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By the numbers: What violence costs the planet

'bed-in for peace'

Beatle John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono in their bed in the Presidential Suite of the Hilton Hotel, Amsterdam, 25th March 1969. The couple were staging a 'bed-in for peace' and intended to stay in bed for seven days 'as a protest against war and violence in the world'.

How much does war and violence cost us—all 7 billion of us on Planet Earth?

In its Global Peace Index, the Institute for Economics and Peace, an international think tank, attempts to quantify the economic impact of violent strife of all kinds — from homicide to civil war to terrorism — in 162 countries around the world.

The bottom-line: nearly $10 trillion spent “containing and dealing with the consequences of violence” worldwide in 2013. That cost has been rising steadily for the past eight years, as global “peacefulness” declined, especially in regions like the Middle East, South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

“Violence containment” by the Index’s definition includes everything from buying tanks, deploying surveillance satellites and paying soldiers; to economic damage from civil war, political violence, drug trafficking, and refugee crises; to the costs of domestic security—from police, airport security, and jails, to lost wages and fear of criminality suffered by homicide victims’ families.

Here’s Marketplace’s take on the Global Peace Index “By the Numbers”:


$9.8 trillion

That was the global cost of violence in 2013 — for trying to contain it, and dealing with its consequences. $9.8 trillion represents 11.3 percent of global GDP, or $1,350 for every person on the planet. It is double the GDP of Africa. The cost of violence rose nearly 4 percent from 2012.

$5,455 per person

The U.S. cost of violence containment per-capita — for every man, woman, and child living in America. The U.S. spends 10.2 percent of GPD to deal with violence — everything from the costs of homicide and law enforcement, to military and terrorist threats like North Korea and Al Quaeda. The U.S. spends more per-capita than Mexico ($1,430), France ($1,300), South Africa ($1,000), Argentina ($635), or India ($145). The U.S. even outspends Israel, at $2,795 per capita, or 8.1 percent of GDP.

#1: Iceland

Iceland (spending $320 per person on violence containment) again ranked as the world’s most peaceful country. Iceland does well on many of the 22 indicators that the Index tracks. These include: homicide rate, terrorist activity, displaced persons due to civil conflict, per-capita weapons imports and exports, size of police and armed forces, incarceration rate, per-capita military spending, and the number killed in armed conflict. Rounding out the “Top 10 Most Peaceful” list: Denmark, Austria, New Zealand, Switzerland, Finland, Canada, Japan, Belgium, Norway.

#162: Syria

Syria overtook Afghanistan in 2013 as the “least peaceful place on earth”—ranked 162 out of 162 countries surveyed. Rounding out the “10 Most Violent”: Afghanistan, South Sudan, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pakistan, and North Korea.

#152 and #151: Russia, Nigeria

Cutting off the “10 Most Violent” list here leaves off these two giants, which are eleventh and twelfth. Russia’s adventurism in the Crimea and Eastern Ukraine solidified its dismal performance on the Index, and also caused Ukraine’s peacefulness to fall. Nigeria has suffered a severe deterioration in public safety as terrorists have murdered and kidnapped with little effective response from the military or police.  

#101: U.S.

The U.S. rank in the 2014 Global Peace Index. Just behind Bangladesh, Haiti and Benin . . . but beating out Angola, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. The U.S. is the least peaceful country in North America — but its only regional competition is Canada, which ranks #7 for peacefulness worldwide.

35 out of 36

That’s how many countries in Europe are more peaceful than the U.S. Only Turkey is less peaceful — and it has a civil war next door. In Central America, Costa Rica and Panama are the most peaceful countries; Mexico and Honduras the most violent. For a safe South American vacation, go to Uruguay or Chile, ranked tops in the region; avoid Colombia and Venezuela. Brazil ranks near the bottom of the continent, at #91 — World Cup muggers, anyone?

About the author

Mitchell Hartman is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Entrepreneurship Desk and also covers employment.

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