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Not-for-Profit, Award-Winning Community News and Views for Windham County, Vermont • Since 2006
Voices / Editorial

A peaceful place

While the rest of the nation seems as if it has become unhinged, Vermont has retained most of its sanity.

We are usually ranked among the smartest, healthiest, and safest states in the union.

Now, we are apparently one of the most peaceful.

The Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), an Australian-based think tank that issues a yearly Global Peace Index, recently did its first such ranking for the United States. The full study can be found at www.visionofhumanity.org.

Using a baseline definition of peace as “the absence of violence,” the IEP used a index that looked at five indicators — 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.

By this group’s measure, the most peaceful state was Maine, followed by New Hampshire, Vermont, Minnesota, North Dakota, Utah, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Iowa, and Washington.

The least peaceful state? Louisiana, followed by Tennessee, Nevada, Florida, Alabama, Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Maryland.

As a nation, the United States didn’t do so well in the IEP’s global rankings. We ranked 85th out of 149 nations, with Iraq the least peaceful nation and New Zealand the most peaceful.

Why?

In its global report, the IEP described peace as “a proxy for many other things that create the optimum environment for humanity to flourish. These can be defined as the structures that create peace and the social attitudes that support it.”

The IEP lists nine such structures and attitudes: a well-functioning government, a sound business environment, respect of human rights and tolerance, good relations with neighboring states, high levels of freedom of information, the acceptance of others, high participation rates in primary and secondary education, low levels of corruption, and equitable sharing of resources.

As a nation, the United States is lacking in many of these areas. But using those nine structures and attitudes as a baseline, you can see why Vermont did so well.

Vermont is fortunate to have a well-functioning government and a sound business environment. Our state respects the rights of all its citizens. We have vibrant communities and a well-educated population.

Community journalism flourishes here, people are involved in civic life, and the greatest good for the greatest number is still the primary yardstick for public policy.

* * *

The IEP’s state study found a significant correlation between peacefulness and a state’s level of economic opportunity, education, and health. The northern New England states all rank high in those areas, which is why only 0.04 percentage points separated New Hampshire and Vermont in their respective rankings for second and third place, and why Maine came out top.

The specific measures of achievement for Vermont are impressive. This state has the highest high-school graduation rate in the country. It ranks fifth for percentage of people with a high-school diploma and fifth for educational opportunities.

Vermont has the third-lowest teenage pregnancy rate, third-lowest infant mortality rate, and the lowest teenage death rate in the nation.

The state is also one of the most equitable in terms of its income distribution.

Vermont has the second lowest rate of violent crime and homicide. Interestingly enough, Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire all have low violent crime rates, despite all three states ranking high on the list for availability of firearms.

* * *

Taken as a whole, the IEP study is stating something very obvious — a place with high poverty and limited opportunities for economic and social advancement is more likely to be a violent place to live.

By contrast, Vermont is a peaceful place because we are a state that invests in health, education, and public safety and realizes there is a direct correlation between public spending and public well-being.

Someday, maybe the rest of the nation will catch up with us.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #99 (Wednesday, May 4, 2011).

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