Is this the best of times? The worst of times? No, the worst it is not. Maybe it’s even the best. Globally it may well be.
Let’s take a list of countries with population data, download it into a spreadsheet and do some reality checks. in 2014 the world’s total population was 7,260,652,256. In descending order of current population the first 20 countries in the list are
- United States
- Russian Federation
- Egypt, Arab Rep.
- Iran, Islamic Rep.
- Congo, Dem. Rep.
The first country in the list with a major armed conflict within its borders is the Ukraine at #29. That means the vast majority of the population of the first 28 countries lives in peace. Together they sum up to 5,606,797,236. Of course the conflict in Ukraine does not nearly affect the whole country.
Let’s look for the next country in deep trouble. That’s Iraq at #37. People in the countries above (without Ukraine) sum up to 5,884,244,372.
Afghanistan is #39, Yemen #45 and Syria #54. If we exclude them all and sum up the rest above, we are already at 6,272,630,949. The total including the war-torn countries would be 6,432,775,157. That means 97.5% of the population of the 54 most populated countries live in peace. I suppose that’s pretty good and has never been better throughout history. It seems as a species we make progress. All in all the population of the countries in “fragile and conflict affected situations” sums up to 472,954,698. That’s 6.5%.
Not being in a war does not mean that much when you starve to death. Let’s look at the “heavily indebted poor countries”. Here we have 701,714,118 or 9,7%. Not really great, but not everybody there starves. “Low income” is of course relative, but here we have 621,977,594 or 8.6%. These are obviously upper bounds for the total number of people affected by hunger.
Frequently I may sound pessimistic, but I think we have a lot of reason to be optimistic. Yes, there is tremendous inequality in the world, but if you just look at the conditions of living for the vast majority of people, our system seems to gradually improve them in terms of absolute values.
Is it good? No. Is it better than at any time in the past? Most likely yes.