If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities
(Yale University Press, 2013)
In the face of the most perilous challenges of our time—climate change, terrorism, poverty, and trafficking of drugs, guns, and people—the nations of the world seem paralyzed. The problems are too big, entrenched, and divisive for the nation state. Is the nation state, once democracy’s best hope, today dysfunctional and obsolete? The answer, says Benjamin R. Barber in If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities, is yes.
Barber asserts that cities, and the mayors that run them, offer the best new forces of good governance. Why cities? Cities already occupy the commanding heights of the global economy. They are home to more than half of the world’s population, a proportion which will continue to grow. They are the primary incubator of the cultural, social, and political innovations which shape our planet. And most importantly, they are unburdened with the issues of borders and sovereignty which hobble the capacity of nation-states to work with one another.
Why mayors? Through rigorous research and extensive surveys, Dr. Barber demonstrates that 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. In the immortal words of former New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia, “There is no Democratic or Republican way of fixing a sewer.” 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.
These kinds of voluntary partnerships, ranging from simple exchanges of best practices to continent-spanning urban networks, constitute a relatively-unknown layer of global governance that has already had a transformative impact on urban problems – and in the aggregate, on global ones. For example, cities are the source of 70% of the world’s greenhouse gases, and the C-40 (a network of global cities devoted to addressing climate change) is on track to reduce their member’s carbon dioxide emissions by 248 million tons by 2020 – the equivalent of the total greenhouse gas emissions of Portugal and Argentina combined. This is merely one example of how if urban issues can be addressed through networked glocalism, world problems can be addressed. Apply this logic to other issues, such as terrorism, economic inequality, and epidemic disease, and you can see how city-to-city collaborations can provide an alternative to the traditional channels of global governance in addressing earth’s challenges.
Nonetheless, the ability of cities to consciously and forthrightly accept the challenges of global governance remains stymied as long as city-to-city networks remain disparate and uncoordinated. This is where Dr. Barber’s boldest proposal, a world Parliament of Mayors, enters the picture. Established entirely on a voluntary basis, such a body would enable cities to have a stronger voice in global affairs, provide a world- wide platform for the sharing and transfer of urban best practices, and establish a more democratic basis for addressing global priorities than has ever existed.
A planet ruled by cities represents a new paradigm of global governance – of democratic glocalism rather than top-down imposition, of horizontalism rather than hierarchy, of pragmatic interdependence rather than outworn ideologies of national independence. The book presents a stirring vision, yet not a utopian one. Rather, the foundations for this new world are being erected in our own age as cities collaborate–and citizens communicate–across borders with increasing ease and frequency. What remains is to sense the liberating possibilities of these developments and provide a detailed, inspiring plan for how they can be realized. This is what Dr. Barber has accomplished with If Mayors Ruled the World, and it will be sure to spark debate, dialogue, and a new framework for global governance in the 21st century.
Press coverage and events
- 11/26/13: Politico: “The Mayors Shall Inherit the Earth,” by Benjamin Barber (excerpt)
- 11/26/13: New York Times Magazine, “Mind the Gap: Why Mayors Can’t Combat Income Inequality“
- 11/22/13: New York Times Book Review: “Barber’s book should be required reading for New York’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio.”
- 11/22/13: Prospect (UK): “If mayors ruled the world: a conversation with Benjamin Barber“
- 11/18/13: De Correspondent: “Waarom steden het voor het zeggen moeten krijgen” (dutch)
- 11/13/13: Democratic Audit UK: “The proposal for a global parliament of mayors“
- 11/8/13: Financial Times book review by Ben Rogers
- 11/7/13: The Guardian (op-ed): Cities are cool, unpredictable and hard to control: Russell Brand should run for mayor
- 11/4/13: Handelsblatt: Städte lösen große Probleme besser als Staaten
- 11/2/13: The Economist: Bye-Bye Bloomberg: Pondering the meaning of New York’s billionaire mayor
- 10/29/13: London Evening Standard: Op-Ed by Simon Jenkins: “Sorry, Archbishop — but London is where the action is”
- 10/29/13: PolicyBristol Hub: Towards a global parliament of mayors?
- 10/28/13: Collaborative Consumption: How Shareable Is Your City?
- 10/28/13: London Evening Standard: London’s government is growing in confidence. When will national politicians give it the clout it deserves?
- 10/22/13: In conversation with Richard Florida at CityLab. Video here.
- 10/21/13: On “Moncrieff” on Newstalk Radio. “What would it be like if Mayors ruled the World?“
- 10/17/13: Council on Foreign Relations’ The Internationalist. “Start Spreading the News: Can Cities Govern the World?“
- 10/16/13: Demain La Ville: “Les maires peuvent-ils sauver le monde?“
- 10/14/13: BrianLehrerTV, With fellow guests Neil Kleinman and Mason Williams.
- 10/14/13: New Republic. “Liberals Will Miss Bloomberg When He’s Gone: Why You Should Appreciate the Age of the Imperial Centrist Mayor”
- 10/12-13/2013: Magazyn Swiateczny, “Panstwa Umieraja, Miasta Nas Zbawia.” (Polish)
- 9/30/13:Kirkus (Starred) Review. “A provocative, informative account of a different kind of globalization. Highly recommended reading for policymakers and other readers intrigued by forward-thinking forms of governance.”
- 9/30/13: Der Spiegel. “Städte sind die Lösung.”
- 9/23/13: TED Talk: Benjamin Barber: “Why mayors should rule the world.”
- 9/23/13: “Can Mayors Save the World?” by Emma Green, The Atlantic.
- 9/23/13: Book review, Publishers Weekly.
- 9/18/13: Radio interview on WGBH / Boston Public Radio. Listen online here.
- 9/16/16: Radio interview: “How Mayors Became Our Best Problem Solvers,” NPR/WBUR’s “On Point.” Listen online here.
- 9/9/13: Book Review: “Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities,” by Richard Conniff, Conservation Magazine.
- 9/4/13: “Your City Might Be the Next Detroit…But That’s Not All Bad,” by Benjamin Barber, Wall Street Journal “Speakeasy.”
- 9/3/13: “Is the Nation-State Dying?” by Alan Wolfe, The Chronicle of Higher Education.
- 9/1/13: “Rise of the Mayors: How a once-ceremonial job became a powerful force in American politics,” by Leon Neyfakh, Boston Globe.
- 8/4/13: The CNN International interview, with Hala Gorani in for Christiane Amanpour; Interview aired live and is now online here.
- 6/22/13: Benjamin Barber gave the talk “If Mayors Ruled the World” at the International Festival of Arts & Ideas in New Haven, CT.
- 6/17/13: Benjamin Barber gave the lecture “Is de toekomst aan de stad? Steden baas in Europa” in Antwerp, Belgium.
- 6/15/13: Benjamin Barber was interviewed by Filip Rogers in “De toekomst is aan de verenigde steden” for De Standaard Weekblad.
- 6/14/13: Benjamin Barber was interviewed by Karl van den Broeck in “Als democratie nog kan werken, is het in de stad” for De Morgen.
- 6/13/13: Benjamin Barber gave a TED talk at TEDGlobal 2013 in Edinburgh, Scotland. See an additional interview from TEDGlobal 2013 here.
- 5/13/13: Benjamin Barber spoke on the New America NYC panel “Which Cities Will Survive the 21st Century?” in New York, NY.
- 5/3/13: Benjamin Barber gave the guest lecture “If Mayors Ruled the World” at the 2013 Ontario Small Urban Municipalities conference in New Tecumseth, ON.
- 4/9/13: Benjamin Barber was interviewed by TBS efm radio in South Korea.
- 4/2/13: The article “American Scholar Meets with Seoul Mayor; Speaks out about Role of Cities in Global Governance” was published in the Korea IT Times.
- 3/29/13: The article “U.S. Academic Promotes ‘Global Parliament of Mayors’” was published in the Choson Ilbo.
- 3/26/13: Benjamin Barber gave the keynote address at the Opening Ceremony of the CITYNET Secretariat Commemorative Forum in Seoul, South Korea.
- 3/12/13: Benjamin Barber’s article “The Virtues of Corruption” was published on The Rockefeller Foundation’s Informal City Dialogues on NextCity.org.
- 2/26/13: Benjamin Barber was interviewed about “If Mayors Ruled the World” by Brian Lehrer for BrianLehrer.tv on CUNYtv.
- 2/24/13: Benjamin Barber’s lecture “If Mayors Ruled the World” aired on C-SPAN.
- 1/29/13: Benjamin Barber gave an inaugural lecture at The Graduate Center, CUNY, entitled “If Mayors Ruled the World.” Watch the full lecture here.
- 1/29/13: Benjamin Barber was interviewed by Brian Lehrer on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show.
- 1/24/13: Benjamin Barber was interviewed for the program “Hoe?Zo!” on the Dutch TV channel wetenschap24.
- 12/23/12: Benjamin Barber was interviewed by Henry Kippen for The RSA Journal in “Can Cities Save Us?”
- 12/18/12: Benjamin Barber gave a keynote for House of Commons (#HOC) and debated the Mayors of Utrecht and Heerlen in Utrecht, The Netherlands.
- 10/13/12: Benjamin Barber gave the talk “If Mayors Ruled the World” at TEDxDumbo in Brooklyn, NY.
- 9/28/12: Benjamin Barber gave the lecture “If Mayors Ruled the World?” at the European Forum for New Ideas in Sopot, Poland.
- 6/13/12: Benjamin Barber was interviewed by Richard Florida for The Atlantic Cities in “What if Mayors Ruled the World”.
- 6/5/12: Benjamin Barber gave the seminar ”If Mayors Ruled the World” at the Long Now Foundation in San Francisco, CA.
- 1/25/12: Benjamin Barber gave the address “If Mayors Ruled the World” at the London School of Economics. A summary and response by Parag Khanna is available here.