Whether you mean it to be or not, the act of migration is always political. That’s according to Dr. Parag Khanna, an internationally renowned expert in geopolitics and globalization. His latest book, Move: The Forces Uprooting Us, explores how mass migration will reshape the world as we know it in the decades ahead.
In a Plumia Talks live interview, Khanna makes the case that when people move across borders, they are voting with their feet. He says: “You don’t build affordable housing? I’m leaving. You don’t have free internet access? You don’t have an LGBT-friendly culture? I’m leaving!”
Being a digital nomad, then, can be considered a form of activism. Through where they choose to go, nomads express their social and political preferences and fearlessly act on them.
In Move, Khanna's vision for the next phase of human civilization is characterized by mobility and sustainability. He says writing the book was a missionary act; delivering his message that travel and nomadic living are integral to humanity's future. "Part of why I wrote the book is that every young person in the world deserves that opportunity – has a right to that opportunity," he says. "The fate of our species depends on that."
Some nomads hit the road due to a lack of job opportunities and rising living costs in major cities worldwide. Others simply prefer a more global lifestyle because their identity is tied to more than one place. The reasons for becoming location-independent may vary, but most are motivated by the opportunity to pursue new experiences and enjoy a higher quality of life. This is what travel and migration can offer.
"If you're a digital nomad, then you represent the tip of the spear," Khanna says. "Those with the capacity, the talent, the connections to be able to live where you want to be."
Yet cross-border movement has become an increasingly divisive issue, especially since the turn of the 21st century. The US government points to terrorism and illegal border crossings as reasons to limit migration. In Europe, harsh restrictions are the response to waves of refugees from fleeing nations in crisis across the Mediterranean.
“The governments of the world will agree on how to colonize the moon,” says Khanna. “But never will they agree on a common migration accord.”
The majority of the world’s population is made up of people under 40, and younger, digitally-mobile generations are becoming hot commodities. Nomad visas and tax breaks are the most prominent examples of governments seeking to attract knowledge workers. In a world of remote work, countries are battling it out for global talent. The nomad demographic represents a unique opportunity for governments that engage.
It’s never been more appealing for individuals to express their desires and improve their prospects by moving between geographies. In the years ahead, as climate change and aging populations continue to drive migration, successfully attracting nomads will become an essential metric for nations’ long-term survival.
As Khanna says, digital nomads can now claim their political voice and enact real change simply by moving: “To vote with your feet is the most powerful vote in the world.”