Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Black Atlantic

World views are important. They impact talent migration. World views are also subjective. If you can convince a large number of people to adopt your way of seeing things, then you will influence what happens on the ground. Geographic myths inform reality.

The above epiphany struck me while reading "The Black Atlantic" by Paul Gilroy. Gilroy deftly shifts the reader's orientation away from Euro-centrism and US-centrism to an Atlanticist world view. Now, the center of your [mental] map is the Atlantic Ocean. In this geopolitical conception one can imagine a community of black transnationals, a powerful diaspora. In the most recent issue of The Economist, dateline Brazil:

The continent is an important part of Vale’s future, enthuses Ricardo Saad, the firm’s Africa boss. He is not alone in his excitement about Brazil’s prospects. Relations with Africa flourished during the presidency of Luiz InĂ¡cio Lula da Silva. He travelled there a dozen times and African leaders flocked to Brazil. His zeal was in part ideological: he devoted much of his diplomacy to “south-south” relations—at the cost, critics say, of neglecting more powerful (and richer) trade partners, such as the United States.

Lula stressed his country’s “historic debt” to Africa, a reference to the 3.5m Africans shipped to Brazil as slaves. Outside Nigeria, Brazil has the world’s biggest black population. Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s current president, is continuing those policies—though with more emphasis on how the relationship benefits Brazil. There are many ways that it can. Africa needs infrastructure and Brazil has lots of construction firms. Africa sits on oil and minerals in abundance; Brazil has the firms to get them out. Its agribusiness giants are also eyeing up Africa. If the continent’s economy continues to grow as it has in recent years, it will produce millions of customers much like Brazil’s new middle class.

Brazilian businesses seem keen. In 2001 Brazil invested $69 billion in Africa. By 2009, the latest figures available, that had swelled to $214 billion. At first Brazilian firms focused their efforts on Lusophone Africa, Angola and Mozambique in particular, capitalising on linguistic and cultural affinity to gain a foothold. Now they are spreading across the continent.

Emphasis added. That piece of demographic trivia surprised me. I immediately thought of "The Black Atlantic". I am surprised because of my own world view. Remembering Gilroy, The Economist story makes sense. It isn't a "new" Atlantic alliance. The connection has been around for centuries, lost in the telling of other histories.

Removing the wealthiest countries from the stage is one of three important plots of the dawning economic epoch. The second is return migration. I've written plenty of posts about that subject. Less vetted is ironic migration:

More than half of the start ups founded in Silicon valley since 2005 were begun by immigrants to America, with as many as 1 in 3 started by an Indian, according to research from the Kauffman Foundation.

But now a small yet significant group of Americans are leaving their homeland for India.

What makes this trend different from the usual flow of expat labour is that these people aren't on the usual fixed-term company transfer, but have moved east to become entrepreneurs, doing things on their own in an often tricky business climate.

This is true brain circulation, not garden variety return migration. The flow from the United States to India is ironic. Opportunity is found in emerging markets. The Innovation Economy is rapidly converging. The dominant world view, such as Richard Florida's "The Rise of the Creative Class", is woefully outdated. Talent is seeking economic development, not cool urban amenities.

No comments: