The Radical Center
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The Radical Center

Scary Numbers and Media Panic

Anytime someone compares life in the U.S. to other countries they may well be cheating.

For instance, it is well known U.S. cops kill more people in total than cops in most other countries. It’s a real problem. But, if you just compare the total number of such incidents in the U.S. to those in France, or Germany for instance, it is an unfair comparison. We have a population of 323 million which is 4 times larger than Germany.

You have to adjust for differences in size if you want an honest comparison. Often people don’t want honest comparisons, they don’t produce the results they seek. Now, it should be noted our cops are still more violent by this comparison, my only point is you have to adjust so you are comparing apples to apples, not apples to oranges.

One pet peeve of mine is the stupid comparison of “life expectancy” and then jumping to unwarranted conclusions. Life expectancy is a very rough measure of everything, not just one factor or another. Typically the Left will use it to claim that countries with socialized health care have higher life expectancy. In truth the countries they compare are barely higher and life expectancy doesn’t just measure levels of health care.

For instance, higher obesity rates are not related to bad health care per se. But they lower life expectancy. Americans drive more than residents of other countries. The typical Norwegian drives 5,700k per year while Germans drive 6,300k. The typical American drives 13,000k per year, or twice as much. That means the U.S. will have more people killed in car accidents, which means a lower life expectancy.

The same problem happens with infant mortality rates. MSNBC “A relatively high percentage of babies born in the U.S. die before their first birthday, compared with other industrialized nations.” What they ignored is that different countries use different definitions. They are comparing apples and oranges. In the US every life birth counts, not so in Germany where a fetus must weight 1lb before it is counted as a live birth. So the fetus under 1lb, who dies, doesn’t get factored into infant mortality as it was never counted as a live birth to begin with.

A Harvard study found Americans could increase their average life expectancy by 6.7 years if they changed their lifestyles. Those are personal choices, not health care.

If you see a chart showing the total number of suicides per year in the U.S. over a period of a couple of decades it will show an increase. It isn’t adjusted for the growing population. More importantly it doesn’t adjust for the aging population. Older Americans, especially men, are more likely to take their own lives. If the number of older people increases the number of suicides will increase, even if the general suicide rate stays the same. In fact, you can have the suicide rate dropping as the number of suicides per year increase, if your population is increasing.

Another method of skewing a debate is to cherry-pick periods of comparison. For instance, the number of articles about the increase in homicides over the last two years do just that and covers up the general downward trend in homicides. Here are some stats for comparison.

In the 1960s the average homicide rate in the U.S. was 5.51 per 100,000 people per year. By the 1970s the rate had jumped to 9.06. In the 80s the homicide rate saw a slight decrease, down to 8.73. There was another slight decrease in 1990s, down to 8.14. (All homicide rates are from the Disaster Center stats.)

In the new millennium homicide rates declined by a substantial number, down to 5.52 per year, almost on par with the average rate in the 60s. Since 2010 the average yearly rate has dropped again, down to 4.7 per year. 2016 was the highest homicide rate this decade, but it was below the homicide rate of every year between 2000 and 2009 save one. Before that you’d have to go back to 1965 to find a single year with a lower homicide rate, while the average this decade is actually lower than the 60s.

What the media championed as awful news, while awful over a two year period, continued to show the improving trend over the last half century. Homicide rates have gone up slightly since 2014 but what is often left out of the stories is how the 2014 rate was the lowest one over the last 56 years. You actually have to go back to 1957 to find a year with a lower homicide rate than 2014.

The increase since 2014 is not surprising given 2014 was pretty much at the bottom of the pack historically speaking.

You also have to be careful about shifting definitions, especially in the debate over gun rights. As gun homicides have declined anti-gun special interest groups have stopped talking about gun homicides and instead speak of gun “deaths.” They add all gun-related suicides into the mix and often speak as if they were all victims of a crazed criminal out to kill innocent people.

The truth remains this current decade has the lowest average homicide rate since the era of Ozzie & Harriet (1952). Even the era of Leave it to Beaver (1957) was more dangerous.

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