Paco Nathan's Reviews > Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization

Connectography by Parag Khanna
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's review
May 04, 2016

really liked it
bookshelves: history, workplace

Difficult not to be seduced by the shiny maps in this book. The author argues for a "Pax Urbanica" where interconnections among coastal megacities have more impact than nation-state trade policies, etc. The gist of his argument is that trans-border infrastructure is a true measure of wealth; in which case, SF seems quite truly genuinely fucked. As it is. Moreover, that supply chains define the real politics, not national policies and laws which get readily circumvented, e.g., via SEZs which have spread worldwide. To wit: "Infrastructure, markets, technologies, and supply chains are not only logistically uniting the world, but propelling us toward a more fair and sustainable future." Perhaps that simple insight earns the loftiness of the subtitle.

The analysis of geography and history is thought-provoking, albeit some flawed historical citations. Clearly he loves major cities. Plus, there's a bunch of "US bad, China good" on the surface. Quite a bunch. Dig deeper, it's worthwhile.

The author obviously didn't get the memo about effective use of rhetorical oscillation. Most chapters get constructed by building on a sweeping generalization, followed by a "pro" line of arguments, followed by a "con" line of arguments that undermines all of the above. Awkwardly. I recognize the "OTOH" trope, but he's basically arguing all sides and not particularly convincing about any.

The author pulls from so many diverse sources and disciplines, which on the surface is intriguing, though in practice perhaps becomes a bridge too far. For the few areas where I have some expertise and direct knowledge, those generalizations were terrible, some outright embarrassing. For example, I dare any SF Bay Area resident to read the passage about resolving SF housing prices – and not want to throw the book in disgust. That makes me wonder about the other areas where I have no real baseline from which to draw judgement.

Overall, I'd say that the futurism therein ranges on a spectrum from rampant over-generalization to fetish fan fiction on behalf of urban corporatist utopias. Quite the tedious globalist love fest, seemingly a transnational corporatist love fest, at heart – though the author offers key criticisms about corporatist values vs. effective capitalism, in keen support of the latter.

At least one brief chapter discusses environmental concerns, though it reads like an afterthought. Most of the other chapters seem relatively dismissive of genuine concerns about the environment vs. resource extraction. For example, he rejects the notion of "Peak Oil" given that fracking works so amazingly well. The word "douche" comes to mind, not to mention the risks any alleged futurist faces by stretching so far to be perceived as global without a grasp of the nuances of the reality faced by those of us dwelling amidst the regolith.

The final chapter and conclusion chapter gain momentum and start to get interesting, if one can stomach the references to Kissinger. I prefer my war criminals a bit more crispy-fried than that. Basically, then end of the book becomes a near-religious tract about the virtues of global supply-chain infrastructure.

One part that I found fascinating was a comparison of equity. Notably: Instividuals, $46T; Pension Funds, $40T; Insurance Funds, $30T; Central Bank Reserves, $8T; Private Equity, $2T; Hedge Funds, $2T; but then the other "diversified" entities break these categories, e.g., Black Rock invests $4.5T wherever/however seems best for their interests.

Hedge Funds and Private Equity rank fairly low on that list. The "instividuals" category refers to family office, i.e., quite wealthy families that invest as if they were institutions. Aka, the proverbial 1%. I'd encountered this distribution at a breakfast led by Monsanto's strategic fund in Silicon Valley, the one out-flanking VCs for tech companies that could serve Monsanto's needs. Most of the audience was either fund managers for "instividuals" or other strategic funds, with only a handful of VCs represented. Not quite as seen on television.

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Reading Progress

May 4, 2016 – Started Reading
May 4, 2016 – Shelved
June 4, 2016 – Finished Reading
June 5, 2016 – Shelved as: history
June 5, 2016 – Shelved as: workplace

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