The Lenox globe, a medieval map, is inscribed with the Latin phrase HC SVNT DRACONES, “here be dragons”, to show unexplored territories. What was unknown was to be feared.
But maps aren’t static representations of our world. Explorers return with new knowledge. Victors extend borders after wars. Seas rise. Coasts erode. Populations move. A century ago, atlases had huge patches of pink to mark land under the dominion of the British Empire. In those days India’s colonial borders stretched much farther north. Pakistan didn’t yet exist. The Partition of India redrew the geography of South Asia and triggered one of the largest, and bloodiest, movements of people ever.
In his pacey polemic Move, Parag Khanna offers a nod to history but focuses the bulk of his impressive resources on what the future map of our planet could look like.
His thesis is that humankind is made to move. “Mobility is destiny,” he writes. The coming decades will see huge numbers moving “inland, upland and northwards” as populations respond to the threats of climate change, the demographics of ageing populations living longer, the opportunities presented by the imbalance of human capital supply and demand, and the freedoms afforded by new, Blockchain-enabled ways of organising our lives. “Where will you live in 2050?” is the question his book poses.
Khanna lays out a compelling argument for mass migration as a policy to solve the big challenges facing mankind.
He considers the migrations taking place within regions and why, for example, Europe has been generally accommodating to Slavic and Baltic peoples, but had much more difficulty in absorbing Arabs, Africans, and Muslims in general. He stresses the importance of assimilation, rather than ghettoisation, to integration.
Move poses a radical alternative to the notion of the nation state with its rigid borders and rights and responsibilities allotted by birth or naturalisation. It imagines a world of open borders where freedom to roam is a human right. In his concluding chapter, “Civilisation 3.0”, Khanna writes:
“Western countries promote human rights abroad knowing that their pressure will yield few results, whereas the surest path to improving the human condition is migration. Migration is as much a human right as freedom of speech or due process – and indeed for many, crossing a border is the only way to attain those rights. Mobility thus ought to be one of the paramount human rights of the twenty-first century.”
It’s not an entirely new idea. Khanna notes the philosophical underpinnings of European thinkers, John Locke and Immanuel Kant, who centuries ago both considered the positive role of migrants and the value of welcoming them. Fifteen years ago, Lant Pritchett made the economic case for free movement in his book Let Their People Come.
A global citizen of Indian origin, schooled in Germany and the USA, now resident in Singapore by way of Dubai, Khanna is a prolific writer. He writes knowledgeably and shares plenty of tasty first-hand anecdotes. The reader gets the flavour of the pristine Nordic coast, rust-belt America, historic central Asian silk roads, and the modern hustle of south-east Asia.
This is his seventh book. I first encountered him through his last The Future is Asian. That is a view I not only subscribe to intellectually, but one that motivated me to up sticks more than a decade ago and move from London to Mumbai. I’m a rarity in that sense. Most people have and will be travelling in the opposite direction but there is a movement that’s seen increasing numbers of people choosing to repatriate themselves to Asia as western economies have stalled, and populism has risen.
From a personal standpoint, as a migrant married to a two-time migrant (Uganda to England; England to India), and father of two teenagers who are both British and Indian, there is something deeply satisfying to read a powerful narrative in which I see myself and find an optimistic vison for my children’s future.
The challenge though is that many of us who elect to move are privileged. As a white economic migrant into India, I enjoy freedoms and access as do many of the other “expat” elites blessed with the choice of mobility. Our lives and life chances are radically different to those of people who desperately seek the chance to move “inland, upland and northwards” in search of work, security, clean air, and safe water, and who put their faith and hard-earned cash in the hands of people traffickers to risk drowning in the Mediterranean Sea or the English Channel.
Governments are wary of migration. It doesn’t sell well at the ballot box. “Migrant” has become a toxic term in contemporary political discourse, and few are made to feel welcome whatever economic benefits they bring.
As Brexit has shown, people don’t always act in their own economic self-interest. From a fiscal standpoint the UK needs more immigration. Yet, populist politicians use modern day versions of the “here be dragons” trope to warn against the perceived threat of migration. Just as bold mediaeval adventurers were compelled to figure out what actually lay in those unchartered territories, we have a duty to think about what our planet could look like.
Parag Khanna sees this as “merely a blip compared to the overwhelming imbalance between old and young populations and the labour shortages that need to be filled for social life to function. Populism and the pandemic have hardened some borders, but they are also softening again to allow people with skills to circulate.” His book sets out a vision for a more harmonious, better-balanced world. For anyone with an interest in a sustainable and more equitable future it is a thrilling, albeit rather utopian, view.
Mark Hannant is an entrepreneur, map collector, and the author of Midnight’s Grandchildren: How young Indians are disrupting the world’s largest democracy. He lives in Mumbai.
Move: How mass migration will reshape the world – and what it means for you, Parag Khanna, Weidenfeld & Nicolson.