A powerful idea in a compelling map

While going through my morning reading, I found an interview of Parag Khanna in the Washington Post promoting his new book “Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization,” a book that points to the inevitable future realities of globalization. One map and set of Q&A in particular caught my attention – the part about defining economic zones and utilizing smarter transportation in the form of high speed rail.

Read on, and see if it doesn’t also capture your imagination.

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Seven economic zones connected across state boundaries

The map from your book that’s probably received the most attention is the United States broken down into seven economic mega-regions, all of which are driven by urban centers. You say that a high-speed railway could connect these cities, creating a “United City-States of America.” Why do you think we need to reorganize this way?

These seven colorful patches are the natural topography and economic geography of the United States. It separates the U.S. into areas that focus on farming, automobile manufacturing, technology, finance, tourism, national parks, etc. Each of those regions has an urban anchor that serves as a financial and business center, a population center and a transportation hub. That’s what those white patches are. Then we need the black lines, which are the high-speed rail networks and freight railways connecting these regions to each other.

We need to rethink the political and functional geography in the United States. It’s kind of ridiculous that we use 200-year-old logic to govern the economics and functional reality of day-to-day life in our country. Of course, we do it for votes — having 50 states is great if you’re running around in a primary. But it doesn’t help you make America a more viable or competitive economy.

All of the feedback I’ve gotten about this map has demonstrated that there is so much frustration with the layers and layers of bureaucracy, for the police and the education system and the government, in large and small states. All we do is duplicate bureaucracy, when we should be regionalizing our coordination of economic affairs. Of course, there are a bunch of birthers who have been like, ‘Who the hell is this technocrat guy who doesn’t live in America, is he even American, does he have the right to do this?’ But I do see the enormous groundswell in support of these ideas.

But this reorganization is so dramatic – could we even do this?

We have the ability to do this. I hate to make the punch line something that’s so banal, which is “It’s all Congress’s’ fault,” but it’s all Congress’s fault. All Congress has to do is to make sure that instead of district- and state-level pork barrel project spending, projects have some kind of cross-border dimensions, so that American citizens, whatever state they live in, can be better connected to the big cities. And if you do that, the laws of economics will take over, and people will more freely engage in commerce.

A map like this would enable Americans to flow more freely around the country. That is the difference between America and the European Union. We are a United States; you don’t need to go through a border check to cross state lines. And yet we’re not taking advantage of that freedom of mobility across this incredible geography.

Right now, the political conversation in the United States and elsewhere seems to be more focused on the rejection of free trade and of immigrants, and uncertainties about the future of transnational projects like Eurozone. How does that jibe with your overall theory that the world is becoming far more connected and integrated?

We have to distinguish between what some people in politics are saying, and what the reality is. We can’t treat the fact that Donald Trump has an idea about a wall, or that Bernie Sanders is against certain trade agreements, as reality. Almost every syllable that you hear in the populist discourse is wrong.

In the real world right now, we have more trade, more immigration, more cross-border investment than at any point in history. We are massively expanding global flows in goods, services, finance, people, data. You name it, it’s going up.

If you look at the United States and Mexico, most of the world views Mexico as a very hot emerging market. That’s true of American companies: The American financial industry is buying into pipelines and power grids, and American automobile manufacturers are relocating. And they’re doing so not just because of cheap labor, but because Mexico has preferential trade agreements with other Latin American countries, which means if you manufacture there you can generate more sales in a fast-growing region.

Parag Khanna

Parag Khanna

Parag Khanna (born 27 July 1977) is an international relations expert and best-selling author. He is a CNN Global Contributor[2] and Senior Research Fellow in the Centre on Asia and Globalisation at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy[3] at the National University of Singapore. He is also the Managing Partner of Hybrid Reality,[4] a geostrategic advisory firm, and Co-Founder & CEO of Factotum,[5] a boutique content strategy agency.

Parag Khanna is a leading global strategist, world traveler, and best-selling author. He is a CNN Global Contributor and Senior Research Fellow in the Centre on Asia and Globalisation at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. He is also the Managing Partner of Hybrid Reality, a geostrategic advisory firm, and Co-Founder & CEO of Factotum, a boutique content strategy agency.