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Andrew Levy
The Dweller's Guide To The Planet
Andrew Levy, author
Like many couples facing the prospect of an empty nest, my wife and I considered the question: now we can live anywhere, where do we want to live? Once, when we were thinking about where to take a holiday, we were struck by the idea that we could go anywhere. But we had some limitations. We could only go and return on certain dates. We like villas but dislike hotels. We like warm weather and isolation – there’s plenty of each but not so much of both. We like to fly from our local airport. We needed a degree of luxury but only had so much to spend. By the time we had fed all our requirements into the search we found that, far from being able to go anywhere, there were, in fact, only a couple of options available to us. We wondered where this approach would lead to when applied to the question of where to live. The Dweller’s Guide is the result. You might think that this is an exercise relevant to only a small group of people – that emigration is either a privilege of the very rich or a necessity for the very poor. There is some, but only some, truth in this. To emigrate anywhere you will usually need a combination of family there, money, a job offer or employable skills. But a great number of people do manage it. According to the Pew Research Center, “If all of the world’s international migrants (people living in a country that is different from their country or territory of birth) lived in a single country, it would be the world’s fifth largest, with around 244 million people." The guide starts off with 219 identifiable places to live in the world - 195 countries (with some question about the status of The Vatican City and Palestine) and various other states, non-states, dependencies and ‘overseas territories’. Each chapter defines and applies a single disqualification, (failed state, bad regime, conflict, crime, climate change, affordability, culture) going through remaining places in alphabetical order – with an open mind and some discussion. At each stage, some countries will be eliminated with a red X; some will be given an amber warning ? So that I couldn’t ‘cheat’ to get the result I wanted, I selected the criteria and the definitions before writing any of the entries. At the outset it was relatively easy to predict some early departures but impossible to know how many or which would be left at the end. (You might want to make a note, before you start reading, of the countries you think are most likely to survive to the end). In this sense, it really was a journey of discovery. At the end of each round of disqualification there is a map of the remaining ‘habitable world’. By the last chapter, ‘Promise Lands’, only 8 countries remain – and they are not the ones you are most likely to think of. They survive simply by not having been disqualified on any of the criteria. This doesn’t necessarily mean they are the best countries in the world, rather that they are the least worst. Statistics tend not to be politically correct. Nor is their use ever entirely objective. As a white, middle aged, metropolitan male, I cannot escape various conscious and unconscious cultural biases. Without meaning to, I probably cherry pick my data to suit them. It won’t always be simple or uncontroversial. Some of my conclusions are likely to offend. Please feel free to disagree, introduce your own criteria or data sources. I am setting out the results of my quest. You may have your own. There are several brief histories - ‘of Time’, ‘of Nearly Everything’, ‘of Humankind’. The Dweller’s Guide is a brief geography. It is more an entertainment than a dissertation. It can be read from beginning to end, just dipped into or searched by country.