Borderless Economics

By Clive Crook

This week's issue of The Economist has a wonderful pair of articles on migration: The magic of diasporas and Weaving the world together. They urge you to look at migration and globalization as though people, as well as states, mattered. This change of perspective is something of a revelation.

Consider the difference between China and the Chinese people. One is an enormous country in Asia. The other is a nation that spans the planet. More Chinese people live outside mainland China than French people live in France, with some to be found in almost every country. Then there are some 22m ethnic Indians scattered across every continent (the third Indian base in Antarctica will open next year). Hundreds of smaller diasporas knit together far-flung lands: the Lebanese in west Africa and Latin America, the Japanese in Brazil and Peru, the smiling Mormons who knock on your door wherever you live.

Diasporas have been a part of the world for millennia. Today two changes are making them matter much more. First, they are far bigger than they were. The world has some 215m first-generation migrants, 40% more than in 1990. If migrants were a nation, they would be the world's fifth-largest, a bit more numerous than Brazilians, a little less so than Indonesians.

Second, thanks to cheap flights and communications, people can now stay in touch with the places they came from. A century ago, a migrant might board a ship, sail to America and never see his friends or family again. Today, he texts his mother while still waiting to clear customs. He can wire her money in minutes. He can follow news from his hometown on his laptop. He can fly home regularly to visit relatives or invest his earnings in a new business.

Such migrants do not merely benefit from all the new channels for communication that technology provides; they allow this technology to come into its own, fulfilling its potential to link the world together in a way that it never could if everyone stayed put behind the lines on maps. No other social networks offer the same global reach--or commercial opportunity.

Read on: it's fascinating stuff (and beautifully written too). The Economist's website has an interview with Robert Guest, the author. The articles draw on his new book, Borderless Economics: Chinese Sea Turtles, Indian Fridges and the New Fruits of Global Capitalism, which I immediately downloaded and will now get back to.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2011/11/borderless-economics/248730/