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USA Ranks 22nd on Stable, Prosperous Countries List

A ranking of the world’s countries for stability and prosperity places the United States in the 22nd spot, much to the delight of several commenters on the Left (who, naturally, blame Bush).

Christian Le Mière, managing editor of Jane’s Country Risk, which compiled the ratings, said . . . that the US had fallen down the scale, although it still scored an average of 93 out of 100, partly because of the proliferation of small arms owned by Americans and the threat to the population posed by the flow of drugs from across the Mexican border.

Matt Corley and Angela Winter find it rather amusing. Michael Goldfarb finds the ranking insulting, huffing that, “it’s not like people are risking their lives to emigrate to the apparently crime-free Vatican (ranked #1).”

The methodology here is debatable, to be sure. As Nick Gillespie implies, “a proliferation of small arms” is a sign of freedom, not instability, in the American context.

Be that as it may, any analysis that looks at the study and sees that the U.S. is “only” 22nd and therefore, as Corley puts it, “21 countries in the world are more ’stable’ than the U.S” suffers from an improper understanding of scales of measurement.

A ranking of countries from 1 to 235 is merely ordinal. Knowing that Country A is 1st on the scale and Country B is 22nd gives very little information. Country A could be slightly “better” or markedly so; indeed, depending on how the ranking handles ties, they could actually be identical and the ranking within the ties arbitrary. Given only the rankings, we simply don’t know.

In this case, however, we also have interval data, which allows us to measure differences, albeit probably not ratio data,* which would allow more complex comparisons:

    1. Vatican 99
    2. Sweden 99
    3. Luxembourg 99
    4. Monaco 98
    5. Gibraltar 98
    6. San Marino 98
    7. Liechtenstein 97
    8. United Kingdom 97
    9. The Netherlands 97
    10. Irish Republic 97
    US: 22nd equal 93

Looking at the data this way, we see that the countries at the upper end of the scale are virtually identical. For the sake of comparison, here are the ten countries (or semi-autonomous regions) at the lower end of the scale:

    Central African Republic 39
    Democratic Congo 38
    Chad 38
    Zimbabwe 38
    Haiti 38
    Ivory Coast 36
    Afghanistan 36
    Sudan 35
    Somalia 29
    Gaza and West Bank 27

A slight rejiggering of the coding rules might well place the United States much higher on the list or somewhat lower. Regardless, however, the takeaway is not our relative position vis-a-vis other incredibly stable, prosperous states but rather than we are an incredibly stable, prosperous state. Whatever differences in “stability” or “prosperity” exist in Luxembourg, the UK, and the US are so negligible as to be meaningless. Conversely, one would never confuse Sudan or Somalia with Monaco.

UPDATE: Bruce McQuain, noting that Vatican, Luxembourg, Monaco, Gibraltar, San Marino, and Liechtenstein are ahead of the United States, exclaims, “Good grief, we have malls bigger than most of those places.” There is that.

__________

*I’m relying on the Times online reports of the study, so I’m unable to assess the methodology to see whether zero is a meaningful number on the scale or if the numbers are arbitrary. Oddly, the Jane’s Country Risk site does not reference the report as of this writing.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Cernig says:

    Isn’t it more significant that there’s so much emotion expressed from Americans at being ranked “only” 22nd than that the rankings really show the US as a very stable nation?

    Note how many of the top ten are tiny and monocultural (Vatican clerics, Monaco rich folks). Note too that all are Old Europe, with the attendant generations of tradition. 22nd is not half bad for a whippersnapper of a nation, to be honest.

    But yeah, to the rest of the world, 7 in 10 of all the small arms on the planet being in American non-military hands is seen as a wee bit of a destabilizing factor. The UK has roughly a fifth the population of the US packed into a fiftieth of the space and we keep being told urban overcrowding leads to violence. You know when the last shooting at a UK school was? 1996. A mall? Never.

    Regards, C

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  2. [...] doing so great: it’s the 22nd most stable and prosperous country in the world. But the good news for Americans is that their country is still doing reasonably well. To Turks: sadly, Turkey [...]

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  3. James Joyner says:

    Isn’t it more significant that there’s so much emotion expressed from Americans at being ranked “only” 22nd than that the rankings really show the US as a very stable nation?

    The reaction reflects a lack of understanding of the data. Furthering the understanding, then, is more important than the underlying ignorance.

    You know when the last shooting at a UK school was? 1996. A mall? Never.

    Presumably, though, there have been stabbings? Not to mention home-grown Islamist terrorist attacks?

    Indeed, Joyce L Malcolm wrote for BBC in 2003, “According to a recent UN study, England and Wales have the highest crime rate and worst record for “very serious” offences of the 18 industrial countries surveyed.”

    Old stereotypes die hard and the vision of Britain as a peaceable kingdom, America as “the wild west culture on the other side of the Atlantic” is out of date. It is true that in contrast to Britain’s tight gun restrictions, half of American households have firearms, and 33 states now permit law-abiding citizens to carry concealed weapons.

    But despite, or because, of this, violent crime in America has been plummeting for 10 consecutive years, even as British violence has been rising. By 1995 English rates of violent crime were already far higher than America’s for every major violent crime except murder and rape.

    You are now six times more likely to be mugged in London than New York. Why? Because as common law appreciated, not only does an armed individual have the ability to protect himself or herself but criminals are less likely to attack them. They help keep the peace. A study found American burglars fear armed home-owners more than the police. As a result burglaries are much rarer and only 13% occur when people are at home, in contrast to 53% in England.

    Much is made of the higher American rate for murder. That is true and has been for some time. But as the Office of Health Economics in London found, not weapons availability, but “particular cultural factors” are to blame. A study comparing New York and London over 200 years found the New York homicide rate consistently five times the London rate, although for most of that period residents of both cities had unrestricted access to firearms.

    When guns were available in England they were seldom used in crime. A government study for 1890-1892 found an average of one handgun homicide a year in a population of 30 million. But murder rates for both countries are now changing. In 1981 the American rate was 8.7 times the English rate, in 1995 it was 5.7 times the English rate, and by last year it was 3.5 times. With American rates described as “in startling free-fall” and British rates as of October 2002 the highest for 100 years the two are on a path to converge.

    The comparative rates are also apparently somewhat skewed by different reporting methodologies.

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  4. Scott_T says:

    Wait a minute, JANE’s is describing the “open Mexican border” as a problem allowing an influx of illegal drugs into our society?

    Well lets get the politicians on THAT to rectify, and raise our ranking!

    The Open Borders lobby is lowering our respectability world-wide! Am I the only person who see’s that!

    :-P

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  5. Christopher says:

    Note that: who cares!

    By the way, I heard that Liechtenstein was a virtual hell-hole: Muggings, drugs, little people, overcrowding, class-warfare, feelings of inadequacy, no where to dump garbage etc. How do they survive without repeated stage performances of “Wizard of Oz”?

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  6. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    You know when the last shooting at a UK school was? 1996. A mall? Never.

    As per Wikipedia:

    Before the 1997 ban, handguns were only held by 0.1% of the population,[25] and while the number of crimes involving firearms in England and Wales increased from 13,874 in 1998/99 to 24,070 in 2002/03, they remained relatively static at 24,094 in 2003/04, and have since fallen to 21,521 in 2005/06.

    Since 1998, the number of people injured by firearms in England and Wales increased by 110%,[28] from 2,378 in 1998/99 to 5,001 in 2005/06.

    Gun crime not only exists in the UK, it has increased due to the “decrease” in available guns.

    So how does a country with such a rampant rise in crime rate as more stable than the US?

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  7. Cernig says:

    LOL, it really IS that easy to push conservative buttons. I didn’t mean to but apparently I did.

    God forbid anyone suggests ever that the US is number two or even number 22. Nationaist fervor overrides all levelheadedness. America is bigger, biggest, best! McQ’s snark says it all, unfortunately.

    James, I’d say that’s more relevant to reactions over this study than ignorance or understanding of the study’s underpinnings. The arrogant “we have bigger malls than your countries” syndrome also explains European recalcitrance at NATO and in other international venues, in great part. You might want to mention that to your boss.

    Regards, C

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  8. Kathy says:

    As Nick Gillespie implies, “a proliferation of small arms” is a sign of freedom, not instability, in the American context.

    LOL, James. I think your phrase “in the American context,” is precisely the point. Most other prosperous, stable countries see a country awash in guns as indicative of a highly belligerent, violent, *unstable* culture.

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  9. James Joyner says:

    Most other prosperous, stable countries see a country awash in guns as indicative of a highly belligerent, violent, *unstable* culture.

    It usually is, as that mostly describes 3rd World countries with serious law and order problems. In the United States and Australia, though, the gun culture exists apart from criminality. No doubt, it also means that violent crimes are committed with guns rather than knives.

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  10. Bandit says:

    Jealousy is an ugly, ugly trait C.

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  11. James Joyner says:

    The arrogant “we have bigger malls than your countries” syndrome also explains European recalcitrance at NATO and in other international venues, in great part.

    It’s mostly a humorous observation, although comparing a continental superpower with Monaco is rather silly methodologically. Monaco, Luxembourg, and the rest are highly advanced societies and we come to diplomatic summits as equals. But we’re not comparable in terms of the complexity of border security, law enforcement, and so forth.

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  12. floyd says:

    I leave my home unguarded,and travel unarmed and unafraid out into a public sphere offering nearly all my needs for which I can pay from a stable banking system.
    Even though there are those who would choose to silence my faith and destroy my liberty, our system has thus far denied them the power to do so.
    If this is number 22 then I say great! Wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if what we have were 235th?

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  13. gwb says:

    http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23440566-details/Police+chief+moves+home+to+escape+yobs+on+his+wall/article.do
    This fairly recent article regarding the problems of an English police chief with unruly hooligans in his neighborhood speaks poorly of the level of security in English life. How many police chiefs in this country would be run out of their homes by “yobs” sitting on the wall?

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  14. Kathy says:

    No doubt, it also means that violent crimes are committed with guns rather than knives.

    I’m not familiar with the statistics on how many violent crimes are committed with guns as opposed to knives, but I *can* tell you this: If I were on one side of Main Street and a violent criminal was on the other side, intent on killing me, I think I would be more likely to survive if his weapon was a knife than if his weapon was a gun.

    Don’t get me wrong; I’m not a big fan of using knives as weapons, and I’m certainly not a ballistics expert, but I just have this intuitive sense that gun violence is more likely to result in fatalities than knife violence.

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  15. PatHMV says:

    James, the Jane’s Country Risk website has a press release on the survey. It includes a link to a page on their pay side where you could get more information. No better description of their methodology is included in the press release, unfortunately.

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  16. Grewgills says:

    For those who feel the results are unfair to America and that we deserve a higher ranking, we are #4 among nations with a population greater than 50 mil.

    For those uncomfortable with anything short of American exceptionalism, we are #1 among countries with population over 100 mil. Take that China and India!

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