Politics Analysis

A decade of declining violence worldwide, except in the USA and Latin America

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Crime rates in the U.S. surged during Trump's presidency (Image by Dan Jensen)

The latest data shows murder rates continue to fall worldwide, but with some countries defying the trend, as Alan Austin reports.

MOST NATIONS have succeeded admirably over the last decade in their efforts to reduce murder rates. There are, however, notable failures, according to World Bank data released last week showing rates of intentional homicides for 2021. (Yes, there is a bit of a lag. But getting accurate data from 104 countries takes time and diligence — 126 if we include countries with data up to 2020.)

World’s safest places

The safest countries in the world from deliberate murders are Japan, Slovenia, Ireland, the Czech Republic and Switzerland. That’s among developed OECD member countries. See blue chart, below.

(Data source: World Bank)

Among OECD members, 20 now have murder rates below one per 100,000. Not bad. That compares with 15 ten years ago and five 30 years ago. Another 12 now have rates between one and three per 100,000. The world is gradually getting safer.

Countries outside the OECD with low homicide levels include Bahrain, Singapore, Oman, Kuwait, Hong Kong, Qatar, Malta, China and Malaysia — all below 0.8 murders per 100,000 population.

Asia Pacific nations generally have low homicide rates. Singapore and Japan lead the world with just 0.10 and 0.23 murders per 100,000 respectively.

Australia ranks a creditable 15th with a rate of 0.74. New Zealand has not reported for 2021. Its average for the preceding three years is 1.63.

Danger — do not approach

OECD countries with the highest murder rates are, in order, Mexico (28.18), Colombia (27.48), Costa Rica (11.41), the United States (6.81) and Chile (3.63). Yes, all in the Americas. Canada (2.07) fares much better but still ranks a lowly 30th on the table.

Countries outside the OECD with disturbingly frequent killings include Argentina (4.62), Paraguay (7.83), Uruguay (8.90), Ecuador (14.02), El Salvador (18.17), Brazil (22.38), Honduras (38.34) and Jamaica (52.13). All Latin American.

Elsewhere, high murder rate countries include the Philippines (4.32), Russia (6.80), Myanmar (28.44), South Africa (41.87) and several developing African countries.

Trends over time

A benefit of the World Bank’s database is that it shows rates going all the way back to 1990. This enables us to observe both long-term and short-term trends. Of particular interest is progress over the last decade, as this reflects the efficacy of current crime reduction measures.

One surprise to emerge here is Colombia, which fared second worst in the blue graph, above, with a disturbingly high 2021 murder rate. Yet Colombia actually fares best of all OECD members on reduction over the last decade. See green graph, below.

(Data source: World Bank)

Colombia certainly looks like a dangerous place with the 2021 rate way up at 27.48. But that is a great improvement from 35.59 in 2011.

Other countries to have achieved substantial reductions in murder rates include European nations Lithuania, Estonia, Norway and Greece.

Australia has made steady progress, with a reduction from 1.10 per 100,000 in 2011 to just 0.74 in 2021.

Among OECD countries Mexico has had the worst rise in the rate of intentional homicide, increasing from 23.84 in 2011 to 28.18.

The USA’s surge in violence continues

Starting in the 1980s, the USA experienced a steady decline in most categories of personal violence, including homicides. The rate per 100,000 citizens was a disturbing 9.45 in 1990. Australia recorded 2.19 that year, New Zealand 1.86, the United Kingdom 1.25, Spain 1.24 and Japan 0.55. The OECD average was 2.62.

America’s homicide rate declined steadily thereafter, falling to 8.13 in 1995 and 5.52 in 2000. By 2010, this had tumbled further to 4.73, before reaching an all-time low of 4.40 in 2014. Then came Donald Trump and the MAGA movement.

All categories of personal violence have increased in most years since 2015, with some fluctuations. The increase in the rate of homicides since 2011 has been the highest of all major nations, as shown in the green graph, above — up from 4.67 per 100,000 in 2011 to 6.81 in 2021. That rate increase ranks a dismal 35th among the 38 OECD members.

The year 2021 was actually the worst since the mid-1990s for personal assaults and killings recorded by the FBI, and for gun violence crimes reported by Gun Violence Archive.
The latter data collection agency shows total gun homicides at 20,983 for 2021, a dramatic rise from just in 12,347 in 2014.

The Turnbull thesis

Last week’s World Bank data bolsters the proposition that the surge in violence in the USA since 2015 is attributable primarily to the pact between Donald Trump and Fox News which has spread fear, anger and hatred across the nation.

Since July last year, there has been something of a parting of the ways between some Fox anchors and executives and the former President. This had not taken place by 2021, however, so we would expect homicides, along with all other preventable categories of personal violence, to remain at the high levels reached since Trump’s ascendancy.

We can now expand the 16-year chart comparing homicide rates for selected countries which was first published in April when we last discussed the Turnbull thesis. Most lines continued their downward trajectories in 2021 or remained flat. Bulgaria and the USA moved upwards. See grey chart, below.

(Data source: World Bank)

If the Turnbull thesis is correct, the bright red line on the above chart will plateau and then resume its downward trajectory if and when Donald Trump disappears and Fox News loses its malignant influence. The world is watching.

Alan Austin is an Independent Australia columnist and freelance journalist. You can follow him on Twitter @alanaustin001.

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