Not Buying This

By ELIANE ENGELER, Associated Press Writer

GENEVA – The United States leads the world in economic loss from deaths caused by armed crime, according to a global survey released Friday.

I this possibly because someone in the U.S. is capable of producing more economic gain than in some other countries?

The U.S. registered an estimated loss of up to $45.1 billion in terms of economic productivity because of violent crimes, said the report by the U.N. Development Program and the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey.

It’s not clear from this article, but one can assume the figure is based on a year.  The U.S. Gross Domestic Product was approximately $13,250 billion August of 2006*. The total number of deaths from suicide and homicide for 2005* was 50,761. This translates into an economic loss of $888,477.37 per person killed by some kind of “arms”. If only the 18, 124 homicides are used, that number is $2,488,413.15.

The worst part of this story is that it isn’t clear what method, what years, what criteria were used. I’m guessing here, and using data that closest matches that reported, even though the report is vague.

At least 490,000 people are killed in armed crimes each year worldwide, placing a huge economic cost and social burden on nations, the report said.

Define armed. Define crime. Does it include suicide? All suicides or only those using some kind of “arms”?

The report did not give a country-by-country breakdown of the numbers of people killed in armed crimes.

That would have been helpful, wouldn’t it? In fact, without that information how is value gained from this report?

But the report said that Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Jamaica and South Africa are among the countries with the highest numbers of recorded violent crimes in the world.

Sad, but not all that surprising.

More people are killed worldwide in violent crimes every year than in wars, it said, asserting that the phenomenon of armed killings and its economic impact on nations is largely underreported.

Or perhaps that the impact of war is over-reported? It really isn’t surprising to me that crime – armed or unarmed, doesn’t decrease when a country is at war. Nor does it increase when a country is not at war.

In the 90 countries surveyed, the economic cost from people killed by arms each year is estimated to total between $95 billion and $163 billion, according to the report.

The difference is only a drop in the bucket right? Just $20 or so billion more than if the share of the U.S. was subtracted? Is that the closest they can get?

“These estimates are based on calculations of the ‘lost product’ that is represented by premature deaths from armed violence,” said Achim Wennmann of the Small Arms Survey.

So, they took into account the ages of the people killed, right? Because the “armed killing” of one 65 or 70 years old would not be worth nearly as much as the “armed killing” of one 18 years old.

“These people — had they lived — would have contributed as any other individual as productive members of society. Their deaths represent a loss that can be quantified,” he told The Associated Press.

I’m not questioning that the costs of these deaths can be quantified, I’m questioning the methodology.

The cost arising from these deaths includes a wide range of expenses from medical care, legal proceedings, and lost earnings to lost investment, the 162-page report said.

Lost investment? Is a specific $amt proclaimed for each year of a person’s life? And with medical care, wouldn’t it be cheaper to do away with them younger? (Crass, I know… ) As for legal proceedings, are we counting the cost of incarceration for the killer?

Wennmann said the report was based on figures compiled by international organizations and national authorities. The most recent available statistics from all the 90 countries surveyed were from 2004, said Wennmann, one of the editors of the report.

He said they had more recent statistics from North America.

In 2007, the region lost up to $46.76 billion from armed violence, he said. The vast majority of that loss — up to $44.8 billion — occurred in the United States, said Wennmann.

Whoa… really? Care to compare that taking into regard population and gross domestic product?

Guatemala — which has a high rate of violent crime but a smaller population and a much lower GDP than the United States — the cost of armed violence was estimated to be nearly $2.4 billion in 2005, the latest year of data available, the report said. The figure includes health expenses, security costs, impact on investment and material losses.

Cecile Molinier, who directs the U.N. Development Program’s office in Geneva, said armed violence is an obstacle in the fight against poverty.

This I can agree with. It also brings into question the method used to calculate the “worth” of those killed.

“It tears apart the social fabric of communities, creates fear and insecurity, destroys human and social capital and undermines development,” she said.

Yep, violent crime will do that. It would be interesting to see U.S. internal reports using the same methodology and compare Washington D.C. to NYC, to Los Angeles, to Dallas, to Atlanta. Perhaps we could break this down by neighborhood even?

Among the 90 countries are nations from every continent, including Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Ethiopia, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria, Russia and the United States.

Hardly a list of comparable economies.

The report was written for the secretariat of the 2006 Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development — a document signed by 94 states that have pledged to work toward reducing the number of violent crimes.

The United States is not a signatory of the declaration.

Let’s see how this declaration works in reducing the cost of “armed killings” in these 94 nations, then decide whether we want to follow the recommendations.

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