European Affairs

Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization, by Parag Khanna. Random House. 466 pages.     Print Email

Minds, great or small, can often operate in the same direction. The other day, my eyes were on a passage in a major new book on future global connections that cited Berlin as Europe's most future-ready city. At the same time, my ears had tuned into an NPR report on the 10,000 British living in Berlin, worrying about the personal and political consequences of a British departure from the European Union.

Who could have imagined the centrality of Berlin in the European imagination, either twenty-five years ago, as it was emerging from division and isolation, much less 71 years ago when it had been reduced to rubble by U.S. and British bombers and Russian artillery?

The juxtaposition of the book on the future and the radio news report on the day-to-day provided yet another reminder that history and politics are a combination of great tides and movements often blocked, diverted or undone by the mundane and unanticipated.

To put it mildly, the book Connectography, is an ambitious undertaking to weave together strands of technology, human behavior, economics and to some degree politics in order to chart the next few decades of global civilization from Asia to the Arctic. Its predictions are sweeping as it anticipates a world more of interconnected and ever bigger cities, linked by global supply chains, vast infrastructure projects and the internet, populated by global citizens and wanderers uninhibited by national borders.

Berlin is a tiny slice of vast work, a city the author Paragh Khanna describes as Europe's most future-ready, technologically and demographically. It has room to expand well beyond its current 3.5 million population and requires more people to be financially sustainable. It is a magnet for African, Arab and Asian immigration.

"Berlin's magic formula," Khanna writes, "has been affordable rent, openness to immigrants and lots of babies...The rest of Europe must learn from Berlin: Exclusive thinking is a recipe for suicide."
Indeed, affordable rents are one feature of Berlin that has helped attract the mostly young British citizens cited in the NPR report. The German capital has become a major hub for young techies and artists from all over Europe. But the radio report graphically illustrated where tides of history run into the rocks of political reality.

The radio reporter and experts she quoted were not at all sure what would happen to the young Brits should their fellow citizens vote to leave the European Union in the June 23 referendum. The same question could apply to the approximately 1.2 million UK citizens living in EU nations, especially Ireland, Spain and France. What about the free movement of people within the EU, or would these expatriates have to go through the same bureaucratic hoops as Americans or other non-EU citizens seeking residence permits?

Brexit, populist nationalism, immigration, Putin adventurism, Greek finances may dominate news headlines (and the nightmares of politicians) in Europe and raise concerns in Washington and elsewhere about the future of the EU. But for Khanna, a self-described global strategist, there is only one answer: the EU is an omelet that cannot be unscrambled.

Perhaps the author's own background offers an explanation to his thinking that the greater aggregation of the EU will come through more devolution in its individual nations. Khanna was born in India, raised in Dubai and the United States, completed degrees at Georgetown University and the London School of Economics, an American citizen, one time Washington think tanker and government consultant now living in Singapore. Somewhere along the way, he also became proficient in German.

Perhaps because of this borderless background the author can view with encouragement a key factor in his prognosis of European evolution --the process of devolution that seems to be picking up steam from Scotland to Italy. Admittedly, it is hard for many Americans, for whom the Civil War is central to their history, to think of countries splitting apart. But Americans need to realize that Europe's much longer history includes considerable making and unmaking of states and city states.|

But Khanna certainly thinks that is where Europe is going, disaggregation at the local or national level, leading to more aggregation at the European-wide level. Perhaps some of his predictions and advocacy come with his familiarity and admiration for modern Germany, whose economic and social models he often cites, especially in contrast to the more polarized United States. It is hard, if not impossible, to imagine a product of French education producing a book that looks with such favor on the unraveling of the national state.

"After centuries of bloody wars," Khanna writes, "Europe's devolutionary dynamic has even evolved into a form of commercial geographic arbitrage. Because the EU offers a larger institutional framework for new states to join, devolution is just the first step to something larger. The EU is in this sense a giant Germany: a loose federation of multiple powerful centers...."

Not only in Europe, but around the world, Khanna presents a global future that in many respects is dazzling and awesome. But getting from here to there will be the hard part, the task as much or more for skillful doers as for big thinkers. These days there seem to be far fewer of the former, far more of the latter.

Then again, it can be salutary to let the fact and statistic-based imagination run wild. This work abounds in gems of statistics. Who could have thought a decade or so ago that we would live in a world where more people own cell phones than toothbrushes. The owners and non-owners alike are heading for Europe, either in jet planes or rubber rafts. For all the assuredness of Khanna's predictions, it is far from certain how easy a landing or what kind of future either group will face.

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