June 26, 2016

If Mayors Ruled the World by Benjamin Barber

An excerpt from, "In or out of the EU, London and other British cities need more control" By Dave Hill, The Guardian, June 23, 2016: 

Whatever else stems from the referendum ballot, the need to rebuild faith in political institutions has been starkly reconfirmed. Faith flows from confidence that the processes and servants of democracy are honest, accessible, transparent and able to get things done. Can devolving power to cities and their surrounding regions and putting it in the hands of highly visible, directly-elected mayors help to improve that flow?
On Monday, US political theorist Benjamin Barber set out his vision of city mayors transforming Britain in a talk at the Shard, hosted by thinktank Centre for Cities. Barber, who wrote a book called If Mayors Ruled The World, starts from the premise that cities are the natural homes of citizenship - the clue is in the name - and argues that city government is far better equipped than the national kind to reflect and to address the big issues of the day, both in their own backyards and internationally.

Though dismayed by the insular Vote Leave mentality, Barber thinks he knows why people succumb to it. “The nation state is too large for meaningful participation of citizens,” he told Prospect magazine three years ago. As for the EU: “Citizens simply don’t feel that it is about citizenship. It’s about the euro, maybe about economics or trade, but it’s not about democracy.” And, at the same time: “It’s too small, too limited and territorial to be able to encompass the global scale of the challenges we face.”

Barber’s concept of a transnational network of big city administrations dealing collaboratively with challenges they face in common might seem a long way off, but you can see his direction of travel. The more the planet shrinks and its populations move across continents between urban centres and mingle in them, the more linked and inter-dependent cities become and the better equipped they are to address shared concerns about climate change, crime, poverty, economic development and migration.
Video Title: If Mayors Ruled the World by Benjamin Barber. Source: cosproductions. Date Published: November 5, 2013. Description: 
In the face of the most perilous challenges of our time the nations of the world seem paralyzed. The problems are too big, too interdependent, too divisive for the nation-state. Benjamin R. Barber demonstrates how city mayors, singly and jointly, are responding to transnational problems more effectively than nation-states mired in ideological infighting and sovereign rivalries. Featuring profiles of a dozen mayors around the world. If Mayors Ruled the World presents a compelling new vision of governance for the coming century. Barber makes a persuasive case that the city is democracy's best hope in a globalizing world, and great mayors are already proving that this is so. Learn more about this book here, http://bit.ly/1ehalk2

An excerpt from, "Mayors ruling the world? Let’s hope not." By Reinier de Graaf, The European, October 2, 2014:
I recognize many of the book’s observations. Many mayors are impressive figures and time appears to be on their side. Nation states (particularly the large ones) have an increasingly hard time and, in the context of a process of globalization, cities, and particularly small city-states, increasingly emerge victorious. Cities have first-hand experience with many of the things that occur in globalization’s wake, such as immigration and cultural and religious diversity, and are generally less dogmatic and more practical in dealing with them.
So far so good.

For me, the problem arises when it is suggested to project the success of cities as a blueprint for global governance. I would argue that the current generation of mayors, described in the book, is successful precisely because they do not rule the world. They are successful because they are allowed to focus on smaller, more immediate, more local responsibilities, which means that their efforts by definition generate quicker and more visible results. To remove that focus by attributing global responsibilities to them would (probably) quickly undo that success. Yes, mayors are popular, but how much longer would they continue to be popular, once they would take on responsibilities currently allocated to national leaders? In any case, it remains questionable if popularity automatically equals competence to govern. Kings and Queens are generally a lot more popular than national politicians, but few of us would want to return to a system in which they rule.