only Americans would only get with the program and become more like Canadians.

The Old Dominion may strike Virginians as a fairly peaceable state, given the fact that 2009 crime statistics rank it 7th in the country (as in 7th lowest) in the category of violent crimes per 100,000 people. Yet the commonwealth ranks only 25th nationally for peacefulness under the Institute’s methodology.

What’s that? It turns out that there’s more to “peacefulness” than a proclivity to avoid shooting and stabbing one’s neighbors. The methodology for compiling the Institute’s index also includes the number of murders — a legitimate metric, in my book, in which Virginia fares rather badly. But it also uses metrics of dubious value, such as the number of incarcerations per 10,000 people, the number of police per 10,000 people and the “availability” of small arms. And it turns out that Virginia has more police and puts more of its criminals in jail than many other states.

What? To my feeble mind, peacefulness should reflect actual conditions — freedom from murders and violent crime. But apparently that’s not sufficient. Is there a social justice aspect to this — incarcerating criminals is a negative, even if it means they aren’t committing mayhem? Hiring more police to arrest criminals and ward off crime is a negative… because it’s evocative of a police state? Someone please help me here.

The most ludicrous metric is “availability” of small arms. It doesn’t matter if people actually bear the arms, much less if they actually use them against one another. Simple access to small arms is presumed to be a negative.

Well, I suppose if Virginians were truly peaceful folk, they would have low crime rates like the inhabitants of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. I don’t know if it’s because the compilers were foreigners and not attuned to regional differences or just because they had their goody-two-shoes blinders on but they go to great lengths to correlate peacefulness with “significant socio-economic correlations” with such factors as educational achievement, infant mortality, teen pregnancy, poverty and the like. What they don’t explore is the connection between peacefulness and race/ethnicity.

As it turns out, the most peaceful states in the country happen to be among the whitest states, as in low percentages of African-Americans, Hispanics and even Asians. But they don’t have just any old kind of white people. They have white people from the New England Yankee tradition and white people of Scandinavian heritage. These states do not have large percentages of Scotch-Irish white people, or white people of Southern redneck lineage, both of which have long traditions of violence. I would argue that cultural traditions of peacefulness and a social homogeneity that preserves those traditions explain a whole lot more than anything that the peacenik Institute touched upon.

States with peaceful populations have lower crime along with low rates of incarceration and small police forces because people behave themselves. Maine Yankees and Minnesota Swedes, like Canadians, are different from most Americans. The rest of us, well, we need more police and bigger jails to take the bad guys out of circulation. Considering the recalcitrant raw material we have to work with — us — I think Virginia does pretty darn well in maintaining the peace. We should have ranked higher.

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