Not just fighting violence

The Institute for Economics and Peace is a non-profit think tank devoted to proffering the cause of peace all over the world. While their focus is explicitly macro-social (nation or global region) many of the ideas they propose have direct applicability here in Pine Bluff.

According to its website, the organization works to understand “the relationship between peace, business and prosperity, and by promoting a better understanding of the cultural, economic and political factors that drive peacefulness.”

While it might be easy for some to dismiss this out of hand as some “hippy dippy” idealism, their logic has an unavoidable resonance. Their most recent report, “The Economic Costs of Violence Containment,” elaborates the amount of global resources that are spent fighting violence. More importantly it also highlights how expenditures toward peace provide substantial dividends. Ultimately, their thesis should have great appeal to the business community because the path IEP outlines is geared toward prosperity and stable economies.

As the report concludes, “By understanding the social and economic drivers of violence, policymakers and business leaders can better understand the costs and benefits of particular social and economic investment programs … by directing resources towards… the root causes of violence, society can begin to make long-term investments in the creation of a virtuous cycle of peace and economic prosperity.”

According to the IEP analysis of global trends, the United States ranks in the highest quintile of world nations in terms of spending to address violence. Using expenditures as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product, the U.S. joins the ranks of Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in its efforts to contain violence. The U.S. devotes almost 11 percent of its overall GDP to violence containment.

Rather than continuing along this ever-steepening treadmill, the IEP suggests that nations look at the root causes of violence, rather than just fighting the obvious, ugly symptoms. This idea should find great purchase here in Pine Bluff.

In many editorials we have suggested that the epidemic of violence that plagues our city cannot be adequately addressed as a criminal justice problem alone. While it most certainly is a criminal justice problem, it is also an economic problem, a public health problem, a city planning problem, a social justice problem and an image problem.

It is therefore grotesquely naïve to think that the police alone can extricate us from the jaws of this blight.

Sadly, that is almost always the approach we take. We have consigned ourselves to an ineffectual monotonic solution because the bigger picture seems too overwhelming and the changes required will disturb too many well-established fiefdoms. Moreover, many of our elected officials lack the resolve to address our collective ills with system-wide solutions. In short, we think in terms of small, atomized policy when we should be asking deeper questions about those characteristics of the city that foster and facilitate violence.

How might this be accomplished? The IEP report gives us a clue: “Peace is not just the absence of violence, but involves the creation of those institutions and structures that encourage greater resilience and foster human development. Encouraging peace through the development of the appropriate attitudes, institutions and structures that sustain peace therefore both reduces violence containment expenditure and encourages the fulfilment of human potential.”

This then gets us back to “that vision thing.” We need our leaders to focus on the city we want to become, not just the city we were or are. That, dear friends, is a much tougher hill to climb.