045 | Parag Khanna | Mass migration is inevitable. We should welcome it.
Photo courtesy of Parag Khanna.

045 | Parag Khanna | Mass migration is inevitable. We should welcome it.

Climate change and demographics are setting the stage for a massive reshuffling of the human population.

Isabelle Roughol
Isabelle Roughol


Transcript

Transcripts are published for your convenience, but they are automated and not always cleaned up. Please excuses typos and occasional nonsense, and always check the audio before quoting.

[00:00:00] Intro

[00:00:00] Parag Khanna: If you look at the 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th centuries, you start out with a century where millions of people migrated, then tens of millions, hundreds of millions in the 20th century. And in the 21st century, we will experience billions of people migrating.

[00:00:15] Isabelle Roughol: Hi, I'm Isabelle Roughol and this is Borderline.

[00:00:28] Yes, this is Borderline with a few hours delay in releasing the podcast. My apologies. This is what happens when you're a solo operation and you get a little sick and overwhelmed. However, no worries. This is a new episode. This week I am speaking with the author Parag Khanna.

[00:00:45] Parag Khanna is a political scientist. He's based in Singapore. He wrote "Move: The Forces Uprooting Us," which is a look, broad and global, into the future of mass migration. And his thesis really is simple: mass migration is inevitable and we should be smart about it and embrace it and prepare for it rather than try to fight it.

[00:01:10] He's looking at the impact of both climate change, that is moving people north into more habitable areas of the planet, as well as demographics, especially in richer countries like mine, like ours, where the population is in fact declining, aging, at least. And we need young vital forces to work in our economies, to care for our elderly, care for our children.

[00:01:38] And so the logical step for all of humanity is essentially a giant reshuffling of where humanity is on the planet. Now that's a pretty bold proposition that we're going to get into with him and look at how concretely that happens.

[00:01:56] But before we start, a big thank you to two new members, Luis Malaver, Ortega and Richard Hagerty. You can join them by going to borderlinepod.com/subscribe. You can become a member for just five pounds a month or 50 a year if you want to be an annual member. You can also donate in euros or dollars of rupees if you prefer. I really, really appreciate everything that you're doing in supporting this work and I appreciate you for listening. Even without spending a penny, you can also help by sharing this around you, share the newsletter, share the podcast and make sure to bring it more of your friends to this community.

[00:02:32] Now, without further ado, here's my conversation with Parag Khanna.

[00:02:41] We are a migratory species

[00:02:41] Isabelle Roughol: Thank you, uh, first for doing this, really appreciate it. I thought we could, before we get into the future vision that you have, talk about what's happening today. So kind of what's the picture right now of migration on our planet?

[00:02:56] Parag Khanna: Well, that is a great place to start. And, uh, you know, indeed, if we're not going to jump straight into the future, why don't we at least jump back to the past, right? Just a brief overview of the past hundred thousand years, which is to say it's during that period of

[00:03:09] Isabelle Roughol: in short.

[00:03:10] Parag Khanna: In short in a sentence or two in the past a hundred thousand years, humankind colonized all the continents, which means, uh, you know, as sort of per definition that we have been migratory, we've been nomadic.

[00:03:22] Otherwise we wouldn't be where we are. You know, migration is part of every single human being's journey that exists in the world today. And in the past several hundred years, Western societies have actually been very good at absorbing mass migration waves. Um, but to put, to come straight to the point, you know, in the past several centuries, the decimal place has been moving to the right.

[00:03:44] Well, what do I mean by that? If you look at the 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th centuries, you start out with a century where millions of people migrated, then tens of millions, hundreds of millions in the 20th century. And in the 21st century, we will experience billions of people migrating. Again, the decimal place has always been moving to the right, but we got to where we are through this continuous process of ever expanding mass migrations. And it's not going to stop. You asked where are we right now?

[00:04:12] Well, where we are right now, of course, through the pandemic is a fairly artificial, almost complete standstill in that process. But the year 2019 witnessed a record high in the number of people who crossed the borders in a single year about 1.5 billion human beings crossed the border in 2019. At that point in time, about 275 million people were living outside their country of origin, again, the highest number ever recorded.

[00:04:40] So yes, there has been a temporary, you know, reset in some of these, uh, pairings of countries due to the pandemic. But I fully expect that post pandemic, we're going to have the continuous expansion of migration for many, many reasons, not least of which is climate change.

[00:04:57] Domestic migrants are migrants too

[00:04:57] Parag Khanna: Whether or not you feel migration depends to some degree on whether or not your country is either a large source of emigration or a large destination for immigration.

[00:05:09] So most Chinese people may never leave China, except China has the world's largest diaspora and Chinese are traveling outbound, hundreds of millions of them every single year on holiday for the first time, second time, or as regulars. And so international exposure is touching them. They may be receiving remittances from a relative abroad. So they have a direct connection to migration, even if they've never migrated internationally.

[00:05:36] China's also a good example because let's remember that more people migrate internally than internationally. That doesn't mean they haven't migrated. It's actually one of the very, very, I would say, kind of a dangerous biases in the very word or our interpretation of the word migration that we only focus on international migration, but to simply have your life radically altered, you don't have to cross the border. You just have to move from a village to a city. And that's of course, the story of China, uh, particularly from the 1970s, 1960s, seventies onward. And indeed the largest mass migration in human history is simply Chinese within China, from rural areas in the countryside to cities. And that has immeasurably changed people's quality of life. The same thing is happening right now in India.

[00:06:22] So it's, it's an unfortunate, you know, but not, not sort of, you know, an excusable sort of bias that people like you and me bring to the conversation. When I started writing this book, I immediately, you know, I ruled out domestic migration until I started going right back down to the most fundamental nature and definition of migration itself, which does not in any way, denote that it must cross a border, right? It is about movement and mobility.

[00:06:49] So, you know, all in. So in that sense, Uh, almost everyone is touched by migration in some way, shape or form whether it's domestic or international.

[00:06:58] But beyond that, again, we have to break it down into these categories. You know, how are you affected? Is it you yourself or is it a relative of yours and it still materially impacts your life or, you know, emotionally or whatever the case.

[00:07:11] Isabelle Roughol: Um, and actually when we include domestic migration, I think it makes the, the experience of mobility sound much more familiar, um, to a lot of people who don't think of themselves as migrants. You know, Americans for instance are quite mobile and will often move from, from city to city, state to state throughout their lives. Uh, and don't necessarily think of themselves as, as migrants do they?

[00:07:36] Parag Khanna: Well, they've simply moved. Um, you know, and again, Chinese people also don't refer to themselves as migrants if they've moved from, you know, one village A to city B, right? Uh, so whether or not we use the term in our own vernacular is not the issue. Uh, you know, it's simply a definitional kind of thing.

[00:07:55] Lockdown was actually a massive migration

[00:07:55] Parag Khanna: But by the way, since you mentioned America, it's important to point out that Americans have been relatively stuck in place.

[00:08:02] The highest rate of Americans moving and relocating let's say, um, was during the sixties and seventies and the kind of great westward expansion after the completion of the interstate highway system and so forth. And ever since that time, Americans have become more and more centered. And, uh, this is one of the great, interesting exceptions to the pandemic lockdown.

[00:08:23] The so-called lockdown, the term that we used to almost suggest that every human being in the world was stuck inside their homes for two years. In fact, the rate of American internal relocation skyrocketed and, uh, you know, bounced back to levels, not seen in a couple of, in a couple of generations during the pandemic, as people started to take advantage of remote work and wanted to move to places with, you know, clean air and perhaps better prospects for a, you know, COVID treatment or being COVID free, that kind of thing.

[00:08:53] So in, in a way, under the surface of that kind of, you know, almost a rhetorical notion that the world was, you know, quote unquote locked down, there has been a tremendous amount of movement actually. Just not a forced the levels that we were accustomed to in a frictionless kind of pre pandemic world.

[00:09:09] Let's remember for instance, that several million South Asians, Indians and Pakistanis, moved back from the Gulf countries to India and Pakistan because their construction sites were shut down that they were working on. Right now if you're from New Zealand and you want to go home, you've been waiting online for a year and a half for a quarantine hotel to open up at the Oakland airport so that you can be let back into your country.

[00:09:35] Reverse migration is also migration

[00:09:35] Parag Khanna: So the reason I give some of these examples is to point out that moving back also means moving. Reverse migration as a form of migration. A Chinese person who spent decades in America, who decides that, "you know what? I can't deal with this anti-Asian sentiment anymore. I'm going to move back to China." That person has also moved, right? And part of my argument is that actually people are moving in zigzagging ways all the time and in growing number. And it could mean going back to a place that you didn't think you'd go back to.

[00:10:05] The big example that I give of this is something of a hypothetical, but it's certainly one that will is in all likelihood will come true, which is Americans have been moving from North to South, from the Rust Belt to the Sun Belt because of the de-industrialization of the American kind of, you know, uh, Great Lakes region.

[00:10:23] But of course the Great Lakes region is America's climate oasis. It's the most propitious zone for human habitation, perhaps in the entire world, given the supply of fresh water. However, it's not great economics. It doesn't have great economic circumstances right now. So I predict that all of those Americans who moved from the Rust Belt to the Sun Belt are going to wind up moving back to the Rust Belt uh, because it's near the Great Lakes. And they'll be followed by many, many other Americans who live in drought stricken areas or areas where coastal flooding or other kinds of, you know, uh, extreme weather phenomenon have affected those geographies.

[00:10:59] So again, unexpected zigzagging patterns, whether international or domestic are going to be a feature of, uh, our migration patterns in the future.

[00:11:08] Britain's immigration policy has killed people

[00:11:08] Isabelle Roughol: It's something we've seen a lot here in London during, during the pandemic, actually. I mean, the numbers are, are disputed, but there's one study that says more than 1 million, uh, European migrants have left London and the UK in general. A lot of people have gone home because that's where they wanted to spend lockdown cause it was a little scary here and there was no work. Um, and of course the big question now is, is whether they'll be able to return and there's major labor shortages, uh, in a lot of the industries that they used to work in. Because of course with Brexit, it's actually not at all easy for them to return in the way that they would have in the past.

[00:11:48] Um,

[00:11:49] Parag Khanna: Or if they wanted to, they want it.

[00:11:52] And this is where I think that, you know, again, the very softly articulated or benign articulation of the British position that you just very, uh, you know, very elegantly put forward is, uh, is again clever, but you know, my task is to expose it. Not you, but the kind of shenanigans and shambles of British immigration policy. Because you got really caught off guard, right?

[00:12:14] The combination of Brexit and COVID meant that not only had you driven away the Polish plumbers and truck drivers, and then NHS nurses over the last several years, such that on the eve of the pandemic, you had major shortages in your healthcare system and other sectors. And then the pandemic just massively compounded it to the degree that the ill effects have been disastrous for Britain right now, as we speak. Uh, you know, a hundred thousand, uh, shortage of truck drivers. Fuel and food not being delivered. People, you know, hoarding of course. I mean, think about the calamity, the tragedy of all of the excess mortality due to COVID not having enough nurses and caregivers. I mean, all of this is horrible and it's not a joke. I mean, you have a government that makes it seem like a, like a big joke.

[00:13:01] Um, but you know, from an, from an outsider or a British person, anyone with a conscience, uh, you know, your immigration policies, are not just shooting yourself in the foot, it's shooting human beings. You actually, people have died as a result of having such an asinine, immigration policy going back to Brexit.

[00:13:17] And I'm pleased to say, uh, if nothing else, that Britain has been learning its lesson because it's literally legally easier to migrate to the UK right now this very minute than it was um, before Brexit. So you might want to, you know, people may ask themselves, well then what was that all about now?

[00:13:35] Obviously it was more emotive and there was a whole lot of play in terms of legal sovereignty and control over one's affairs, I get that. I know. But at the end of the day, that one of among other things, in terms of, you know, diverted investment, supply chains, trade-related frictions and all of these sorts of issues, also fiscal issues that relate to having now less EU subsidies and funds, purely from a demographic standpoint, of course it was disastrous, uh, to have done it.

[00:14:05] Um, there were other ways to go about managing one's demographics. And again, it's just a sign and Britain in this case is not unique in, um, you know, messing around and tinkering with something that should be left to supply and demand. And instead of thinking that it's simply going to wave a wand and do things, quote unquote, its own way.

[00:14:25] And one of the things I definitely learned in the course of this research, that demographics is a highly complex kind of organism. You know, you, you, don't just, it's not so simple as a sheer number of people coming in and out. Uh, or, you know, picking winners and losers in terms of what countries they come from. Because everyone has a choice of where they're going to go, and the Polish people whom you're trying to get back as truck drivers, aren't coming, because guess what? In the several years since you chased them away, they've got better jobs with better protections and higher wages. So you can't bribe them to come to your silly shit show of a government right now.

[00:15:00] And I want to be really cruel, you know, because I'm speaking to you, not as someone who has come from a country that's gotten it right. You know, I'm an American political scientist, academic. It is my job to look at these things and to compare good and bad performance. And if we can't in the Anglo-American world that is so chummy and holier than thou, be honest with each other when we screw up, then we're never going to fix our problems.

[00:15:22] You know, I've worked at, uh, in the American government. I've advised parts of the British government. And I take the responsibility of governance very seriously. And when I see the people who run our societies and run some of these very crucial, vital, uh, areas of policy, be such amateurs and screw it up, I get angry. And I actually have the luxury of not even living in the U S or UK right now, but I'm still angry on behalf of all of my fellow countrymen and citizens and contemporaries.

[00:15:49] Isabelle Roughol: Well, I'm a, I'm an EU migrant to the UK. So I take none of this uh, personally. have battled with the Home Office myself, um, and seen many friends do do as well. I would perhaps question the idea that it's easier and it's certainly not easier for Europeans to, to migrate to the UK than it used to be. They have come up with a few, um, easier programs, certainly for migrants there are still incredible barriers, um, in terms of costs because the Home Office makes something like a thousand percent profit on, on all the fees that it charges for migration, uh, and, uh, in terms of lengths as well. Their answer is no by default and you systematically have to fight on everything and hire a lawyer and all of that.

[00:16:36] Parag Khanna: is of course the same.

[00:16:38] Isabelle Roughol: Yeah. Yeah. And, um, you know, and I'm French and the debate, if you can call it that, , in the upcoming presidential election is, is incredibly ugly in terms of anti immigration rhetoric. It really seems like a lot of those older wealthier countries are really shooting themselves in the foot. And I say older, because you do point out the demographics in a lot of the west and the richer economies are a time bomb that we're ignoring, for which migration could be a solution, but it seems, is it a lack of imagination or. that we're refusing to see the very obvious answer in front of us?

[00:17:21] A tragic lack of imagination

[00:17:21] Parag Khanna: I mean, it's definitely a lack of imagination. It's a status quo bias. It's a generational conservative bias, you know. Older people who themselves are the ones most in need of, uh, you know, elderly care and caregivers who mostly need to be imported are the ones who are voting against immigration. You see this in the most pronounced way in Germany, you know, in Eastern German provinces.

[00:17:45] And, you know, I get it in terms of their cultural biases, of course, but at some point they need to realize what's good for them. And of course, they're not thinking about, you know, sort of fiscal stability either because they're primarily concerned with the kinds of, uh, you know, preservation of their entitlements in terms of the pension system and, uh, and so forth.

[00:18:04] But meanwhile, they're forgetting that if you're not importing young people, then you're not going to have a tax base in the future, but they don't care because they'll be dead. Uh, you know, and, and this is, these are all blunt ways of putting what are actually, it's a pretty succinct summary of what's happening in terms of the political economy or sort of a fiscal policy, uh, on, on these sorts of social issues.

[00:18:24] And unfortunately, because every position is so self-interested short term, and over simplified, you don't wind up getting a reconciliation of these points of view and you don't wind up getting the kind of pragmatic long-term supply and demand-driven policy that you should have. And again, I would say as a voter, as a citizen, as a taxpayer, you should demand better

[00:18:48] and, you know, everyone should have the common sense to take this complex issue seriously. And to, in a matter of fact way, calculate how many people your country needs and to make sure you're getting those people. Otherwise, at some point you cease to be a civilized country because your old people are dying alone. Your mothers and sisters and aunts and uncles don't get to go to work because they have to stay home and take care of kids. The women have to drop out of the workforce. None of this is necessary at all, right? But it's a self-inflicted wound and I personally wouldn't tolerate it.

[00:19:22] Three doom scenarios, one hopeful scenario

[00:19:22] Isabelle Roughol: So you lay out kind of four different scenarios of where we might go from here, one of which is good and the other three are, are pretty, um, pretty worrying. Could you kind of sum up what they are, and most importantly, how do we get the good one? What do we do?

[00:19:40] Parag Khanna: Right. And so, you know, um, you know, uh, there are four scenarios in the book. Um, three of them are rather pessimistic or cynical. Uh, only one of them is represents a vision. Uh, and at most a vision for you know what we could do to, to get this right.

[00:19:58] Very briefly: Regional Fortresses is the kind of status quo scenario where Europe, north America, Northeast Asian countries kind of wall themselves off from immigration and focus on their own environmental sustainability, renewable technologies, more self-sufficiency, that kind of thing.

[00:20:14] The two most negative scenarios that are both low migration and low sustainability are called Barbarians at the Gate and the New Middle Ages. So it's as bad as it sounds. Our efforts at sustainability fail. It's too little too late. Climate change accelerates, uh, supply chains are disrupted. Agriculture is sort of, you know, wiped out. Uh, we've become hunter gatherers. We've, we've got resource wars and land grabs, water wars, that kind of thing. And again, that's already happening of course. Look at the U S Mexico border, look at the Mediterranean, right?

[00:20:45] Um, and, uh, and then the final scenario is what I call Northern Lights. And Northern Lights is a scenario where we focus on a gradual steady, um, you know, uh, effort at recirculating the world population, resettling people from vulnerable areas to habitable geographies, assimilating them into societies, creating the kind of work that is necessary to retrofit our civilization anyway to a climate change world and do all of that with the sustainable technologies that we have at our disposal right now, today. Whether it is hydro and aquaponic agriculture, whether it is, um, uh, you know, obviously electrification through your battery packs, uh, you know, all of these kinds of things, you know, obviously wind and solar power, all of these sorts of things. We can do all of that right now, you know, 3d printed housing.

[00:21:33] We don't have to, you know, either you don't have to create cement and gore dig cement into the ground. Uh, so we can do all of this. And if we devote our efforts as again, as a, as a civilization, as a collection of economies, uh, towards this. Uh, then we would actually manage to preserve our numbers as a species in new geographies, in a dynamic and mobile way, but also sustainably.

[00:21:55] So can it be done? Sure. Um, is it being done? You know, in some places it is. If you look at Canada, right? So Canada is a place that's, uh, you know, massively pursuing immigration, uh, 400,000 migrants every single year. That's in some years close to the number that the U S imports, but Canada has only one 10th of the population of the United States.

[00:22:15] So Canada is really, you know, quite heroic in this regard. And it's obviously also climate propitious geography. One of the places I call a climate oasis, uh, in the book. So I would like to see other climate oases have Canadian like policies. And if they do. Yeah, it would actually go a pretty long way towards achieving this Northern lights scenario.

[00:22:34] Not moving is not really an option for billions

[00:22:34] Isabelle Roughol: Hmm. What's the time horizon on a scenario like this, because what you're talking about is a pretty radical change of, you know, not just a physical geography of humanity, but the cultures, the ways people live. I mean, if, if you know, Bangladesh, which is going to be largely under water, you know, everyone moves up to, to Canada or to the Arctic circle in Russia, that's an entire culture essentially that you're, that you're uprooting and that you're moving.

[00:23:07] Parag Khanna: Um, you know, so here's the thing. When you think about cultures that are in any case at such a high risk, right, from, from, from climate change, you know, the people of south Asia or an obvious example, uh, if you look at IPCC models and forecasts around which geographies are going to be most negatively affected by climate change, all of south Asia is a bright pulsing red. So you're talking about the largest concentration of people on the entire planet. The 1.8, 1.9 billion people of South Asia. So on the one hand, you know, uh, it's a pity, a travesty to have to leave one's home. On the other hand, it's a matter of survival. When you think about the depleting groundwater, the droughts, the rising sea levels, the cyclones, all of these sorts of things.

[00:23:52] People will have to move, they'll have to relocate.

[00:23:54] So, you know, one of the things I report on in the book is the Indian populations that have been moving to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and Russia and all the way to Europe. Now, of course, they're going to have a far higher survival rate outside of India than in India, in India.

[00:24:09] So you have to ask yourself, right, you know: it's not their fault that climate change is accelerating. They are the victims. But are they victims who want to die or the victims that are going to have to accept this re uprooting and relocation? And of course, many of them were voluntarily pursuing it. These are also the same countries that not for reasons of climate change, but for politics are high sources of emigration, right?

[00:24:32] Indians want to leave India? India is one of the poorest countries in the world. India is not well-governed. Um, you know, so it's inhospitable to, uh, to many people who are either talented or women or Muslim or whatever the case may be. So, you know, again is a humanitarian at a matter of humanitarian interest and self-interest for those people that they want to get out.

[00:24:52] So again, you know, we construct this sort of bucolic kind of vision, hypothetical that, oh, what a pity to have to uproot. Well, that's one thing if you live in Athens, right? Um, but Athens is kind of more or less, you're going to be okay. There's terrible heat waves, but you can install air conditioning. It's a wealthy enough country. Um, you know, w w we're talking about billions of people who don't live in such places and, and, you know, again are going to be far more negatively impacted.

[00:25:18] In terms of the recipient countries. Um, again, the fact is that we have been, as I said, at the beginning, you know, mass migration societies for hundreds of years, our culture today is not some kind of immutable, um, Immutable transplant from the 15th century, right? Our culture today is already the mélange, the result, uh, the syncretic result of centuries of mass migrations, you know, hence, you know, curry is a popular British food, you know, to, to just, uh, to borrow that very common trope, um, and, uh, and so on and so forth.

[00:25:54] So I think we have to realize that it's really just about embracing that which we've already been doing. And viewing it as something that is not just going to be accidental and sort of, you know, sort of passive, but it's going to have to become active in this age of climate change and, and demographic deflation.

[00:26:13] There will never be a global migration policy

[00:26:13] Isabelle Roughol: Hmm. I think the difference perhaps is that it's happening a lot faster than that maybe than what we've, we've done in the past. I understand, you know, the argument that it is a hundred percent in, in the interest of all parties involved, but humans have not always been known to do what's in their best interest. So how do we get that to be more, more accepted, you know, when you, when you hear the political discourse again against migration and then thinking also about the cost. I mean, obviously if you're fleeing floods and horrible heat waves and all this, it becomes a bit of a no-brainer to move. But that's not going to be so dire for everyone. And there is a huge cost, not just economic, but emotional, social, to picking up your life and moving it somewhere else, right? So how do, how do we make that more palatable?

[00:27:06] Parag Khanna: You know, I think even using the word we is tricky here, because one of the things that you kind of realize when you look at global, so-called global migration, right, or even global climate change is that there is no we. There isn't really one common policy. We're coming out of Cop 26, where there been a whole bunch of kind of virtue signaling pronouncements and so forth, but really is Canada as threatened by climate change as you know, sort of, uh, you know, uh, Somalia is, right?

[00:27:36] And, um, and so I think, unfortunately, we're never gonna have a global migration accord. We're never going to have a sort of genuinely even handed way of dealing, uh, with, with this issue, you're going to have pairs of countries. You're going to have regional clusters and formations and patterns and that kind of thing. And so what assimilation looks like, what the new political formations look like is going to be different region by region by region unfortunately.

[00:28:02] I was just in a long conversation yesterday about Africa. Most African migration is within Africa. Migration within West Africa looks very different from within East Africa and within Sub-Saharan Africa. In some places it's gotten violent in the last few years. We've seen scenes in our own news around what has happened as various, um, kind of ghettos that are formed as people from Sub-Saharan African countries have sort of, you know, sort of just, uh, aggregated in, um, in various slums of South Africa. And now the military has gone in and riots had broken out.

[00:28:36] And there was other examples where you have a, you know, a melting pot place, like Nairobi where it's, you know, it's, it's more, certainly more stable than many other countries in Africa. And it is really becoming something of a, you know, pan African and certainly East African melting pot. So very different answers in very different places, even within the same, you know, sort of broader geography or continent or region.

[00:28:59] Could allegiance to the city replace the nation state?

[00:28:59] Isabelle Roughol: Um, you mentioned Nairobi. You make some real interesting points about cities and the power of cities and even that, that we could have an allegiance, a lot of people do in fact, have an allegiance to a city more than to a nationality, uh, of, of the country that they, that they happen to be in. You tell me a bit more about?

[00:29:20] Parag Khanna: Sure. This is a concept that I've been kind of, uh, playing with for some time. And I borrow it from my great friend, Daniel Bell, who's a Canadian, uh, political theorist and a sort of sociologist who lives in China. And he started using this term "civicism", which is kind of pride and loyalty to the city, not necessarily always over the state, but certainly as one's primary self identification, even if it doesn't carry a passport with it. And so we, you know, he's, uh, done a volume of compendium that I've contributed to about global cities and the sense of identity in that city and whether or not people, you know, how much people feel a pride in their country versus the city.

[00:30:02] You know, if you take me, so I'm a new Yorker, right? And, uh, I'm definitely a very proud new Yorker. I love New York, you know, warts and all. Uh, I'm also an American, but it's sort of like, you know, I'm a patriotic American, I even, you know, I was a adviser in the Pentagon and served in Iraq and Afghanistan. So, you know, I have credentials in both aspects. I don't see them as conflicting. But people say, where are you from? I'm like, I'm a New Yorker. Well, everyone knows that probably means you're also an American. Um, you know, judging from my accent on obviously American in sort of, you know, sort of, uh, in incontrovertible ways.

[00:30:36] Um, but, but within that, you know, or beyond that, or in a way that's more revealing or telling or interesting than that, I'm a New Yorker. And that tells you a whole bunch of other things. And it also, again, reflects those inner feelings. So the word civicism is really important in that regard. And I view again more and more young people , especially because they're more migratory, you know, and they are living in cities, you know, they're sort of young population, young, urban population of the world is obviously a driver of the demographics of urbanization. So I think from a young person's point of view, that's also a very interesting layer of identity that we can add to our, to our discourse.

[00:31:17] London vs. Britain

[00:31:17] Isabelle Roughol: I can certainly recognize that because having been here a bit of a five years now, London has certainly been the place that has welcomed me and taken me in and I've felt very welcomed even by the city government, who's tried to make my life easier. But it is still the country that decides my status as an immigrant and whether I'm allowed to stay. And, and, uh, there is certainly a very, very different discourse to immigrants, uh, whether you're listening to the London leadership versus the British leadership.

[00:31:47] Parag Khanna: Absolutely. And, and this is such a crucial point. I'm glad you mentioned it. Remember Sadiq Khan saying, "well, you know, you people out there may have voted for Brexit, but don't mess with my city and don't mess around with my right to have talent come in as and when I need it. And, you know, I'm going to push for London place-based visas if I need to, to ensure that London has the talent pipeline it needs." And I say, go get them. You know, I'm a huge fan of thinking like that. And, um, you know, the sanctuary cities in America are very much the same again.

[00:32:18] Well, among the worst mistakes that a country can make is to go against the interests of its principal cities, right? There is no country, there is no economy without the city. And that's very true, even in a wealthy country, like the UK, where London is, you know, whatever, 30 plus percent of the GDP. That said you don't want to see capital cities hoard resources, and not, you know, distribute the wealth. That would also be problematic. But to make federal decisions that literally undermine yourself is a mistake. And of course, again, Brexit is a case in point in that.

[00:32:51] There is no great power in history that isn't built on great cities and the accomplishments of great cities and the connectivity and influence of great cities. Remember that we've had cities for 7,000 years. We've had modern nation states for a couple of hundred years and universally for only about 75 years. It is nothing more than a passing phase, right? And you can say that with complete confidence, despite all the maps on our wall telling you something different. Um, because you know, countries come and go. They're they're, they're, they're born and grow and collapse all the time. I devoted a whole book, Connectography, you know, to pointing out that there are pipelines in the Middle East that predate Arab states such as we know them today. And after those states fall apart, the pipeline will still be there. There are cities like Damascus and Baghdad and Cairo and Beirut that have been around again for, for literally a couple of thousand years. Long before the modern state and long after those states are gone, those cities will be there.

[00:33:51] So make no mistake what the central unit of spatial organization is for, for humankind. It is not the state, right, even as much as we have states. It is the city and it will always be the city.

[00:34:04] Doing away with the outdated passport

[00:34:04] Isabelle Roughol: Agreed agreed. You make actually that, that point in conclusion of the book, uh, in calling for a global passport, a passport is not linked to, if I understand it correctly, to a nation state identity. Can you tell me a bit more about that and how that would work?

[00:34:22] Parag Khanna: Yes. So the idea of, uh, either a, you know, so-called global passport, or rather in this case, a passport as an app, a passport that's on the blockchain is I think an idea whose time is long overdue and is coming because really all of the information that you provide to get a visa in your passport, whether it is your travel history, your criminal history, your education records, uh, you know, utility bills, your flight itineraries, and of course now your COVID certification, all of that is online somewhere. All of that can be uploaded to a blockchain and shared as needed with the appropriate authorities on a temporary basis so that it can be evaluated and your visa can be granted. And that visa can very much be delivered as a QR code since, of course, as of now you also have your vaccine QR code. So we've never had QR codes as the foundation of enabling international mobility. We've only had these floppy passports and stamps in them, which is, if you think about it in a 21st century context, kind of retro, right? I mean, we're talking about the stamp is if I'm not mistaken, uh, you know, dates back to roughly, uh, the BC era, right.

[00:35:32] So, you know, it's not absolutely essential today. Uh, you know, so the future of travel is definitely the QR code and, uh, and it should be an app on your phone. And we should do away with floppy paper passports. Now this is not just about the aesthetic. It's also obviously about enabling people to wherever they are in the world provide that data, get that approval all from the one device that almost every human being in the world has in their hand. Not every human being can fly to a nearby country where there happens to be a British embassy or high commission and then wait online and provide hundreds of dollars in payment only to stand behind a bulletproof glass and have their application rejected, which as you and I know is what happens to most people who are applying for British or American visas. All of this can and should be done instantaneously online, um, or, you know, within a 24 hour period. And that would be to everyone's benefit of course, both the emigrants, as well as the recipient countries that really need those people.

[00:36:29] Again, I refer to the pandemic experience where even though we were under a so-called lockdown, please tell that to the American embassies, because all over the world, American embassies were open. And what were they doing? They were out begging nurses in Third World countries to give up their livelihoods in their home countries and move to America to take care of dying elderly in American hospitals. Right?

[00:36:51] So that's not some kind of 9/ 11 conspiracy theory. That's what happens when you have a terrible stupid immigration policy. Um, and you wind up running around with a begging bowl saying, please, you know, uh, report to the U S embassy if you have a nursing degree, we'll give you a one way ticket to America, right? Is that what should be happening? Is that any way to run your country. You know, I find that quite frankly appalling.

[00:37:13] Isabelle Roughol: Meanwhile, the British government has been sending letters to everyone with a, uh, truck driving license to try to get them out of retirement and, uh, and back on a fleet of, uh, you know, Dunkirk-style trucks to try and, and, uh, feed the country essentially. It is pretty amazing how, how short-sighted a lot of these things have been.

[00:37:38] We'll do everything wrong before we do it right

[00:37:38] Isabelle Roughol: Yeah. How likely do you think it is that, you know, we kind of see the light and implement some of these smarter policies? I mean, you mentioned that, you know, historically we've, we've actually have been pretty good at bringing in, uh, the migration that, that we needed.

[00:37:54] Parag Khanna: You could say, um, I call myself an accidental optimist, you know, I mean, you sort of, you know, it's like what Churchill said about democracy: worst form of government, except for all the others. And what will happen here is we'll pursue all the wrong policies until we arrive at the right one.

[00:38:09] Um, and again, some places will get there earlier than others. There's the Canada and Germany examples. The UK, you know, again, is turning around in this area, given all of the stumbles and failures of recent years. So I think the UK is also realising that having a strategic immigration policy is important. The fact that you have this accelerated aging of the world population and a decline in fertility means that, you know, we really do have this strong demand for a young talent.

[00:38:35] So, you know, again, the operative principle in this book is what I call the global war for young talent. And the FOMO effect will kick in because countries will say, how come we're so dumb and Canada is so smart? Why don't we compete with Canada for talent? You know, how come America used to get all the talent. Canada said, well, we should get that talent. And how come European countries are now saying maybe we should start teaching in English so that we get some of that young talent. And on and on it goes. And you can see these things happening already right now over the last few years. And eventually there'll just be a couple of holdouts left standing, which are places that no one wants to go to any way, like Hungary you know.

[00:39:10] Um, but long before then, and, and, you know, long after Victor Orban, I mean, he'll be long gone at some point and you'll see Hungarian policy change or given the emigration from Hungary, there won't even be that many Hungarians. It's a tiny country to begin with.

[00:39:24] You know, I pick on Bulgaria in the book because it's obviously just another Eastern European country that obviously is a proud, you know, obviously identity and patriotic nationalist tradition, which it's more than entitled to have. But it's also one of the world's most rapidly depopulating countries, while it only has five or 6 million people to begin with. So I say this now as a political geographer in a very blunt but factual statement: there will be people living on the territory that is currently known as Bulgaria in the year 2040 and 2050 and 2060. I just don't know if there'll be any Bulgarians, right? And if you're a Bulgarian today, you may have a problem with that. But again, you will be gone, right?

[00:40:02] And the story of human history of the past hundred thousand years is that we move. We're nomadic. You know, we will not be where we are right now, a hundred, you know, uh, even, uh, maybe even 30 or 40 years from now, let alone the next a hundred thousand years.

[00:40:15] So I don't have a problem saying that if this is a fertile habitable, survivable geography on the planet Earth, people will find their way there. Even if there's a line on the map that says, oh, you know, this place happens to belong to the Bulgarians, but the Bulgarians are gone because they're old or they've emigrated, right? So I don't have a problem saying that it's just up to you to realize that, well, this is kind of actually a very obvious statement. If you look at the history of the past 100, 200, 300, 400, 500 or 1000 years. There was no, uh, you know, this shouldn't really come as a shock to anyone.

[00:40:48] So when you asked, you know, how likely is it that we'll get there? It's a hundred percent likely because we're mammals and mammals have a fight or flight instinct. So you choose death or you choose retreat. Um, in about a hundred percent of cases, just about, mammals will choose retreat. So the human population will relocate. We might as well see it coming. We might as well plan for it. We might as well make the most of it and prepare and even generate what our next and more progressive and sustainable model of human civilization is going to be. And I quite, quite frankly think it's going to be a beautiful mobile and sustainable and circular and technologically-infused civilization.

[00:41:26] And I wish that we would get there sooner rather than later, so that more people would survive to see it.

[00:41:31] Failed nativist policies

[00:41:31] Isabelle Roughol: Hmm, Hmm it's fascinating. Actually, those authoritarian, uh, nationalistic leaders in Eastern Europe do realize this. Orban, convenes, I think it's every other year, this, this kind of big nativist, pro-birth summit where, um, they're encouraging natality and encouraging family policies, except of course, uh, it essentially encourages white women to have a bunch of children and not work and not aspire to anything else. Uh, that's their, that's their one answer and unsurprisingly not many people are taking them up on it.

[00:42:06] Parag Khanna: Yeah. I mean, this is, uh, th this, this, this is interesting, it's something that's happening all over the world. There have been pro fertility kinds of schemes going on, especially in Europe for many years, and even now in China. They've all failed, and I assure you they'll continue to fail.

[00:42:22] The fact is that young people don't want to have kids because of economic insecurity or climate change or post materialist kind of values. You know, call it what you want. The fact that there's so many reasons why is a reminder that nothing you do to the contrary is going to work. Um, so, you know, we've been down this road and the fact is that, but all of this should remind us again. Well, the world population is not going to be um, you know, 15 billion people and we're not heading to a Malthusian crisis.

[00:42:49] We have 8 billion people and not a whole lot more coming. This is the maximum number of people that will ever live in the world. Our population is actually going to decline no matter what we do. So actually we should reset our task. It's not about preserving this land is my land and you cannot come in.

[00:43:05] It's like we kind of have a existential dilemma here. We need to survive. We kind of want more than 2 billion people to be alive, right? We, we want to survive and ensure the survival of the maximum number of human beings. So once you realize this demographic deflation, what I call peak humanity, you should, I hope, as a conscious sentience being with some kind of a moral impulse, you know, whoever you are. If you have any, even the remotest ethical sensibility of any kind, I hope that that mere fact alone would convince you that you should be thinking a little bit broader than just me, my country, my land right now, amidst all of these really existential risks that we face. And you should be saying, you know what, maybe we do need to think about policies that are actually gonna preserve our, our, our numbers.

[00:43:52] Isabelle Roughol: Thank you so much for this conversation. It was fascinating.

[00:43:56] Parag Khanna: It's such a pleasure. Thank you.

[00:43:58] Isabelle Roughol: Thank you to Parag Khanna. He wrote "Move: The forces uprooting us." It's published by Scribner in the US, Orion in the UK. It's also available in German and in Italian, I believe. Parag Khanna talked to us from Singapore. Next time, I'll be talking to Kamal al-Solaylee, author of the book Return.

[00:44:20] As always remember to sign up for the newsletter at borderlinepod.com, where you can read also plenty of other articles and see archives of the podcast. We're now at 46 episodes. There's plenty more to listen to. Join as a member to help support this work and share it around you to your friends, your colleagues, your family. It means a lot to me. As always, thank you.

[00:44:41] I'm your host, Isabelle Roughol. Music was by Ofshane. Borderline is a One Lane Bridge production.

Podcast episodesBorderlinePolitics & geopoliticsImmigration & asylum

Isabelle Roughol Twitter

Journalist. Founder & host of Borderline. Former international editor of LinkedIn, foreign editor at Le Figaro, reporter at The Cambodia Daily. Global soul, messy accent.


Membership is the best way to help Borderline, but donating is nice too. $15 hosts the podcast for a month. $40 pays for the site and membership platform. $5 keeps me caffeinated. All is appreciated.

GB £ US $ EU € IN ₹