Rutgers University Political Science Professor Benjamin Barber has written a provocative book, “If Mayors Ruled The World”, which is scheduled to be available this November.
His thesis, as described on his website, is that:
The issues dominating our headlines – global warming, terrorism, economic inequality – do not stop at national borders. Nonetheless, our chief means of addressing them remains the nation-state, a 17th century framework constitutionally unable, and temperamentally unwilling, to collaborate across frontiers in order to solve common problems. What is to be done? Let cities, through a global “Parliament of Mayors,” run the world. …
[Cities] are unburdened with the issues of borders and sovereignty which hobble the capacity of nation-states to work with one another.
… regardless of city size or political affiliation, local executives exhibit a non-partisan and pragmatic style of governance that is lacking in national and international halls of power. … Through these qualities of leadership mayors have retained the trust of citizens in their office, helped cities become beacons of good governance, and spearheaded city-to-city collaborations in order to better address shared problems.
For more, you can see him present his ideas at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3BJgmV7GRVc and http://www.booktv.org/Program/14242/If+Mayors+Ruled+the+World.aspx .
Indeed, there is no doubt that mayors can collaborate in ways that were impossible before the Internet. Anne-Marie Slaughter, former Dean of Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School and former Policy Director for the US State Department (arguably one of the most prominent institutions which defends the concept of the nation-state), wrote “A New World Order” in 2004. That book describes all kinds of examples of cross-border collaboration in everything from judicial opinions to environmental action.
Others, from former Vice President Al Gore to Professor Joseph Nye, have also pointed out the various ways that the power of the nation-state seems to be in relative decline.
Since the global communications network makes possible connections even among local areas that are not geographically near, there is also the potential for networks of local governments or regions to develop without regard to national boundaries – virtual metroplexes. For example, it may be that two cities separated by thousands of miles – for example New York and London – have more connections and more in common than nearer cities like New York and Syracuse. The global communications network now makes it possible for these two distant metropolises to coalesce as one.
The ability of distant urban areas to work closely together raises questions of governance, even governance issues that cross national borders. However, much of this activity is occurring below “the radar” of nation-states; they are unaware and cannot keep track of all such interactions.
I think that Barber’s proposal is too ambitious for cities, given all the problems mayors face doing their jobs now. It is worth noting that, within the limits of time, mayors do take global positions — such as the more than a thousand mayors who have agreed to a climate change pledge — but that’s not the same thing as running the world.
At the same time, Barber’s view is also a bit old fashioned by viewing cities in the image of the traditional nation-state. It is curious that he calls for a form of governance – a parliament – associated with the mature nation-state, rather than looking to newer alternatives for collaboration which would run into fewer legal and institutional obstacles. I would expect a more flexible collaborative approach, a different way of doing public service if the world Barber envisions comes about.
Nevertheless, there is no doubt that mayors can collaborate in ways that were impossible before the Internet. It’s encouraging to see that this topic will be getting more exposure and I look forward to seeing the reaction when the book comes out.
© 2013 Norman Jacknis