I’m betting there are plenty of statistical data around showing that the world has never been richer than it is today. And yet, the predominant emotion of our time is discontent.
Why? I’d cite 3 main factors:
1) the ever more uneven distribution of that unprecedented wealth,
2) the ever-growing literacy of the world’s population, and
3) the global spread of media: print, radio, tv and the internet all of them perpetually communicating to everyone, his or her position on the socio-economic ladder, and revealing this all-but-universal truth — that somewhere, someone has it a lot better than you do.
These factors, their burn accelerated by opportunist nativist politicians fanning the flames, have produced resentful voters en masse in Great Britain, France, Italy and the United States.
But even the scale of electoral protests in the first world is dwarfed by the discontent evident in the desperate migrations of this unprecedented number — 65 million people displaced from their homes and hometowns. At least 21 million of these people are refugees, displaced from their home countries. That’s also a historic record.
It required no bloviating hate-stirrers on the model of Trump, Farage or LePen to make these people display their dissatisfactions with their lives. These people in motion were jarred out of the lives they were born in by war or systematic criminal violence, oppressive politics, poverty, drought and flood. And by the knowledge that there are better lives being lives somewhere else.
If they can get there, they hope, they’ll find a future. So, pushed by hardship and pulled by ambition these millions set out, often to find themselves no better, maybe even much worse off. Discontent piles on discontent and become dangerous, destructive.
And this threat from the Third World poor, becomes an added discontentment to the members of a stagnant or declining First World lower-middle-class, goading defensive responses that are also dangerous and destructive.
Wealth and inequality, desperation and striving, these are the hallmarks of our time, summed up in the plight of the world’s displaced people and the hostility and contempt with which they are treated.
Demetrios G. Papademetriou is Distinguished Senior Fellow and President Emeritus of the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), a Washington-based think tank dedicated exclusively to the study of international migration. He is also President of Migration Policy Institute Europe, a nonprofit, independent research institute in Brussels that aims to promote a better understanding of migration trends and effects within Europe.
Dr. Papademetriou co-founded Metropolis: An International Forum for Research and Policy on Migration and Cities and has served as Chair of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Migration (2009-11); Chair of the Advisory Board of the Open Society Foundations’ International Migration Initiative (2010-15); Chair of the Migration Committee of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD); Director for Immigration Policy and Research at the U.S. Department of Labor and Chair of the Secretary of Labor’s Immigration Policy Task Force; and Executive Editor of the International Migration Review.