Geographer Norbert Csizmadia argues that despite globalization and digital connectedness, geography and place retain prime importance. Geography determines the political and economic fates of people, including their development, health and quality of life. To make his arguments, Csizmadia quotes various experts and refers to global conflict, politics and power. He points to the impact of economics and the rising influence of city-regions. Despite sporadic references and a few not-quite-connected ideas, this is an insightful study with useful and sometimes profound insights.
- Where you live, work and do business makes a difference. Geography matters.
- The geography of wealth, influence and power continues to shift eastward.
- By 2030, the United States, China and India will be the world’s largest economies, each bigger than the next five economies put together.
- Acute global challenges require cooperation and multipolar leadership.
- The locus of economic power has already shifted significantly from nations to cities and to urban “super-regions.”
- Successful nations, megacities and corporations care for the arts, the environment and the well-being of their people.
- Despite fast, continuous change, geography remains central to the new world order.
Where you live, work and do business makes a difference. Geography matters.
Despite globalization, the telecommunications revolution and increased trade – and counter to proclamations announcing the irrelevance of place – your location makes or breaks careers, businesses and lives. Geography determines where global innovation, finance and consumer consumption occurs. People earn high wages in specific regions, and that’s where producers aim their marketing.
“No matter how obsolete this may seem, territory and the associated blood ties play a pivotal role in defining who and what we are.”
Locations compete for creative industry, talent and relevance. They fight to grow into hubs for knowledge, data and air traffic. People living in places that lose in these races often suffer lower GDP and quality of life.
Geography may matter more than any other single factor. In cultural, historic and geopolitical terms, territory always mattered most. Conflicts in the Middle East, the South China Sea and the Crimean Peninsula, for example, evidence the continued strategic relevance of place. Geographical factors often determine the fate of countries, regions and cities, giving rise to “geo-economics.”
The geography of wealth, influence and power continues to shift eastward.
The United States has the world’s largest economy, with China in second place. The emerging world order features a declining West and a rising East.
“Many of us believe in diplomacy that builds upon talent, knowledge and culture, and in the mutually positive impact of cooperation.”
According to the British Ministry of Defense, the United States, China, India and the European Union will lead in tripling or even quadrupling the size of the world economy by 2045. Over the next decades, the world will grow larger, wealthier, healthier and more connected. It will enjoy cheaper energy, and will benefit from smarter, more capable machines. It will grow less democratic and more competitive, strategic, polluted, economically stratified, thirsty and weather-challenged.
“If we regard the Earth’s 4.5 billion-year history as covering a 24-hour time span, then life was created at 4:00:00 am and humanity at 11:58:43 pm.”
International conflict has arisen after a brief, post-Cold War lull. Economics dominates as the instrument of war. Power derives from clout in trade, and in international trading coalitions and the ability to impose meaningful embargoes on other nations. The World Economic Forum rates economic conflict as the most pressing of seven global challenges, and conflict over access to markets and knowledge resources will only expand. The politicization of international trade bodies, the centralization of economic and trade power among large players, China’s efforts to lock down global sources of resources, declining oil prices and global competition for markets describe much of the conflict in the world today.
“Despite the fact that boundaries are just symbols, they have been of great importance in humanity’s history.”
Countries should agree to rules of economic warfare. Governments should restrict their roles in the economy, and smaller nations should join forces to combat centralization of economic power. New local and regional institutions should replace global ones, and companies should think locally and globally.
By 2030, the United States, China and India will be the world’s largest economies, each bigger than the next five economies put together.
By 2030, the planet’s population is likely to peak at about 8.3 billion people and then start a slow decline. More than half the world’s people will live in cities. Asia will account for more than half the world’s GDP. Declining populations will hinder some leading economies. Mexico and Indonesia will join the top 10.
“In the era of geo-economics, states will compete for markets rather than resources.”
In the decades leading up to 2120, some forecasters predict a dissolution of the European Union as Mexico, Poland and Turkey become superpowers. Poland will dominate Northern Europe as German and Russian influence declines. Turkey will ally with the United States to contain Russia and exert influence in the Middle East. China will falter but remain an Asian superpower. Japan and Korea will match China’s influence in the Far East. Their combined power will erode Russia’s maritime possessions. The US economy will dominate for the next century at least, because it has the world’s biggest and most secure economy by far, and domestic access to energy and other resources.
“Data will become the new raw material for the economy, representing a new input that may be equal in value to capital and labor.”
Neoconservative American historian Robert Kagan and the late Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser during the Jimmy Carter administration, projected a less-sanguine view of the United States’s future. They believed China and the East would rise unless the United States addressed challenges to its democracy and avoided turning inward. Brzezinski held that the United States must reform, revitalize, and forge alliances with Russia and Turkey to resist an ascendant East that China would lead.
Acute global challenges require cooperation and multipolar leadership.
Scientists agree that this is the Anthropocene Age, the age of human beings. Human stewardship has changed the planet’s climate, poisoned the oceans and depleted water sources. The world has lost almost half its species since 1970 and now stands on the brink of environmental disaster.
“Leaders equipped with a geopolitical perspective know themselves very well, are open to the unknown and know what the next step will be once they reach their objective.”
Since winning the Cold War and gaining unprecedented power to bring about global change, the United States has enacted reactionary, ad hoc policies around the world. Unlike the United States, China follows a national strategic plan. Economics and trade remain its first priority, as evidenced by its multibillion-dollar new Silk Road. This ambitious project, officially under the name of OBOR, links China more closely by land and sea to markets in Europe, Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa. It positions China strategically in the sea lanes of Southeast Asia.
“Most redrawn boundaries affected by conflict are located within and not among states. For this reason, the cataclysms of the 20th century are not likely to repeat themselves.”
US Army General (ret.) Wesley Clark – Supreme Allied Commander in Europe and head of NATO forces from 1997 to 2000 – believes the United States should focus on five areas in its strategic revitalization: combating terrorism with a policy of deterrence and rapprochement in the Middle East; shoring up cybersecurity; fixing its financial system through tighter regulation; addressing energy and climate change policy; and dealing with China in partnership while respecting US democratic values.
The locus of economic power has already shifted significantly from nations to cities and to urban super-regions.
Cities facilitate exchanges among creative talent leading to innovation and disruptive technologies. City leaders know that to attract the talent necessary to drive creativity, innovation and commerce, they must offer sound health care, public safety and recreational amenities, like bike and pedestrian lanes.
“The most important factor of our life is the place where we live.”
The developed-world economy has shifted toward creativity and innovation, culture and the arts. The most dynamic economies feature knowledgeable, educated and creative people, who attract more talent. These economies abound with start-ups and tech entrepreneurs. New ideas and inventions revitalize old industries: One breakthrough leads to the next.
“The countries that fail to create knowledge will have no choice but to buy it, thus getting left behind in international competition and pushed to the periphery of development.”
A region’s educational infrastructure makes a tremendous difference. The United States and the United Kingdom account for all top-10-rated universities in the world. Asian and European universities have slid in the ratings in recent years. Online courses and degree programs have spiked in popularity, but instruction in vital disciplines must still occur in person. Science and technology universities such as MIT – which offer programs that require physical, expensive and closely mentored lab work – rise steadily in the rankings.
“Social, economic and demographic changes have triggered more intense migration processes than ever before. While there were 175 million migrants in 2000, their figure had grown to 252 million by 2013 and the trend is unbroken.”
Following the success of the 1951 launch of the Stanford Research Park – which helped spawn the rise of Silicon Valley – government and private sector-sponsored science and technology parks grew by the thousands worldwide. R&D, science and technology drive much of the competitive advantage that cities, regions and nations enjoy today; wise governments assist tech entrepreneurs and investment. For example, Israel, despite a founding philosophy of socialism, has grown systematically into one of the world’s foremost tech start-up nations. Through deliberate, sustained government policy, Chile’s start-up culture, which began through a government initiative almost 50 years ago, blossomed into a success story that other nations and regions strive to emulate.
“Geography…is unquestionably the most beautiful discipline, that is, the queen of sciences.”
Nations play a secondary role in the new global, creative economy. The real action, innovation and economic dynamism occurs in “megaregions”: cities and their surrounding areas. Multiple cities – the Boston-New York-Washington corridor, for example – comprise these powerhouse regions. Forty such megacities worldwide account for an outsized share of global innovation and GDP. Their emphasis on the arts, beautiful spaces, and inclusion and tolerance for people of all types attract and retain creative workers.
Successful nations, megacities and corporations care for the arts, the environment and the well-being of their people.
Beyond the arts, aesthetics, great universities, connectedness and open, inclusive cultures, winning urban regions provide affordable housing, protect the environment, and promote the safety and well-being of residents.
The emergence of soft-power nations that influence and persuade without the threat of military force – or economic sanctions or tariffs – offer evidence of this trend. Soft-power nations use moral suasion, diplomacy, coalitions and intellect to exert influence. Like great cities, soft-power countries tend to score highly on measures assessing livability, equality, security, and the freedom and development of their people. They stand atop rankings such as the UN’s Human Development Index.
Creative, flexible, nontraditional leaders, mixing cooperation, empathy and kindness with decisiveness and confidence, inspire creative talent. Creative firms, countries and, especially, cities share competitive attributes, but attracting and keeping creative talent remains the most essential advantage. For the past 20 years, University of Toronto professor Richard Florida has produced admired research on how cities like Singapore, Copenhagen and Barcelona get it right. Each deliberately and systematically plans for attractive green spaces, improved traffic flow, infrastructure investments, care for the disadvantaged and affordable housing; each makes extensive use of public-private partnerships to improve life for their citizens.
Despite fast and continuous change, geography remains central to the new world order.
The world changes constantly and quickly. Data may soon constitute the most valuable commodity in developed economies. How firms and governments process, store and analyze data for insights will yield advantages, especially alongside the 21st century’s other great resource – talent. Workers, including those in highly paid professions, may benefit from demand, but they will feel tremendous pressure from change. Automation and trends toward project-based, ultracompetitive freelance work demand constant excellence.
Everyone now has the ability to demolish and reset boundaries and to choose his or her own geography. To thrive in this new era, people must remain curious, be willing to experiment, and choose work and home deliberately. Build and nurture networks, and think globally and locally in the pursuit of true passions.