By 9/26/10 at 7:00 AM
For centuries we have used maps to delineate borders that have been defined by politics. But it may be time to chuck many of our notions about how humanity organizes itself. Across the world a resurgence of tribal ties is creating more complex global alliances. Where once diplomacy defined borders, now history, race, ethnicity, religion, and culture are dividing humanity into dynamic new groupings.
Broad concepts—green, socialist, or market-capitalist ideology—may animate cosmopolitan elites, but they generally do not motivate most people. Instead, the “tribe” is valued far more than any universal ideology. As the great Arab historian Ibn Khaldun observed: “Only Tribes held together by a group feeling can survive in a desert.”
Although tribal connections are as old as history, political upheaval and globalization are magnifying their impact. The world’s new contours began to emerge with the end of the Cold War. Maps designating separate blocs aligned to the United States or the Soviet Union were suddenly irrelevant. More recently, the notion of a united Third World has been supplanted by the rise of China and India. And newer concepts like the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) are undermined by the fact that these countries have vastly different histories and cultures.
The borders of this new world will remain protean, subject to change over time. Some places do not fit easily into wide categories—take that peculiar place called France—so we’ve defined them as Stand-Alones. And there are the successors to the great city-states of the Renaissance—places like London and Singapore. What unites them all are ties defined by affinity, not geography.
1. New Hansa
Denmark, Finland, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden
In the 13th century, an alliance of Northern European towns called the Hanseatic League created what historian Fernand Braudel called a “common civilization created by trading.” Today’s expanded list of Hansa states share Germanic cultural roots, and they have found their niche by selling high-value goods to developed nations, as well as to burgeoning markets in Russia, China, and India. Widely admired for their generous welfare systems, most of these countries have liberalized their economies in recent years. They account for six of the top eight countries on the Legatum Prosperity Index and boast some of the world’s highest savings rates (25 percent or more), as well as impressive levels of employment, education, and technological innovation.
2. The Border Areas
Belgium, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, U.K.
These countries are seeking to find their place in the new tribal world. Many of them, including Romania and Belgium, are a cultural mishmash. They can be volatile; Ireland has gone from being a “Celtic tiger” to a financial basket case. In the past, these states were often overrun by the armies of powerful neighbors; in the future, they may be fighting for their autonomy against competing zones of influence.
3. Olive Republics
Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Italy, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain
With roots in Greek and Roman antiquity, these lands of olives and wine lag behind their Nordic counterparts in virtually every category: poverty rates are almost twice as high, labor participation is 10 to 20 percent lower. Almost all the Olive Republics—led by Greece, Spain, and Portugal—have huge government debt compared with most Hansa countries. They also have among the lowest birthrates: Italy is vying with Japan to be the country with the world’s oldest population.
It’s a center for finance and media, but London may be best understood as a world-class city in a second-rate country.
Accounts for nearly 25 percent of France’s GDP and is home to many of its global companies. It’s not as important as London, but there will always be a market for this most beautiful of cities.
In a world increasingly shaped by Asia, its location between the Pacific and Indian oceans may be the best on the planet. With one of the world’s great ports, and high levels of income and education, it is a great urban success story.
While much of nationalist-religious Israel is a heavily guarded borderland, Tel Aviv is a secular city with a burgeoning economy. It accounts for the majority of Israel’s high-tech exports; its per capita income is estimated to be 50 percent above the national average, and four of Israel’s nine billionaires live in the city or its suburbs.
5. North American Alliance
Canada, United States
These two countries are joined at the hip in terms of their economies, demographics, and culture, with each easily being the other’s largest trade partner. Many pundits see this vast region in the grip of inexorable decline. They’re wrong, at least for now. North America boasts many world-class cities, led by New York; the world’s largest high-tech economy; the most agricultural production; and four times as much fresh water per capita as either Europe or Asia.
Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Peru
These countries are the standard–bearers of democracy and capitalism in Latin America. Still suffering low household income and high poverty rates, they are trying to join the ranks of the fast-growing economies, such as China’s. But the notion of breaking with the U.S.—the traditionally dominant economic force in the region—would seem improbable for some of them, notably Mexico, with its close geographic and ethnic ties. Yet the future of these economies is uncertain; will they become more state–oriented or pursue economic liberalism?
7. Bolivarian Republics
Argentina, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Venezuela
Led by Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, large parts of Latin America are swinging back toward dictatorship and following the pattern of Peronism, with its historical antipathy toward America and capitalism. The Chávez-influenced states are largely poor; the percentage of people living in poverty is more than 60 percent in Bolivia. With their anti-gringo mindset, mineral wealth, and energy reserves, they are tempting targets for rising powers like China and Russia.