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What if mayors rule the world

What If mayors rule the world – Revising the level on which international relations operate


National – regional – urban. Western democratic systems, from states like France, known for a centralistic system, to the United States and Germany, who confess themselves as federalist countries, are built as hierarchical layers of power in a top-down sequence from the nation state to the cities. As a consequence of this construction, it is obvious, that the most important decisions are taken in the capital of each country for the whole country. But is this the political system of the future?

The 21stcentury is full of problems, we go hurtling towards faster and faster – because our world accelerates in some points even exponentially. The population is increasing every day, local problems in societies are crumbling them, sometimes even whole cities. Bureaucracy is stifling local based, often family owned enterprises, the backbone of a lot of industrial countries such as Germany. Simultaneously we can perceive, that our nation-state-democracies are unable to keep up with the speed of the technological rise, handle the local specialties and achieve the same quality of administration at the same time.

In a TED Talk, Benjamin Barber, a former top political theorist and adviser to the US president Bill Clinton, points out that there are already alternatives. In his eyes, besides of international connected nation states, mayors should have a central role in the politics of the future. Not in the sense of a rag rug of different laws as Germany had still well into the 19thcentury, but in the sense of solving problems directly where they appear. In some cases, issues show up for which other cities all over the world yet got a solution or at least an attempt. To be definite there are already examples: Local issues that are concerning more than just one city are e.g. discussed in the European and American Councils of Mayors or the International Council of local environmental issues. In a nutshell the main argument is quite logical: Mayors are, where the decisions are felt on the next morning. Mayors are, where the biggest part of economy, society and culture is: In 2013 already 78% of the people living in the developed world settled down in cities according to Barber.

On the other hand there are also problems with this idea: Will a system ruled by mayors only be an advocate for the people in the cities? What is about the more rural living citizens? And what is about the rag rug already named in the previous paragraph? Will a web of mayors be able to take decisions local and fast without destroying the advantages of nation states respectively supra-national institutions like the European Union concerning uniform rules? Benjamin Barber concluded this discussion in one question. We appointed it as the topic of our politics discussion at Mannheim Forum 2019: What if mayors rule the world?