Or, what’s wrong with focusing on gun control.

We get regularly questioned by the press, fellow liberals, conservatives, and other groups whose heads seem to explode upon finding out about our existence. After all, things are BINARY! You are either in one bucket or another, and you can’t stray!

Outside of the obvious absurdity of that line of thinking (anyone who can’t understand nuance or shades of gray should probably stop reading now), we’ve actually done a lot of soul searching as members of the club on a variety of issues. You can check out our major positions here: Talking points regarding regulation

Today, one of the points that we’re covering is our main statement:

We favor root cause mitigation for violence prevention, stronger mental health care, addressing poverty, homelessness and unemployment rather than focusing on prohibiting or restricting one tool.

Folks seem to want to ignore this statement on a fairly regular basis, so we thought it was worth unpacking this a bit. This topic of income inequality covers a few points in the above statement- poverty, homelessness, and unemployment. (It’s also loosely related to mental health care affordability/availability)

Let’s start with a few numbers. Commonly, the United States is compared to other OECD countries with regards to gun violence. As another article here pointed out however, the OECD countries used are pretty cherry picked, particularly when you take a look at some of the other comparisons between the countries.

First, let’s step away from the violence question altogether, and take a look at some of the individual countries rankings in the OECD.

All of this data is pulled directly from the OECD website here. The United States ranks 4th from the bottom in the Gini coefficient. According to the Google machine, this statistic can be defined as follows:

noun: Gini coefficient
  1. a statistical measure of the degree of variation or inequality represented in a set of values, used especially in analyzing income inequality.
    “an increase in the Gini coefficient suggests that income is becoming more unevenly distributed”

So we’re just behind Mexico, Chile, and Turkey, while being just above Lithuania and Russia to make up the worst 5 in the OECD for these numbers.

The second income inequality ranking is the share of the population making less than 50% of the median income. In this case we’re in 3rd (from the bottom again) place overall, with Turkey and Israel taking the top spots, while Mexico and Latvia are nipping on our heels to round out the bottom 5 countries with the worst numbers.

Finally, the last measure from the OECD is the gap between the top 20% and the bottom 20%. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, we’re also in 3rd place for this ranking, with Mexico and Chile in the worst spots, while Turkey and Lithuania wrap up the bottom 5 in this case.

So, a pretty long winded way to say that our society needs some work economically. It’s no major shocker to folks on any end of the political spectrum at this point, although the methods of addressing it vary wildly depending on where you fall on the scale. But safe to say, we on the liberal side of the house see this as a fundamental issue in our country, and that programs to help are crucial to our country, not only from a fairness/equality perspective, but also from a stability perspective. Nothing drives civil unrest like hunger.

In the actual top 5 for the least income inequality, it varies a little, but you’ve got Norway, Iceland, Finland, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, and a few other countries competing for the lowest level of overall income inequality.

So. What’s your point here right? We’re talking about guns, not income inequality! Well, that actually is the point. When you compare these bottom 5 countries, with an outlier being Israel (however, in the last year their murder rate is up 27%), you’ll see that the overall crime and murder rate numbers are much higher on average than the rest of the OECD. On the other side of the table, those countries with the lowest levels of inequality tend to have lower overall crime rates, including murder rates.

Are there exceptions in each case? Sure. But outliers only seem to exist when they are on the high end of income inequality, not when there is less. You can play with the numbers to your hearts content over at Nationmaster. A word of caution, as with anything, countries may report statistics differently, so it’s not always apples to apples. But it’s what we’ve got to work with at this point. (And yes, we’re looking at overall murders rather than just murders using a firearm, as the overall rate is the important issue. Some countries have a higher murder rate than the United States but a lower murder rate using a gun)

So from a liberal point of view, if you want to reduce violence, targeting income inequality is really the silver bullet- when people don’t have to worry about having a roof over their head, where their next meal is coming from, or whether they can afford this months medication, then there is less crime overall, including violent crime. It’s remarkable in fact that while our income inequality numbers are getting worse that our murder rate is near record lows. So stop reaching for bumper sticker solutions to complex societal issues. Those platitudes may sound great on paper, but at the end of the day if our goal is to make an actual difference, let’s get something real done.