Sunday, July 08, 2007

Global Peace Index's peace of the graveyard

Freedom—if there’s one thing I really care about, that’s the word. For me development is freedom—thanks to Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen—and factors like economic growth are important but secondary to it. That’s why I felt uncomfortable when the Philippines was ranked worse than many warmongering countries like Iran (yeah, their leaders do promise to wipe Israel off the map, and launched a war with Israel through its protégé Hezbollah). And I guess, it’s because Freedom is not part of the Peace Index methodology. Had they included political rights and basic freedoms in the computations, the Philippines’s score would have been a bit better.

But I feel a bit happy that some people do share my views. Says Peter Worthington of the Toronto Sun:

Not everyone will be convinced. Certainly I'm a skeptic who feels the most
significant factor of "peace" has been left out of the equation: "Freedom."

A cow lives most of its life in peace. No worries, plenty of food, a scenic environment—until the day it is taken to the slaughter house. Is that
the essence of peace? Hardly. A slave can have a peaceful life, but that's not
the goal of most of us.

North Korea (curiously excluded from the GPI assessment of countries) is arguably the world's most peaceful country, with few public protests, little crime that we know of, a docile and orderly population. But no freedom. Without the appearance of freedom, or the belief of people that they are free (even if they aren't), "peace" means little.
Oh, Peter Worthington explains it so well, and if you want to the read the rest of his analysis, please do click here.

Or you may sample his parting shot:

GPI [global peace index] likes catchy slogans, like Mahatma Gandhi's: "An eye
for an eye ends up making the whole world blind," and Ralph Waldo Emerson's
idiotic "Peace cannot be achieved through violence, it can only be achieved
through understanding." Sounds good, but that's not how "peace" was wrestled
from the Nazis, nor how China, Vietnam and Cuba achieved the high "peace" status
GPI accords them today…Those who value peace above all else should realize the
grave is peaceful, as is surrender. But it isn't freedom and doesn't guarantee

Don’t get me wrong. I do love the Peace Index! But I do want the authors to improve on the methodology. It’s because even The Economist, the sister company of the Economist Intelligence Unit that collaborated on the study, does have serious reservations about their methodology. Writes The Economist:

A country that applied the simple Roman maxim—“if you want peace, prepare for
war”—would score badly. By unconditionally endorsing low military budgets and
marking down high ones, the index may seem to give heart to freeloaders:
countries that enjoy peace precisely because others (often America) care for
their defence. Indeed, one of the ideas behind NATO and several other security
pacts is that America's protection limits the need for medium-sized powers to be
big military players in their own right.
High levels of incarceration per capita is one variable. That is why countries like the US scored badly. But isn’t it weird that countries (Oman, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Yemen) with high executions per capita also rank high in the Peace Index? Sounds like Peace of the Graveyard to me. So if a despot wants to have a high score next time, all he needs to do is murder all the prisoners in the dungeons—secretly, of course. Haha! I’m joking here but one couldn’t help but get that impression.

It pains me—it’s not a nice joke, I realized. But when your methodology is faulty, you get this kind of funny results.

Even the Economist Intelligence Unit—as reported by Opinio Juris— admits the study’s methodological flaws:

As with all indexes of this type, there are issues of bias and arbitrariness in
the factors that are chosen to assess peacefulness and, even more seriously, in
assigning weights to the different indicators (measured on a comparable and
meaningful scale) to produce a single synthetic measure.

Ah, arbitrariness and bias! Isn’t that what kills most well-intentioned studies? Too bad because I love the Peace Index; reforms, therefore, are in order.

Let me suggest: First, they should hire local researchers to provide them the inputs. The UN, in producing the Human Development Index, uses the same approach and there has never been any complaint against the Report even though the Philippines didn’t rank high. It’s all about the soundness of the methodology—and its presumed objectivity.

Second, they should include freedom as an important variable. How? They could input the results of the Freedom House and give them higher weight in the computations to balance out the results.

Of course, some countries might not want Freedom as a variable in the computation, as some analysts might want to suggest. Some countries, they say, don’t want democracy! Right. So I have a solution: why not change the name to Index of Pacifism. The Economist calls it that way, actually. Using pacifism, the Report would feel less subjective, realistic, less complicated, simple, and convenient. And less pretentious!

I mean, some despots and some democrats are probably "pacifist" so the name is appropriate.

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