Sunday, October 18, 2015

u.s. murder rates...,

mises |  Much of the political thinking about violence in the United States comes from unfavorable comparisons between the United States and a series of cherry-picked countries with lower murder rates and with fewer guns per capita. We’ve all seen it many times. The United States, with a murder rate of approximately 5 per 100,000 is compared to a variety of Western and Central European countries (also sometimes Japan) with murder rates often below 1 per 100,000. This is, in turn, supposed to fill Americans with a sense of shame and illustrate that the United States should be regarded as some sort of pariah nation because of its murder rate. 

Note, however, that these comparisons always employ a carefully selected list of countries, most of which are very unlike the United States. They are  countries that were settled long ago by the dominant ethnic group, they are ethnically non-diverse today, they are frequently very small countries (such as Norway, with a population of 5 million) with very locally based democracies (again, unlike the US with an immense population and far fewer representatives in government per voter). Politically, historically, and demographically, the US has little in common with Europe or Japan.

 Prejudice about the "Developed World" vs "the Third World"
But these are the only countries the US shall be compared to, we are told, because the US shall only be compared to “developed” countries when analyzing its murder rate and gun ownership.

And yet, no reason for this is ever given. What is the criteria for deciding that the United States shall be compared to Luxembourg but not to Mexico, which has far more in common with the US than Luxembourg in terms of size, history, ethnic diversity, and geography?

Much of this stems from outdated preconceived and evidence-free notions about the "third world." As Hans Rosling has shown, there is this idea of "we" vs. "them." "We" are the special "developed" countries were people are happy healthy, and live long lives. "Them" is the third world where people live in war-torn squalor and lives there are nasty, brutish, and short. In this mode of thinking there is a bright shiny line between the "developed" world and everyone else, who might as well be considered as a different species.

In truth, there is no dividing line between the alleged "developed" world and everyone else. There is, in fact, only gradual change that takes place as one looks at Belgium, then the US, then Chile, and Turkey, and China, and Mexico. Most countries, as Rosling illustrates here, are in the middle, and this is freely exhibited by a variety of metrics including the UN's human development index.

Once we understand these facts, and do not cling to bizarre xenophobic views about how everyone outside the "developed" world is too dysfunctional and/or subhuman (although few gun control advocates would ever admit to the thought) to bear comparison to the US, we immediately see that the mantra "worst in the developed world" offers an immensely skewed, unrealistic, and even bigoted view of the world and how countries compare to each other.