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Should mayors rule the world? They already do.

Posted by Daniel Hoornweg on September 30, 2014

Working at the World Bank makes you think ministers of finance rule the world. Sure, heads of state make all the speeches at places like the UN, but he who controls the money (and they’re still mostly all men), controls the agenda. Maybe. Perhaps it’s corporations with all their influence that really rule the world. Or perhaps those that shape the agenda rule the world: scholars, artists and agitators. Everybody seems to want to rule the world.

There’s been lots of talk lately about mayors ruling the world. This idea is often floated in response to stymied international climate negotiations and the enormous growth of cities around the world. In just one generation the world’s already teeming cities are going to double again in size, and probably triple in energy and material consumption.

But the idea of mayors ruling the world comes a bit late. Cities have been ruling the world since the industrial revolution – they simply delegated to countries the more challenging tasks like projection of power (militaries), currencies, design of flags, national anthems, taxation, movement of people and selecting athletes for international events. Shanghai, New York or Tokyo could just as easily field an Olympic team as about 100 of the smaller countries sending teams today. If there were a World Cup football match between São Paulo and Canada, you’d want to bet on the team speaking Portuguese.

Cities are where all that stuff made in factories, dug out of the ground, fished from the seas or grown in the fields is headed. Cities are where those with money live, and he, and increasingly she, who pays the piper calls the tune.

As cities feel more threatened by complex challenges like climate change, pandemics and financial meltdowns, and as cities and their citizens lose more faith in their delegated heads of state to solve these problems, cities – and their mayors – will take a more active role in global affairs.

Watch for more city clubs; city-to-city agreements; comprehensive business, utility, university and city partnerships; city protests – protesting local, national and international issues; and third-party audited city metrics and financial statements. And watch for the world’s better mayors calling for more pragmatism and improved rules.

Read more:

BBC News: Will mayors one day rule the world?

Benjamin R. Barber: Political theorist and author of If Mayors Ruled the World

Filed under: Sustainability 101