- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Peace in America has nothing to do with politics, red states, blue states or moral judgment. And a peaceful nation has a better economy — at least according to a massive index that ranks the relative harmony of each state according to a variety of federal and state statistics.

Those who seek the proverbial peaceful life should head to Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Minnesota or North Dakota — the “most peaceful” states in the nation, says the first-ever United States Peace Index, a report obtained by The Washington Times that will be released Wednesday by the Australia-based Institute of Economics and Peace.

Alternatively, the Aussie researchers have deemed Louisiana, Tennessee, Nevada, Florida and Alabama the “least peaceful” states.

“We don’t want to make policy recommendations. We’re just about counting,” said Steve Killelea, an entrepreneur and philanthropist who originated the index and founded the institute, which he describes as “conservative and nonpartisan.”

Because only states were measured, the District of Columbia was not part of the tally; Virginia was ranked smack dab in the middle at No. 25. Nearby Maryland, however, landed near the bottom for peace — at 41st.

New Jersey, long portrayed by Hollywood as a rough-and-tumble sort of state, was in slot 26. With their troubled borders, Texas placed at No. 45, New Mexico at 38 and Arizona at 37.

Meanwhile, Sarah Palin’s gutsy Alaska weighed in at No. 30, while President Obama’s former residence appeared harmonious indeed — Hawaii was in 12th place.

There’s no touchy-feely factor at work. The research is based on statistics from the FBI, U.S. Census Bureau, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Justice and other agencies.

The index methodically ranked all 50 states according to five “basic indicators” on a per-capita basis: the amount of violent crime, the number of homicides, the number of people in jail or prison, the number of police and other law enforcement statistics, plus the availability of firearms, an indicator that could make Second Amendment advocates cringe.

“Peace has a hard edge. The key thing is that peace — through quantifying it — is worth studying. Once you measure it, you determine if your actions are creating a peaceful society or hindering it,” Mr. Killelea said.

Peace also has become a budget consideration.

The research contends that the “absence of violence” can reap economic benefits. A more peaceful U.S. could save $361 billion a year while the “release of trapped productivity through the abatement of violence” would generate an additional 2.7 million jobs.

“Violence creates costs for both business and government, it also reduces productivity, which if unleashed will create additional economic growth,” the index said, citing, among other things, “growing incarceration” as a particular drag on the economy.

And no politics are in the mix.

“Peace is not related to political affiliation. Neither the groupings of traditionally Republican states nor Democratic states have a discernable advantage in peace,” the index advised.

The research team chose the U.S. as a “test country” because of the wealth of demographic data that is available. The team had some good news. Based on lower crime rates and other factors, the research found that the nation has become 8 percent more peaceful since the mid-1990s.

“This study is the first of a series,” Mr. Killelea said, noting that Britain, Colombia and India are candidates for internal peace indexes. He hopes to build on the Global Peace Index, an annual project he launched in 2007 that ranks the comparative peacefulness among nations.

“The idea is to move the study around,” he added.

While talk of peace long has been a loaded subject in cultural and political discussions, the researchers insist that their findings are void of ethical trappings.

“This study does not seek to make any moral or value judgments about the appropriate levels of any of the indicators,” the index said.

“I think there isn’t anything too controversial here. Most people wouldn’t mind living in a society that is more peaceful, with strong prospects for economic improvement,” Mr. Killelea said.

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