In this one-on-one chat with Doha Debates correspondent Nelufar Hedayat, strategist and author Parag Khanna aims to correct some general misconceptions on globalization. “It should be defined as the movement of goods, people, services, data, ideas, technologies from place to place. It doesn’t have to be across an international boundary,” he says. Taking a historical look at migration and movement over many millennia, rather than the “blip” of heightened tension in current politics, Parag argues, shows you a different perspective: Movement is innately human. “We have been building infrastructure, roads or pipelines or railways or airports for centuries. This is something that is who we are.”
The next step, after realizing that we are always building connectivity, is to reflect on it and make sure that we’re harnessing this incredible process for maximum human benefit, he continues. Much of that, however boring it sounds, is continuing to build dependable infrastructure — which creates unquantifiable value. Parag gives the example of making a simple phone call to someone. We often think that using a cellphone is wireless, something “that’s just in the ether.” What we can’t see, and end up taking for granted, is the infrastructure that was built to enable this seamless connectivity. The same goes for building a highway; one can’t even measure the chain reaction of benefits in improving that area’s economy, the way one can’t measure the benefits of being able to reach someone across the world on the phone in a few seconds.
“Let’s remember people. The original globalization is us, our migrations.“
These, of course, Parag acknowledges, come at great cost to the planet. But he reminds us that “there are winners and losers from climate change,” which influences and weakens global agreements because each country has a different stake. Therefore, more effective than diplomatic summits is local activism and local decision-making, as countries become more independent thanks to globalization. He highlights the transition from colonial exploitation to many countries finally able to make “their own decisions about how they’re going to participate in the world,” though also recognizing that the world is still very unequal in how power is stratified.
If you find Parag’s optimism for the future to be contagious, check out our full debate, which includes his 5-minute argument “Globalization doesn’t fail, we do,” followed by a lively discussion on just how local local activism should be.