USA Ranks 22nd on Stable, Prosperous Countries List
Christian Le MiÃ¨re, 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
Ivory Coast 36
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.