Friday, April 8, 2011

South Carolina ranks 42nd in nation in "peacefulness"

No one familiar with South Carolina's history finds this surprising: A new report issued by the Institute of Economics and Peace finds that our dear state ranks eighth from the bottom in "peacefulness," a composite of various statistical indicators. At first blush, this feels like a low blow.

But let's review:

(1) Charles Towne was settled by people who believed it was their right to enslave other human beings, and the philosophy spread.

(2) South Carolina's leaders introduced the idea of "nullification," the foolish notion that a single state -- ours -- could "nullify" or veto any federal law we didn't like.

(3) Eight years after South Carolina voters clearly and specifically indicated that they didn't want to secede from the Union alone, we were the first state to secede from the United States.

(4) Next week marks the 150th anniversary of the Civil War's first shots, at our own Fort Sumter.

(5) When the Constitution was amended to free slaves, establish citizenship for all native-born people and allow men of all races to vote, we adopted "black codes" to prevent it.

(6) When the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional to bar minorities from voting in a state-sponsored primary, we passed more than 100 laws in a few days to pass the responsibilities for primaries from the state to political parties themselves, the system that still exists today.

(7) When the rest of the nation approved a Constitutional amendment to give women the right to vote in 1920, South Carolina didn't ratify the amendment for another 49 years.

(8) And when the Supreme Court overturned "separate-but-equal" and outlawed segregation in public facilities, we dragged our feet for more than a decade to give our wealthy citizens time to open their own "segregation academies."

(9) We never passed a statewide law to fund public schools until 1977, then funded the schools by its formula in only a handful of years since then.

In almost every aspect of life in our state, when we've had the opportunity to ensure a higher quality-of-life for all of our people, we've ignored the opportunity and abdicated our responsibility, deferring instead to the authority of our home-grown aristocrats and industrialists.

We are, ultimately, a self-identified republic of exceptions. If peacefulness were profitable, we would rank first in the nation. But it is not; there is profit in classism, caste and conflict; therefore we are expert at maintaining classes, caste and conflicts. Rankings such as the one from the Institute of Economics and Peace will find no traction here except among the chattering chattel.

With our review out of the way, what exactly does this report say?

The aim of the index is to “further understand the types of environments associated with peace, quantify the potential economic benefits of increased peacefulness, analyze the fabric of peace within the United States, and serve as a framework for additional studies,” the EIP said.

The index, which defines peace as “the absence of violence,” used such indicators as 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 to construct the index was drawn from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Federal Bureau of Investigation and Centers for Disease Control.

If the data were drawn from the number of retirees from elsewhere settling in South Carolina, or tourism dollars, or our low property tax rates, or the number of private and parochial schools, surely the data would have left our state in a better light. Therefore, I'm sure our leaders will declare the study skewed and the results invalid.

So, based on skewed data, here are the invalid results:

South Carolina is ranked 42 among the 10 least peaceful states. Nearby Georgia and North Carolina are 39th and 32nd respectively in the overall listing.

In all things good, we rank behind our neighbors. Same as it ever was; same as it ever was.

The USPI also found that a state’s ranking is strongly correlated with 15 socioeconomic factors, including high school graduation rates, infant mortality, access to basic services, labor force participation rates, and rates of poverty and teenage pregnancy.

Meanwhile, factors such as median income and a state’s political affiliation had no discernable impact on a state’s level of peace, the IEP said.

“The index underlines the negative impact of violence on our economy, and reinforces the idea that minimizing violence, through job creation programs and increased access to education and healthcare, dramatically increases the prospects for growth,” said Kerry Kennedy, president, Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights.

Didn't you suspect there would be a Kennedy involved?

“We should be mindful of this when proposing domestic discretionary spending cuts that will not only disproportionately impact those most vulnerable to violence and poverty, but will also hinder our collective prosperity,” Kennedy added.

“Peace translates into dollars and cents,” said IEP Founder Steve Killelea. “We have seen this in the findings of the 2010 Global Peace Index, where we found that a 25 percent reduction in global violence would free up $1.8 trillion USD annually.”

“We are seeing the same thing with the USPI. By increasing peace, the United States can ensure that these unrealized billions are available to reduce taxes, stimulate the economy or invest in the nation’s infrastructure, schools, communities, and small businesses,” Killelea said.

He said incarceration rates are not only a drag on the U.S. economy, but they also don’t necessarily equate to decreases in crime and violence, or an increase in a state’s peacefulness.

So long as peacefulness falls in the "expense" column rather than the "profit" column, these data will remain the same. That is, unless South Carolina voters get sick enough of our living conditions and elect leaders who think -- and govern -- differently.

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