Samuel Barber asks what might happen “If Mayors Ruled the World”

Richard Florida interviews Samuel Barber about his forthcoming book titled If Mayors Ruled the World. Here is why Barber thinks mayors are increasingly important:

The problem here is that political sovereignty has passed to the economic sector, where global financial capital and multinational corporations exercise an undue influence on both domestic and international affairs. Cities share jurisdiction over the economic resources of the city — where commercial, financial and information capital are concentrated — but that jurisdiction is limited by the emerging sovereignty of economics over politics.

Where the city is able to exercise control of economic resources it must live with the superior jurisdiction of nation-states, who may interdict cities trying to collaborate across borders. A city boycotting goods made by child labor in a developing country may be held in violation of the WTO’s fair trade rules (which bar certain kinds of boycotts); or a city trying to control guns may be ruled in violation of the right to bear arms, as happened recently when the Supreme Court invalidated the District of Columbia’s gun control rules…

What I want to suggest is that these myriad global networks, and the inherent disposition of cities to cooperate, exemplify the deep capacity of cities to work together across borders, and justify my claim that a global “parliament of mayors” could achieve a good deal of concord voluntarily both on common policies and on common actions. This is what the networks are already doing, and what a formalization of the process could achieve. The key is a “soft” bottom-up approach to cooperation organized around “glocality” rather than a top-down “legal mandate” approach of the kind we associate with (and fear from) “world government.”…

While the details of a parliament of mayors would be worked out at an inaugural convening of interested cities, I propose some guidelines that could be considered. That there be three parliaments/audiaments per annum, each in a different (voluntary) city, and each representing 300 cities chosen by lot from a list of all cities wishing to attend. This would allow up to 900 cities per annum to participate. Given that all common actions would be voluntary.

The starting point for this conversation is the growing power, particularly economic, of the top global cities. While these cities operate within nation-states, they have economies and populations that rival nations.

Several thoughts about this:

1. While national leaders also talk about the economy and jobs, it seems like mayors may have more direct influence on bringing jobs to their domain. I would guess that overall, mayors are more pro-business and are always looking to attract top corporations and new firms. Perhaps mayors have to be more pragmatic about jobs and business climate as their connections to the business interests in their city are very important.

2. Let’s say Barber’s ideas about a “parliament of mayors” come to pass. What might actually come out of this? Mayors in the largest cities already meet and try to share best practices. Perhaps Barber thinks the mayors can forge stronger economic ties between their respective cities? Perhaps mayors can band together to put pressure on national governments?

3. I would be interested to know how the political clout of mayors around the world compares. Certain mayors in the United States are well-known but is this primarily because of the size of the cities in which they were elected or are their dynamic movers and shakers from smaller cities as well. Are mayors in different parts of the world more important or less important compared to US mayors? I could imagine that in countries with weaker governments mayors might have more relative influence.

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