Dr. Parag Khanna is a leading global strategy advisor, world traveler, and best-selling author.
A century ago, there were two billion people on earth, dispersed between urban and rural areas, who had never lived outside the boundaries of their own countries. Today, our populace is fast approaching eight billion people, and we anticipate that by the middle of this century it will surpass nine billion people, of whom 70% will be living in cities. This is an unprecedented transformation in our population, and it has taken place alongside a rapid technological evolution that is impacting humanity and the environment we live in.
This boom in our birth rates, wealth, and trade has had repercussions on the environment. Countries in the southern hemisphere, which are notably warmer than those in the north, face the harshest consequences as droughts bring about famines, and as global warming produces fierce floods and storms. As the years go by, this will only magnify the existing migratory crisis that Europe and the USA already face as more geographic areas across Africa, Asia, and Latin America become uninhabitable and people flock to the cooler north.
We are no longer a constellation of countries dotted across the globe but rather an interconnected web of people, systems, and economies tightly woven together. After the Great Wars, national borders became increasingly blurred as supranational organizations such as the United Nations, the European Union, and the World Bank were instituted. Since then, each country’s social and economic fabric has been altered as affordable travel has made global mobility the norm for investor migrants, and as globalization has molded international financial markets.
Today, the world faces a new set of challenges — the threat of a global pandemic recurring, escalating political tensions between East and West that are being played out in the various ongoing wars in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, and a contrarian situation where we see an aging population in the northern hemisphere as birth rates burst at the seams in the south.
Our modern-day urban centers have become the epicenters of wealth, with New York City, Tokyo, the Bay Area, London, and Singapore taking the top five spots in the 2023 World’s Wealthiest Cities Report in terms of the number of millionaires that call these cities home. Across the world, Dubai, Ho Chi Minh City, Hong Kong, Johannesburg, Mumbai, Sydney, and Tel Aviv have also successfully lured high-net-worth individuals. Notably, of the 97 cities presented, more than half of the top 20 cities that experienced growth in their millionaire populations over the past decade are in China and the USA. The remainder of these budding cities are located across India, the UAE, and Vietnam.
The question is then, which cities will attract the most affluent individuals by 2050? Most likely it will be those that implement open immigration policies and create residency routes that allow for the recurrent flow of people. Just as it is tactically critical where on the chess board the queen or pawn is moved next by the chess master, so will it be strategically important where tomorrow’s investor migrants move to on the world stage. In fact, it will dictate which metropolises flourish and which break down.
Cities will ardently compete for youthful talent, which by the middle of this century will be sourced from a pool of Generation Z, defined as those born between 1995 and 2009, and Generation Alpha, defined as those born between 2010 and 2024. As the more prosperous northern hemisphere countries continue to tackle aging populations and shortages of labor, they will need to craft attractive migration programs to lure the young, globally mobile agents from the southern hemisphere, especially from bourgeoning hubs in Africa and Asia.
Tomorrow’s professionals will have grown up streaming Netflix, finding their favorite brands in the metaverse, and being as immersed in AI as millennials were in the golden era of the internet, which is why the most favored cities will be those that have adopted AI and blockchain and created a welcoming environment for investor migrants and digital nomads alike. Countries that reinvent themselves, pivot, and implement open door immigration policies and create residence pathways that allow for the fluid movement of human capital will be the ones that win the race to greater influence, faster development, and exponential prosperity.
The world’s brightest minds will be drawn to hubs of innovation where major companies choose to set up their bases. As we have witnessed in recent years, multi-nationals such as Alphabet, Amazon, Meta, and Microsoft have expanded into behemoths of influence thanks to globalization. Therefore, governments keen to thrive will need to ascertain that their migratory, fiscal, and regulatory frameworks are attractive to the corporate powerhouses of the future. They will also need to ensure their capability for business continuity in the face of environmental, epidemiological, financial, or political crises as we have experienced in recent years.
Policy makers and industry leaders should cohesively work together to shape the world for the next generation. Instead of building walls and boxing people within the dated boundaries of our nation states, we should steer towards a more dynamic equilibrium, one where cities are consistently progressing and creating more favorable living and working conditions to lure an ever-flowing mobile global population.