The Global Peace Index looks at the presence (or absence) of violence and the threat of violence. The United States is in the bottom half of nations in the GPI. Our North American neighbor, Canada, is by contrast in the top 10 most peaceful countries. The US score has been declining in the last few years, and in the 2020 report, the US is ranked 121 out of 163 countries. You can explore current and past rankings for the US and other countries here.
The lack of peace has a cost. Overall economic losses related to violence or the threat of violence include direct costs to people and property and also losses related to productivity shortfalls and adverse effects on consumption and spending patterns. As the 2020 GPI report states, “Expenditures on preventing and dealing with the consequences of violence divert public and private resources away from productive activities and towards protective measures.” The Institute estimates the economic cost of violence in the United States at 8% of GDP.
More peace means more money for a country’s citizens to flourish. The Institute also studies the factors that lead to greater peace, referring to these as “positive peace.” Key factors of a peaceful and prosperous society include: equal distribution of resources, free flow and quality of information, low levels of corruption, a sound business environment and well-functioning governments.
High levels of Positive Peace strengthen a country’s resilience “to absorb, adapt and recover from shocks, such as COVID-19 and the ensuing recession.” (GPI 2020 Report, p. 4). Here the US scores higher, ranking 26 out of 163 (PPI Report 2019, 26-27) — although its scores are declining here as well. Attention to and strengthening our performance on the positive peace factors could enhance our recovery.
The US is often said to be the wealthiest country in the world, so it’s not our lack of natural assets that contribute to our lower rankings on the peace indices (or other indices of social well-being such as the Social Progress Index).
As our country starts to recover from the pandemic, we have an opportunity to build a more peaceful and prosperous country. This will require taking a hard look at how we allocate our resources, particularly between production and protection, and rebuilding trust between citizens and their government.
We know what to do. Will we?
*Thank you to Vincent Leloux, a Rotary Youth Exchange student from Germany who interned with us in Spring, 2020 before returning home, for his help with this post.