The Cost of Violence

Pheadra’s lecture on the costs of the maltreatment of children provided a uniquely holistic representation of how violence affects society from an economic perspective. The WHO conducted a study in 2004 that takes a more expansive look at violence through the lens of interpersonal violence including child abuse, partner violence, elder abuse, sexual abuse, workplace violence, youth violence, and other violent crime.

Like Phaedra’s cost analysis, the WHO divides costs into direct and indirect costs. Direct costs include those such as cost of legal services and foster care, while the indirect costs include a person’s lost earnings and investment in human capital.  The total cost for estimated loss from violence is $329.8 billion dollars, equal to 3.3% of the U.S. GDP. From Phaedra’s lecture we can add an additional $33 billion dollars for self-inflicted violence. Outside of the United States, the costs are much higher. It is estimated that in 1997 Colombia lost 24.7% of its GDP due to violence. Seems like a lot, right?

The real cost question still remains: what would it cost to intervene?

The WHO estimates that prevention of violence-related problems is much less costly than programs to solve the problems once they arise. For child abuse, they estimate that the prevention costs are a tiny 1/19 of the eventual child abuse costs incurred. The net savings per sexual offender are around $26,000. A study in Arizona cited in the WHO’s report notes a net social gain of $3.4 million dollars, saving about 3-15 million.

What more do we need to do to show that violence has immeasurable costs to our society? And how many times can we talk do we need to talk about it before we take more action? The Wall Street Journal’s article, “On India’s Streets, Women Run a Gantlet of Harassment”, by Amol Sharma, Biman Mukherji and Rupa Subramanaya reminds us of a recent violent episode in mid-December from the New Delhi bus gang-rape. The article describes the environment in Kolkata -the police do little to prevent violence, while women travel in groups and carry sharp objects to deter attacks. These incidences should help us make faster “moves” so to speak, in the policy arena.

How severe does violence need to be for our policy makers to finally make necessary budgeting decisions?

P1-BK484_BARASA_D_20130227184109A Train Station in India where Violence is Common 

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