The latest State of the Future 2007 (press release and executive summary can be found here), from the United Nations-backed Millennium Project, is, frankly, depressing, despite its attempts to reassure. Consider: the richest 225 people on the planet earth earn as much as the poorest 2,5 billion. The revenues from organised crime are running at twice the world’s defence budgets. And 27 million people – mostly Asian women – are held in slavery, far more than at the height of the African slave trade. Thank goodness that incomes are rising, health outcomes are improving, and life expectancy increasing.

The Millennium Project was set up in 1996, and is run by the respected futurist Jerome Glenn. This year’s State of the Future report identified three significant threats to world stability. Alongside global warming and fresh water shortages, the third is the continuing growth of organised crime, now worth $2 trillion (almost £1 billion), or around 3% of world GDP. Major revenues are from counterfeiting and piracy, together with drugs. Major costs – of the order of half of revenues – go on bribery of politicians, the report says, and the large majority of these are paid in the affluent world, not the poor world.

This has the effect of corrupting public decisions and making the rich richer, while undermining confidence in government. AIDS, now the fourth largest killer worldwide, has provides orphaned recruits to the crime business. Patterns of AIDS are changing; prevalence in Africa has levelled (and may start to fall) but there are rapid increses in Central Europe and parts of Asia. As for the rich, 2% of the world’s richest people own more than 50% of the world’s wealth, while the poorest 50% of people own 1%. Unlike global warming or water, there’s no strategy for dealing with organised crime or its impacts.

The report’s also concerned about violence against women, which causes more casualties than wars do – 1 in 5 women globally will be the victim of rape or attempted rape during their lifetime.

If that’s the bad news, there is good news. Growth rates across the planet of 5.4% outstripped by some way population increases (1.1%). If this sort of differential continues, world poverty will be cut by half by 2015. Literacy rates continue to rise (18% unable to read, halved since 1970). Life expectancy is on the up; someone bron in 1955 could, on average expect to live to 48, whereas someone born in 2025 can expect to reach 73, And despite the prominence of Iraq, the number of wars is falling; in Africa down to 5 in 2005 from 16 in 2002.

All of this means that their ‘State of the Future’ index is on the up, and is projected to keep rising over the next decade, because the gains outweight the losses. In fact there’s a helpful ‘winning and losing’ chart in the executive summary:

Where we are winning:

• Life expectancy
• Infant mortality
• Literacy
• GDP/cap
• Conflict
• Internet users
Where we are losing:
• CO2 emissions
• Terrorism
• Corruption
• Global warming
• Voting population
• Unemployment

The full report and a CD-ROM with thousands of pages of supporting data going back over the last decade can be bought from the project for $49.95 plus postage.