Maine: A paradise where peace is booming
by Bill Nemitz
It couldn't have come at a better time.
Just when it appears to the rest of the country that Maine is coming apart at the seams, along comes a national headline that portrays our humble state as the closest an American can get to heaven on earth:
"Maine ranked 'most peaceful state,'" reported USA Today, to name but one, on Wednesday.
One minute we and our shoot-from-the-hip governor are a cable-TV punch line, the next we're the Garden of Eden with pine trees. Goodbye, "Kiss my butt!" Hello, "Gimme a hug!"
"It certainly is a feather in Maine's cap and something the state should be proud of," Steve Killelea, founder and executive chairman of the Institute for Economics and Peace, said in a telephone interview.
Something Maine can be proud of? Quick, Fed Ex that man a whoopie pie!
A little background:
For the past four years, the Australian-based institute has produced the Global Peace Index -- a statistically-driven survey that ranks 149 nations by their peacefulness and, at the same time, seeks to explain why some corners of the planet tend to be more tranquil than others.
This year, for the first time, the institute went one step further with the United States -- in large part because we as a nation are very good at counting things -- to produce a state-by-state United States Peace Index.
The results: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Minnesota and North Dakota scored first through fifth, respectively. In descending order, on the other hand, the least peaceful states were Alabama, Florida, Nevada, Tennessee and Louisiana.
No, it's not that fresh Canadian air that keeps us northerners in perfect harmony -- although Canada (14th) did score way above the United States (85th) in the global index.
Rather, it's how well Maine matches up with the institute's definition of peace, which Killelea describes as "the absence of violence and the absence of fear of violence."
Specifically, the index uses five easy-to-quantify markers to rank each state: homicides, violent crimes, jailed population, police officers and the availability of small arms.
We'll get to that last one in a second. But in the first four (all per 100,000 people), Maine scored lowest nationwide in violent crimes (118), lowest in jailed population (150), lowest in total number of police officers (217) and ninth-lowest in homicides (2). (New Hampshire scored lowest in homicides with 0.8.)
As for the availability of small arms, Maine ranks a middling 29th among the 50 states. But that indicator, based only on the percentage of suicides involving firearms, is given significantly less weight than the others.
So what's it all mean?
Well, for starters, we're a heckuva lot more peaceful than Louisiana, which endures more than five times as many murders (11.8), violent crimes (608) and prison inmates (886) per 100,000 residents than Maine -- and dispatches only 58 percent more police (344) to keep everyone in line.
Still, according to Killelea, the violence-based statistics tell only part of the story.
Equally important, he said, are an array of underlying "potential determinants" of peace that can be grouped into three basic categories -- economic opportunity, education (particularly high school graduation rates) and health.
Get a handle on those, Killelea said, "and we can now start to describe the environment which creates peace."
Peel back the institute's 15 specific indicators (health insurance coverage, Internet access, infant mortality, to name a few) that help foster a peaceful environment and you'll see that Maine, unlike the other most peaceful states, cracks the top 10 in only two -- teen pregnancy rate and lowest percentage of people without health insurance.
In other words, the welcome news that we Mainers are the most nonviolent populace in the nation cannot be traced directly to our economic or educational opportunities or to our general state of health. (We're a ho-hum 26th nationally, for example, in our rate of diabetes.)
"So there's something else happening in Maine," mused Killelea. "It's certainly worth more study."
It's also worth big bucks, at least according to the Institute for Economics and Peace.
If the United States had similar "levels of peacefulness" to Canada (again, that arctic air), according to the institute, the positive impact on the U.S. economy would be a whopping $361 billion per year -- $89 billion in direct savings (i.e., fewer prisoners to feed) and $272 billion from additional economic activity (i.e., more people earning a paycheck rather than sitting idle in the slammer).
Telescope that down to Maine and the economic uptick would be just under $865 million -- $656 per Mainer -- each year.
So how is headline-weary Maine reacting to this much-needed piece of good news?
Jacqui Devoneau, outreach coordinator for Peace Action Maine, said Thursday that the state's top ranking, while welcome, only begins to tell the story. Not found in the institute's statistics, she noted, are the many peace organizations that have thrived here for years.
"I think Maine is different from a lot of states," Devoneau said. "But I think it needs to be noted that if you're going to say we're the number one peace state, the peace activism within our state is also right up there with being number one in the United States."
Killelea said he fully expects such reactions -- there are, he readily concedes, "many, many definitions of peace."
In crafting this study, however, the institute deliberately steered clear of the Great Political Divide and instead focused on "something which is highly quantifiable and something most people can agree on," Killelea said.
Translation: Mainers, especially in these divided times, can still disagree with the best of them.
But much to our credit, nobody does it more peacefully.
Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at: