If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities

October 22, 2014


JOANNE MYERS: Good afternoon. I'm Joanne Myers, director of Public Affairs Programs, and on behalf of the Carnegie Council I'd like to thank you all for joining us.

Our guest today is Benjamin Barber. Dr. Barber is a senior research scholar at City University of New York and the author of 18 books, including If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities, which our conversation is based upon, and we do have his book for you to buy at the end of the program today.

Dr. Barber's focus has always been on the challenges of making democracy work in a variety of institutions and on a variety of scales. This was first evidenced in 1984, with the publication of Strong Democracy, which for the 20th anniversary edition was reissued in 2004. Since that time his thinking has evolved, and in If Mayors Ruled the World, Dr. Barber now questions whether democracy and the nation-state on which it depends is obsolete. As you may have guessed, he believes that democracy is in trouble. As he has said, "21st-century problems, 17th-century political institutions."

In reading If Mayors Ruled the World, it is clear to me that Dr. Barber is convinced that cities hold the secret to effective, democratic, local governance and he makes a very good case to this effect. Accordingly, he posits that when it comes to global governance what is needed is for our global society to pay attention to a new way of thinking, speaking, and doing.

Just what his new way of thinking is—is  what we will be exploring in the next 30 minutes or so Then I will invite you, the audience, to participate by asking our illustrious guest any questions you may have.


JOANNE MYERS: Dr. Barber, in If Mayors Ruled the World, you argue that cities are paragons of good governance, compared at least to nation-states. Could you tell us why you do think the nation-state, which from the earliest of times was once democracy's best hope, is today dysfunctional and obsolete?

BENJAMIN BARBER: First of all, thank you, Joanne, for the invitation to be here again at the Council, where I have been a number of times. It's a pleasure to be here. Let me just say a couple of things in response to that first question.

You said "the nation-state, the oldest of our institutions." Actually, it is not. It is about 400 years old. Democracy has a long history that predates the nation-state, and, interestingly, that is a history that started in the city, both in ancient Athens and Sparta in the Peloponnesian, in the late Middle Ages and early modern period in the Italian city-states and the German city-states. Here in North America, the townships and township governance in the 17th and 18th centuries was really the core of democracy. Most theorists of democracy said for 2,000 years, from the time of Aristotle on, that you've got to have a community of a relatively modest size, where people know each other and share interests, for democracy to work.

What happened, of course, in the 16th and 17th centuries is that we reached a time in history where large groups of people identifying themselves around ethnicity and language and common history, so-called nations' peoples—les peuples or gente in Italian, or volk—where people began to see these large groups occupying a large territory as the core to the sociology of human community, not cities. When that happened, there was a demand for a new kind of institution, a new political institution. Cities simply weren't of the scale, weren't large enough, to encompass these new entities, these territorial societies, occupied by people that increasingly self-identify as a nation or a people with a common language.

Joan of Arc had a lot to do with bringing France together around the idea of "the French." And if you read Shakespeare's "War of the Roses," you see England going from a land of duchies and separate little provinces coming together into "the English nation."

What happened in the 16th and 17th centuries is that a new political institution evolved, the nation-state, which was constituted by a people with a constitution whose legitimacy arose from the consent of the people, whether direct in elections or indirect through assent to a form of government. For the last 400 years, that form of government became the incubator of democracy, the protector of our rights, and, most importantly, the problem solver with respect to all the things we ask government to do. Transportation, trade, markets, health, war and peace, immigration—those were all things that a territorial state organized as a nation were capable of controlling.

As recently as 75 years ago, before and up to World War II, most people in most places could say something like this: "I drive a French car, I get French viruses, I'm a French citizen, I eat French food, and most of what happens to me is about France."

And that was true here too. When I grew up—I'm a born New Yorker; I grew up in Manhattan—my mother sometimes said, back in the 1940s, "Don't go to New Jersey. There's a virus over there I don't want you to catch." [Laughter]

We are worried about Ebola, we are worried about HIV, we are worried about Mexican pig flu—we are worried about those things. So we are living increasingly in an interdependent world in which every challenge we face is a cross-border challenge.

But we are still informed by and governed by institutions that think of jurisdiction and problems as national and territorial and independent and sovereign in character. As a result, we have institutions that cannot begin to confront and deal with the cross-border, interdependent problems of a globalized world.

JOANNE MYERS: So how can cities succeed at what nations have failed at?

BENJAMIN BARBER: Well, the first thing is they do it in two interesting ways.

A long time ago, Jean Monnet, one of the founders of the European idea, said: "The trouble with the nation-state is it is too big for participation and too small for power. Power is global, participation is local; the state is in between, so it can't really deal with global power. But at the same time, it can't really get down to the participatory, engaged level where citizens find it works."

Cities meet the first criterion. They are at the modest level of participation. And cities are more than just that, by the way. Cities are in certain ways the elemental, the quintessential, human community.

I was saying to a friend that last year I was in Brussels talking with the commissioner of regional policy, a man named Hahn. Commissioner Hahn said to a group of mayors and regional provincial governors in Brussels, "Now, you folks have an interesting level of administration. I want to talk about your level of administration." He was talking about the cities.

I said, "Excuse me, Commissioner Hahn. Cities are not a level of administration. Cities are the human community. They are where we are born, grow up, get married, work, play, pray, get old, and die. They are the essential human community. So they are a place where identity, engagement, community, neighborhood, neighborliness, and problem solving have a natural home, in the way that the state and provincial level and the national level do not have. That makes them particularly apt in dealing with the everyday problems of human life."

That is half the answer. But I know you want to ask a few more questions before I give all the answers. So go ahead.

JOANNE MYERS: Since nation-states are not territorial, what makes you think that they are going to cede some of their sovereignty to a city?

BENJAMIN BARBER: Why do they have to cede anything? If you are a good student in a classroom and there are a lot of bad students who say stupid things, you don't have to get them out of class. You just get up and say intelligent things and, sooner or later, the class begins to listen to you. If you are in a forest of decaying old trees that have lost their branches, you don't have to cut them down; just let young saplings grow.

Cities do not need states to give them anything. Cities already have 52 percent of the world's population, 80 percent of the population of the developed world; they have 82 percent of GDP; they generate 75 percent of taxes; they generate more than 80 percent of carbon emissions. They are, in fact, the core institutions of modern society.

So if they start solving problems, I suppose it is possible the state will say, "Stop, we don't want you to solve those problems." But more likely what will happen is they will say, "You go right ahead."

We have seen that in climate, because in climate change we have seen cities and organizations like the C40 (C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group) and ICLEI (International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives) and other organizations come together and agree on standards that far surpass anything that nation-states have done. In the 22 years since the Rio process started—that was originally supposed to be the Kyoto Protocol—we watched year after year, right through to Copenhagen and Lima this year, Paris next year, states coming together, saying, "Let's do something about climate change," and then after two weeks saying, "Gee, our sovereignty doesn't let us do that." Then they go home and nothing happens.

In that period, every year the parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere go up, up, up. When the Rio process started it was 340, 10 below the safe level of 350 parts per million. Today, after 22 years of the Rio process, the UN process, it is 405, 55 points above the safe level, and going up.

So the simple answer is it doesn't matter whether states do it or not, like it or not, when cities take action together.

But let me, because I only gave part of that—you said, "Why are cities different?" I said, "Well, with cities you devolve down." But you might say, "Well, that's just going backwards. That was how we were before the nation-state. Then you are back with all these little entities. Didn't you tell me that they weren't big enough and the scale wasn't large enough to deal with the modern world?" And that's true.

So the other thing that cities do is, not just one by one, allow citizenship, engagement, and pragmatic problem-solving, but when they work together in networks, in civic associations, of the kind that there are multiple examples today, they can actually deal with global problems by doing it together.

Quiz: United Nations, who's heard of it? [All hands go up]

Quiz: United Cities and Local Governments (UNCLG), who's heard of it? [One hand goes up]

Very good, sir. You're alone. You get a prize.

It is the most important institution in the world nobody's ever heard of. It is an organization founded 100 years ago by cities in Europe and around the world that gets together annually to try to deal together. But we don't even think about it.

Intercity networks, what's that? I can name dozens for you which you won't have heard of that are already doing this. So cities not only can and ought to collaborate together on common solutions, they are doing it.

Here in this city, Mayor Michael Bloomberg helped found five or six years ago an organization called the C40 Climate Cities. It is now actually 68 global cities working on climate change together. They will be a major lobby in Paris next year at the COP 22, the 22nd year of the Rio process. Those 38 cities have done more together than all the nations on Earth have done to curb global emissions. So they can do it when they work together, not just when they work one by one.

JOANNE MYERS: Also security, Citi Bike, and there are many other examples I think you could share with us.

BENJAMIN BARBER: You're right, there are many examples. Some people would say, "Well, okay, climate is easy; and, sure, pedestrian zones and congestion fees, those are nice things—"

JOANNE MYERS: Security is a big one.

BENJAMIN BARBER: Yes. But let's get serious. Let's talk about security.

We are all worried about ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant). I haven't heard the latest news, but I understand there were some shootings in the Canadian Parliament this morning. ISIL seems to be everywhere. That's surely a national issue.

Well, ask yourself: Is modern war any longer a war in which large navies, armies, and air forces play a role, or are we dealing with a world of asymmetrical war, a war in which a B1 bomber is no match for a suicide bomber, and can do nothing about it? In a war of suicide bombers, B1 bombers don't count. That's why, whether it's al-Qaeda or ISIL or the Yemen insurgents or in Ethiopia or in Indonesia, the insurgent terrorists do so well. They do very well against large, well-armed, well-trained armies and navies because you have asymmetrical warfare.

The chief instrument in the new warfare is intelligence, because what will respond to a terrorist effectively is not a B1 bomber or an army or a division, but knowledge of that person's whereabouts, what his intentions are, where he is going, and what he is likely to do, and that is a matter of intelligence.

And guess who is doing the primary work in global security intelligence today? No, not the CIA, not the NSA (National Security Agency)—they know a lot about you; they just don't know much about terrorism as far as I can make out. But the groups that are doing it are local police forces.

New York City, after 9/11, sent eight or nine of their detectives from the international intel squad, which was gathering information, to Washington. They joined Homeland Security and they talked to the FBI and the CIA.

After about 18 months, they came home, by which time Giuliani was gone and Bloomberg was mayor and his new Commissioner Ray Kelly was in place, and they talked about it. [For more on Ray Kelly and the NYPD response to terrorism, check out Kelly's 2012 Carnegie talk.] The guys who had been in Washington said, "Well, you know, there's no intelligence in Washington"—and they meant that in several ways, but they were particularly talking about preemptive intelligence on the military and strategic scene.

So the mayor and Ray Kelly said, "Let's try a different thing. Let's send our intel squad one by one to Singapore, Jakarta, Frankfurt, Rio, London. Let's send them to join police intelligence squads in cities around the world that have their hands on the pulse of local terrorism, who know the populations."

One of the reasons, I guarantee you, New York has been as safe as it has been in these last decades since 9/11 is because we have done intelligence co-sharing on a city-to-city level and our intel squad is around the world.

A counterexample, just a quick one, Boston Marathon. The two guys who did it, the Chechnyan terrorists, it turns out the Moscow police had files on them, knew they were dangerous, had followed them when they were back in Russia and then when they came back. The Moscow police told the FBI, "These guys are dangerous." One little problem: the FBI didn't tell the Boston police. So at the time of the marathon, these two guys, who had been fingered by the Moscow police and which the FBI knew about, the Boston police didn't know. Had they known, they might have been able to preemptively at least follow them, maybe arrest them, maybe detain them, and so on.

The result is by going through the normal channels—bottom line, even in an area as seemingly national and global as warfare and terrorism, it is actually city-to-city intelligence, city-to-city outreach and efforts, that make all the difference. So even there cities have a vital role to play.


Well, now that you have discussed and laid the foundation, could you explain, as you do in your book, how to institutionalize this network of mayors? You have the Global Parliament of Mayors. Could you talk about that for a while?

BENJAMIN BARBER: Thank you, Joanne. That's a really important question.

I have written a lot of books, and I try to be relevant, but I am a political philosopher and my tendency is to philosophize and theorize about the nature of democracy and levels of government. My first book was about Swiss government. I wrote a book about American government, Europe. So this book was going to be about—

JOANNE MYERS: You started your own network.

BENJAMIN BARBER: That's right.

This book was going to be about global governance generally. But it was a theoretical book. When I came to the last chapter, I wanted to say something about if you think cities are important, if you think cities can govern, if you think the pragmatic mayors of cities are a better bet for actually governing than the ideologically-driven national figures who paralyze each other with their 19th-century class ideologies and so on, then what should we do?

So in the last chapter of the book I say: Well, maybe the next step is to take this large, informal infrastructure of city networks and intercity associations that are already there and put a kind of keystone in the arch of these intercity networks, create a global parliament of mayors, a global assembly of cities, that will allow cities to meet regularly, talk systematically, and take up issues that they can legislate on in common at the city level whether or not states or nations want to do it or not. In the way that they are already doing with the informal networks, formalize, institutionalize the network.

Way before the United Nations, obviously nations were interacting; bilateral and multilateral relations. The UN tried to formalize that. So my suggestion was to formalize the informal networks of intercity relations and create a global parliament of mayors. That was the last chapter of the book.

I thought it would be interesting speculation and people teaching international relations courses maybe would rename their courses intercity relations courses instead of international relations courses.

But, instead, what happened was an awful lot of mayors started getting in touch and saying, "This is a really good idea. Let's do it. How can we do it?"

The result was three meetings. The first one in Seoul, Korea. The mayor of Seoul, Won-soon Park, called me about 18 months ago. The book wasn't even out. He had the galleys of the book. He said, "Why don't you come to Seoul? City Network, which is an Asian network of cities, is moving to Seoul. Come and address their first meeting in Seoul and let's talk about this idea of a global mayors' parliament." So about 18 months ago I was in Seoul.

Last fall, Mayor Bloomberg did the third or fourth of what he called city labs. Every year he invites cities together, mayors from different places. He invited me to come to the October meeting here in New York, about a year ago, and address city lab with this idea. We had about a dozen mayors there. They were really keen. They said, "This is a very good idea."

The result was a month and a half ago in Amsterdam, the G4 mayors, the Dutch mayors of the leading cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht, and The Hague, with me, invited about 35 cities and mayors to come. We got those cities. About half of them were represented by their mayors, the other half by delegates appointed. At that meeting six weeks ago, these mayors resolved that we didn't need another planning meeting; let's actually put on a pilot parliament.

What I can tell you—and this is the first time I have said it publicly, and it's quite exciting—is that next October in London we will convene a pilot parliament of mayors, probably with about 120 cities represented by their mayors, which will make climate change and common climate work among cities the first issue they face.

If they reach agreement on a climate manifesto, which we hope they will, they will then go in December to Paris to the UN climate meeting, which everyone is hoping will finally allow nations to do something—and not so much lobby and pressure them as to say, "This is what cities are doing whether or not you are doing it, and maybe it would behoove you to do something like it, or even better, because it is going to happen with or without you."

So what's happening, Joanne, is that we started with a chapter in a book that kind of proposed speculatively actually having a global parliament and we are now, 18 months later, at a stage in which the first pilot is actually scheduled for London, October 23-24, 2015. Put it in your books.

JOANNE MYERS: Will there be any room for national governments to participate or are you going to bypass them?

BENJAMIN BARBER: There certainly will not. Why would we want them? [Laughter]  They've got their own gathering two months later. I hope they will be watching. I hope they will say something like, "My god, cities are doing three times what we think we might be able to do in December."

JOANNE MYERS: But how does that work? As I said earlier, national governments are so territorial.

BENJAMIN BARBER: Well, here's how it works. Let's just say—and I'll take the most trivial example, which is already out there—let's just say 120 cities meeting in London next October say, "We will triple the pedestrian zones in our cities," and let's say 6,000 other cities opt in and say, "We will embrace that and do it too."

JOANNE MYERS: That's an easy one, though.

BENJAMIN BARBER: But here's my point. Do we need nation-states for that? Do we need them for congestion fees? What if cities say, "We will raise the emission levels in the city for automobiles so if you want to drive a car here, you need to do 30 or 35 miles per gallon, not 25 miles per gallon?"

You say, "You can't do that"? Well, California did it a couple of years ago. California raised the emission levels higher than the U.S. standards and therefore leveraged the market. And guess what? When Detroit and Honda and BMW had to decide, "Do we make 18 percent of our cars with California standards, because we sell 18 percent of our cars to California? Or do we make all our cars with a higher standard and sell them to everyone?" they made them all that way. It was more efficient. So California leveraged with no laws—they didn't make a law for the United States or the world—but they leveraged the market to do it.

So there is an awful lot—we've talked about some of it—that cities can do without the compliance or agreement of states which will make all the difference.

And by the way, as I say, there is the simple fact—and I give examples in the book—that 82 percent of carbon emissions come from cities; it would be a little different if carbon emissions were all coming from the farms and then cities were trying to do something about it—you know, "We're going to regulate methane in cows." That's clearly not going to happen.

But there is a lot they can and do regulate, and when they do it, it doesn't really matter what the states do. So the reality is they have the power, the jurisdiction, and the authority within their boundaries to do things that make for real change in the world.

Our hope, of course, is—keep in mind that 75, 80 percent of the population of the developed world is in cities—if cities do it, my guess is states will follow beyond because they are already 80 percent of the population.

JOANNE MYERS: So it is really the mayors who take the initiative. But then you need the citizens to support the majors. So what is the social contract between the citizens and the local government? How do you get them engaged?

BENJAMIN BARBER: A hell of a lot better than the social contract between citizens and the nation-states. [Laughter]  That's the starting point. But it is very important, it really is important.

I'll give you some empirical data on that. Check out recently the trust levels of the U.S. president. Part of that is racism, part of that is stupidity, and so on. But the fact is presidents everywhere are below 50 percent. Prime ministers are way down. The Congress is in single digits. Our elected national body in which we invest our trust has the support of one in ten of the Americans who supposedly elected them. The Supreme Court, which used to be kind of above politics, is now under 50 percent in trust levels.

But everywhere in the world, except China—and I'll tell you why in a minute—the trust level in mayors and city counsellors is double or triple that of any other public officials because they are local, because they are ours. In the book I say mayors are homies, they're homeboys and homegirls, they're from the neighborhood.

Ed Koch used to walk around New York saying, "How am I doing?" Imagine David Cameron or Putin or Obama wandering around saying, "How am I doing?" They won't want to hear the answer, and the Secret Service wouldn't let them.

But mayors and city councilmen are our neighbors. They're us taking a stint at trying to make government work. The result is trust levels are far, far larger. That's why a council, a global assembly, of mayors has a much better chance of having constituent support, (a) because they are much more trusted and (b) because they know if we get these guys next year to adopt a climate manifesto, they are going to have to come back to their cities and get their citizens to embrace it as well.

But I'm not too worried. My wife told me—she helped organize it (I was over in Amsterdam)—I believe there were 410,000 people on the streets of New York in September. So I don't worry too much that de Blasio is going to have to come back to New York and sell a climate treaty he has made with other cities.

You will find those same things all over the world, because people who live in cities, first of all, live on water. Ninety percent of cities are built on rivers, lakes, streams, and oceans, where the waters are rising, and they will be the first victims. Cities and citizens understand the cost of climate, and universally you will find in every city in the world they get it.

So I am not too worried that mayors won't have the support of their people, both because of the high trust levels, the civic engagement, and the issues on which cities are likely to cooperate.

JOANNE MYERS: You are talking mainly about developed countries. What about in less-developed countries?

BENJAMIN BARBER: I'm sure not talking about—that is to say, if you want to talk about who the victims are.

JOANNE MYERS: India and China.

BENJAMIN BARBER: Let's start with Bangladesh, where about 60 percent of the population live below sea level, in towns and villages and cities below sea level. Now, when you get sea rise, the first victims will be not our friends on Fire Island and the Hamptons, who will move to Aspen—that will be their response to climate change—but it will be the hundreds of millions of women and children and poor people who can't move who will be the victims.

So in fact, in the third world, in the so-called developing world, it's there that the first consequences of starvation, drought, crops that no longer grow because the Sahara is moving south—all those issues are issues which face those people. As they—and they are doing it—stream into cities and create cities of 20 or 30 million people, they will be feeling very strongly the need to take action on these issues.

And by the way, China, which is this odd example that doesn't fit, where people don't trust their mayors because their mayors are simply peons of the Communist Party, of the national government—but even their cities, not just Hong Kong, have begun to exert their muscles.

The mayor of Beijing recently said, "I can't abide the national policy of the Communist Party on coal, using coal as 60 or 70 percent of fuel in Beijing, because nobody can breathe in Beijing anymore, and it's my job to try to do something about it."

They will probably silence him, but they will not silence the city, because the smog, the pollution, by carbon and coal in China is an urban problem big time.

So I think that what you will find that what's bad in our world is even worse in the developing world. The problems that cities have in the first world, the problems of inequality and ghettoization, again are compounded in the developing world. The people there will be even hungrier for cooperation.

What is missing right now with the new cities of Africa, the new megacities of Latin America, is very much cooperation. If you look at the C40 climate cities, there you could rightly say, "Isn't that a Western thing?" Yes, it is. They haven't reached out yet. Those cities need support. They need collegiality and they need cooperation and they need mentoring. That is something that a global parliament of mayors can do.

JOANNE MYERS: Have any of the mayors from these less-developed countries participated in any of the conferences that you have had?

BENJAMIN BARBER: We have only had one planning meeting of 32, and the closest we came is Seoul and Singapore, and those are both part of the Asian Tigers and anything but developing countries.

JOANNE MYERS: Right. So you have to reach out to them.

BENJAMIN BARBER: But the mayor of Lusaka has expressed a vital interest. Almost came, was unable to actually afford it, and we couldn't pay for him because we don't have any funds. He was going to come.

Two South African cities and townships have expressed a vital interest. We have several Indonesian cities. Recently, I met with the mayor of Ho Chi Minh City (that's Saigon for those who remember), and the mayor of Ho Chi Minh City said he would love to participate in this and will be invited. I met with the major of Jakarta.

So the answer is yes. It is harder. It takes time. It is much harder for them to come and to justify participation. And we need funding also to help bring them there, and to bring staff there that can follow up, because if a mayor comes and doesn't bring staff, they go home and they can't follow up.

It is a work in progress. You are very right to say unless we reach out to the developing world, to Africa and Latin America and the parts of Asia that are poor, we will not have a successful Global Mayors' Parliament. That has to be part of the work.

JOANNE MYERS: You obviously have convinced us that cities are where hope meets the street.


QUESTION: My name is Shazia Rafi. I used to be secretary-general of Parliamentarians for Global Action, which was a global network of national legislatures working on international issues.

I found this extremely interesting, because in my new work with Global Parliamentary Services I am working on a project that is going to bring together legislators from the environment committees with city mayors to discuss setting up the right parameters for urban air quality to feed into the UN process. So I hope that you will not wait until October. This process is going to start now.

But one question I had, which is sort of a follow-up on what Joanne was saying, is that, at the national level, governments have the capacity to take what we pay in taxes through their foreign affairs and their state departments to be able to fund institutions like the international ones, United Nations and others, to meet.

Cities, while they are providing the revenue and they are gathering local taxes, would need to do something to be able to create that level of a mechanism so that you could actually fund the global meeting without having to go down to the raising of funds, etc., as if you were a nonprofit. So could you say something about that?

BENJAMIN BARBER: Thanks for that great question.

Let me answer your first question about not waiting until October. I'll wait just until about 10 seconds after this meeting and we'll exchange cards and we'll talk about how we can work together, because I would love to work with you. We've already talked with the International Parliamentary Union.

Obviously, a parliament of cities is a different creature in a way, but in another way it's not. We use the word "parliament" on purpose. Although in my book, by the way, the word that I use is not "parliament" but "audioment." I've always hated the word parliament. It's about lawyers who talk to each other. One of the reasons parliaments don't work well is because it's all about speaking. An appropriate and efficient legislative body should be about listening. Democracy is about listening, hearing others, empathy. So I wanted to use the word "audioment." We ought to have an audioment.

I actually originally had an "audioment of mayors." My publisher said, "Yeah well, do you want to teach a new word or do you want to get an idea across?" So I said, "Well, okay, I'll go back to parliament." I just want to say about that that that's the case.

The substance of your question, though—let me start with a single term, unfunded mandate. The unfunded mandate is a word that describes higher levels of government telling lower levels of government what they ought to do, or acknowledging that there are things they can do, and then not funding them or giving them the resources to do it. About half of the work of cities, whether it is dealing with so-called undocumented workers or illegal immigrants, dealing with flood control and climate, is an unfunded mandate. Cities have to do it to protect their citizens and they don't have the resources to do it.

But that is really stupid. Here's why it's stupid. Cities provide 82 percent of global GDP and something like between 80 and 85 percent of the tax revenues for every other higher level of government—regional, statewide, national, and in Europe at the European level as well.

Again, when I was talking to Commissioner Hahn in Brussels last year, he said to the cities gathered there, "We've decided this year to give you cities a little more money because you are doing some important things and you need it." The mayors actually applauded.

I said, "Commissioner Hahn, can I ask you something? When you say 'give money to the cities,' what money are you giving?"

"You know, from our treasury."

"Where does the money in your treasury come from?"

"Well, from taxes."

"Who are you taxing?"

"Well, the regions."

"Do the regions get a lot of tax?"

"No. It's mainly the cities."

"So what you're saying is not that you are going to gift them some of your hard-earned resources, but that you are going to give them back a little more what they gave to you to start with."

That is the central problem cities have. They currently fund every other level of government and get very little back.

Now, of course, taxes have to go to pay for agricultural policy and foreign policy and armies and navies and all that stuff. But the fact is a whole lot more goes out than comes in. At a time when cities are taking greater responsibility and doing more, they have not a need, they have a right to those resources.

Part of our new work with the parliament is a declaration of the rights of cities and citizens. One of the arguments we make is cities have a right to resources equivalent to what they produce and that meet their needs in doing the things that they have to do. If they don't get it, they have a right to demand it in court or by civil disobedience.

I love the idea of whole cities saying, "We are not giving you those taxes. We are keeping 10 percent of the tax to do the things that we are doing now."

In other words, cities have to reorganize and collaborate around getting and retaining the resources adequate to the challenges they have. That might mean new forms of organization. That might mean new laws about taxation. It certainly means political work in the cities by citizens who vote around those issues.

But let me give you an example of the difference that this makes. When I talk about cities, everyone says, "Yeah, right, cities—like Detroit, huh?" They'll say, "So cities are really great, huh, just like Detroit? That's your model of the efficient good city?"

Yeah, it is. But not the Detroit defined in the 18th century, by boundaries set in another era even before the automobile, the little local community. That Detroit is bankrupt. That Detroit has gone from the fourth largest city in the United States (2 million back in 1950) to 700,000 today, a 75 percent reduction in population. Half the schools are gone, half the parks, a lot of the housing gone, almost all of the automobile industry fled. It's bankrupt. It's good and bankrupt, no question about it.

But now, guess what? Look at the 10 counties around Detroit that make up the Greater Detroit Metro Region and that could be defined as Detroit. That Detroit has gone from 3 to 5 million while the city went from 2 million to 700,000. That Detroit of those 10 counties is now the fourth most efficient and prosperous new tech zone in the United States of America. That Detroit has 75 percent of the auto industry that left downtown but didn't go to China or India or South Carolina but just went to the 10 counties around it.

That Detroit, thank you very much, is doing very, very well. If we define the city of Detroit, redefine it constitutionally and legally, as the 10 counties of the Detroit Metro Region, Detroit would be one of the most successful cities in America with an inner-city problem, which most big cities in fact have, but with the resources also to deal with that inner-city problem.

The people who are served by Detroit, the people who screamed in those counties when they talked about shutting down the Detroit Art Museum, "What? You're going to close it? You can't do that. We come in every weekend with our kids. You're going to sell—" That's right, you do come in every weekend, and that's why Detroit is serving you and that's why your taxes need to go to serve Detroit.

Redefine cities around metro regions and you solve the resource problem in a very major way. If you think that's dreaming, just a year ago in Florence, Italy, I sat with a man named Matteo Renzi, who was the mayor of Florence. He had read this book and he invited me to a conference of Italian mayors. We sat together.

He said, "This is a really good idea. But you know you can't talk about cities, you have to talk about metro regions, and we really need to reorganize our countries around metro regions, not cities." And then he said to me, "But I'm sorry, Professor Barber, I have to leave."

I said, "Where are you going?"

He said, "I'm going down to Rome."

I said, "Why?"

He said, "They want me to be prime minister."

And as you know, a year ago Matteo Renzi became the prime minister. The first thing he did was to introduce a constitutional scheme to reorganize the senate and the constitution of Italy to remove the old provinces that we know from the 14th and 15th centuries and in their place put nine metro regions: Milano, Torino, Bologna, Genoa, Palermo, Rome, and so forth.

Today that constitutional amendment has passed and the Italian senate is made up of nine Italian metro regions and the constitutional infrastructure of Italy is now organized around viable metro regions that include suburbs, exurbs, and agricultural hinterlands, like the Hudson Valley for New York, or the places that feed them.

That is the model for the future. That is the model that will provide jurisdictional authority, resources, and the integration of cities with their surrounding counties in a way that makes sense constitutionally and makes sense financially in terms of resources. That is the other issue, along with climate, that will be at the center of the parliament next fall.

JOANNE MYERS: Is there an ideal size for a city then in your opinion?

BENJAMIN BARBER: Size is one thing. It's interesting. There is a lot of data on this. People think cities of around 50,000 to 200,000 are the ideal ones to live in. When you see the various things done about where would you like to live and where is the ideal, a lot of people in a lot of countries will say, "50,000, 100,000, 200,000. Over 200,000 gets a little big. Under 50,000 you can't begin to have the resources to do what you need. Maybe even up to a half-million."

I would say most people would nowadays say "Between 100,000 and 2 million you can do. When you get over 2 million it gets hard."

Except it's not just about size. New York has 8 million. The Greater New York Region, the Metro Region, has 15 or 18 million. But if you live, like my daughter does, in Brooklyn, you've got under 2 million. If you live in Staten Island, you've got 300,000, 400,000. If you live in Queens, you've got 1.5 million, and so on. Those are the neighborhoods. In fact, I live on the Upper West Side. We don't have 8 million people on the Upper West Side. In my neighborhood we have a couple of hundred thousand people.

Cities that are carved into neighborhoods that have integrity and a sense of familiarity and place and where people work and live not too far from the same places, those are healthy cities. A city like London, with 10 million, but is still a city of  villages and neighborhoods, still can work pretty well. A new Chinese city of 2 million—indeed, there are 100 new cities in China of 1 million that were 10,000 10 years ago—those cities are unlivable, because they have no neighborhoods, they have no history, you have 1 million people in high-rises, one next to the other, and that's devastating.

So size is part of it. But it's not just size. It's the history, the character, and particularly the neighborhood. Are there neighborhoods, are there districts, and so forth? That's the part that really makes cities work.

So the answer is anywhere from 50,000 to 500,000, maybe 2 million at most, but with neighborhoods you can do a lot better than that. And smaller without neighborhoods is very problematic.

QUESTION: Laurence Meltzer.

How can you make our dysfunctional federal government more functional by instituting a parliament of mayors? In some way there might be a connection.

BENJAMIN BARBER: That's a really thoughtful and a good question. Of course, long term the answer is that if you find levels of government, if you find communities that work more democratically and more efficiently, you are likely to create a better spirit among citizens.

As we know, one of the problems in the United States and in Europe and other places is people are so dispirited about democracy, they're so cynical, they're so skeptical. They don't believe in it. They think it's all a lot of crap. They think the people who are running for government don't know how to run government, they only know how to run for government, and so on.

So the first thing I'd say is that the quality of democracy depends not on the leadership or the party functionaries but on the citizens. When citizens get dispirited, when you have a cynical citizenry, it's very, very hard then to build an un-cynical and more functional government.

The great thing about cities is that citizens are much less cynical about what goes on in cities, what happens in cities. So there is a place to rekindle hope for democracy at that local level because, in part, you deal with real problems and answer real problems.

Let me give you one example of that that's really important. National governments—this is true of Europe, it's true of the United States, it's true of Mexico, other places—they worry about illegal immigrants, undocumented workers. There are as many Guatemalans crossing from Guatemala into Mexico as there are Mexicans crossing from Mexico into the United States. Those problems are everywhere. Morocco has problems with people from sub-Saharans just as Spain has problems with Moroccans coming over. So this is a universal problem.

States say this very simply: "We have a law, we have a border law. You come in legally or you're here illegally." That's the logic of the 19th-century state, a legal and political logic.

The people crossing borders are following the 21st-century logic of the economy: Where are the jobs, where can I get a job for my family? States do not recognize that.

The result is all over the world mayors face the reality of hundreds of thousands of illegal, undocumented people living in their cities. If they turn to the state and say, "Please help us deal with that," the state says, "Well, we can either throw them all out—we don't really want to do that because they are doing important jobs—or we can turn our backs and pretend they are not there." Most states do the second. They make noises about the first and they in fact do the second.

Mayors do not have that luxury. People are living in their cities with wives and children, they are using the emergency room, their kids are going to school, people are driving, they have jobs. So do you want someone driving with a license or without a license? Do you want someone with a job who pays taxes or doesn't pay taxes? Do you want someone in your city maybe committing a crime who is registered with the police and the police know them or you don't know anything about them?

What mayors have decided is it's far better if they are there that they are treated with all the rights and privileges of citizenship and all the responsibilities and obligations of citizenship. So cities around the world, including Hamburg and now including our Mayor de Blasio in New York, have started to issue what they call "urban visas" or city IDs.

"You're here? Maybe the government doesn't like it, maybe the Feds don't like it, but you're here. Here's a visa. Here's your ID. Carry this ID, and with this ID you can get a job, you can use the hospitals, you can send your kids to school. The police will have the information so that if you screw up they know where to find you. If you start selling drugs, we have a way to trace you. But you are, for our purposes, a citizen."

That has been an extraordinary way of giving rights and dignity to people in fact who are living here with their families, and at the same time giving cities an ability to look after and look over and watch and be sure that these folks are regular parts of the city population.

That's a great example of where cities at the local level can do something. And, interestingly enough, you haven't heard a peep from the Republicans or the Feds or anybody else about urban visas and urban IDs, because they say, "Well, good."

My own guess is—take this as a prediction—five years from now city IDs and urban visas will be the road to citizenship for so-called illegals. Because that will be the way in, they will have proved themselves, they will have stayed above the law, they will have paid their taxes, and that will become—the Feds will finally turn around, having ignored it, and say, "Oh, okay, we have a way in for citizens." So this is a great example of cities doing something where the Feds, the states, the national governments won't, but where in the end it helps solve a problem, but also uses the dignity and the association locally of local officials and their neighbors and their fellow citizens to create a real sense of community.

This is the way mayors talk. This is what mayors do. There is a lot in this book about mayors.

I was just with Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb—you probably think what, Tunis or Cairo? No. This is the mayor of what was 10 years ago the most racist city in Holland, Rotterdam. Ahmed Aboutaleb, born in Morocco, a Muslim, is today the extraordinarily successful and well-liked mayor of Rotterdam.

And honestly, people outside say, "Wow, a Muslim mayor of racist Rotterdam!" The people in Rotterdam say, "He's a great mayor. He's a really good mayor and he does things well."

But I just want to say what he said. This is something that mayors can say and presidents can't. He was at our Global Mayors' Parliament planning meeting in September. Someone brought up the question of homelessness and urban IDs and so on. He said, "Well, there's only so much a city can do. But let me say something. I have said publicly, and I say it again"—and listen to how he said it—he said, "In my city nobody sleeps in the streets. In my city nobody sleeps in the streets."

What that means—you get the cops, you get the homeless—but imagine mayors in the United States saying "in my city no one sleeps in the streets" and then taking the action to make sure, whatever it takes, it doesn't happen.

There's no way the federal government can say, "In this land"—which is our land, I guess—"nobody sleeps in the streets." But a mayor can say that because it's his city, it's his streets, it's his neighbors. Just the way all of us would say, "In my family nobody goes hungry" or "In my neighborhood nobody doesn't get an education," a mayor can say, "In my city nobody sleeps in the streets."

QUESTION: Anthony Faillace.

Do you have a list of other functions that are currently performed at the state and federal level that you think could be pushed down to the cities, and how do you pay for that?

BENJAMIN BARBER: Good question, and it's a twofold question. There are things the states and the provinces and the federal level are supposed to deal with and don't, so cities do it by default, and there are things that cities are actually asked to do as well.

Frankly, a lot of the things cities are doing are not things that the federal government said, "Please do this," but they are things that cities said, "We have to do it."

The issue of what to do with undocumented workers is typical. The federal government did not say to mayors, "Would you please take care of this for us?" The federal government simply turns its back, looks the other way, and yet all these millions of people are there. So they have to do things.

The areas in which they have been most effective are (a) ports. Ninety percent of cities are on water and a lot of the big cities on water are port cities. Ports are hubs of activity, transportation, and so on. Ports contribute anywhere from one-quarter to one-half of the carbon emissions of a given city.

In Los Angeles, 10 years ago they figured out that 40 percent of carbon emissions came not from the freeways and so on, but from the ports. It's the largest port in the United States, Los Angeles port.

Mayor Villaraigosa back then decided that what he would do is green up the port. He did a couple of things. He asked for Obama's help and Obama said, "Are you kidding? I can't help you. I can't even help myself. I haven't got the funds to do anything. I'm not about to give you any money." So he did the following things. This is so great because these are things you might think the Feds ought to be doing but the city did them.

The biggest source of carbon emissions is the diesel engines of the freighters and the boats that come in and lay at anchor and load and offload. Like buses in New York, they don't turn off their engines; they keep them going to keep electricity, to keep the cranes going. So he simply said this: "No ship will enter the shipyards of this port unless it is able to hook up our electricity and turn off its diesel engines." That's what yachts do. If you go over to the yacht basin, they don't keep their engines running. They take a cord and put it in. He made that a requirement. So every ship now that goes in—by the way, those ships now go to other ports where they are electrified and so they can also do it for other ports—he did that.

There are 12,000 trucks that go in every day to the port to onload and offload. He also said, "We are going to require"—they have hybrid engines with a maximum miles per gallon that is much better than what trucks have. He got a small company to show how they could retrofit regular engines that way quite cheaply and make money. Twelve thousand trucks now are hybrids.

Through those two measures alone he cut half of the carbon emissions of the port of Los Angeles. That's about 20 percent of the carbon emissions of L.A.

We've talked about security as a second crucial issue.

We can talk about transportation policies. Cities can control what kind of transportation.

In Latin America, which if you've been there you know—in Mexico City or Bogotá or anywhere—the traffic is absolutely clogged with everything from donkey carts and bikes to trucks and cars and so forth. The buses take three hours to get across from one end to the other. The people, mostly the working people who live in the favelas (slums), have to come in by bus, and it can take them three to four hours to get to work and then three to four hours to get back, which means they get up at 4:00 in the morning, arriving at work at 8:00, they leave at 6:00, they get home at 10:00, and hardly have time to sleep.

The mayor of Bogotá about 10 years ago came up with some other mayors with a scheme to build what he called a surface rapid transit metro system—fast as subways; dedicated lanes with curbs; stops every three or four blocks, not every block; nothing can get into it except the buses, so it is an express lane that runs like a subway; and because it doesn't stop and start all the time, it uses much less fuel as well. He put that in place and he cut the commuting time in Bogotá by two-thirds, from three hours to an hour. [For more on Enrique Peñalosa, the former mayor of Bogotá, check out his Thought Leaders interview.]

A lot of middle-class people who drove abandoned their cars because it was so much faster, just the way New Yorkers ride—you might have money or not, but if you are going from 105th Street to the Village, you take the Number 2 train; you don't drive, unless you're crazy, because it's much faster. The rapid surface transit system helps employment, helps pollution, helps climate, and helps the economy. There's another area.

The third area is economic inequality, a big, big issue. Hard for mayors because mayors don't control the cause of inequality, which is global capitalism, but have to deal with the consequences, which is inequality, poverty, people coming without the skills for jobs and so on. But there again mayors have tools.

Education is one. Mayor de Blasio made preschool education a priority because education authorities had made it very clear that what happens from one to five is probably 10 times more important than what happens from six to twelve. So if you give those kids preschool education they are more likely to get education, get jobs, be employable, and so on, help the economy. So in the area of education, with a program like preschool, suddenly a city can deal with the consequences of poverty and inequality, even though they do not directly control the global economy and so forth.

So there is hardly an area you can think about—and I detail them in the book—where there are not significant things mayors can do.

The second part of your question, though, is what about resources? We talked about it before. The problem often is they don't have the resources. Mayor de Blasio, when he went looking for preschool education, then sort of had to get all mixed up with the "let's tax the rich" thing, and that ran into political obstacles, and so he had to find another way out. A city can say, "Let's educate every kid from one to five," but it's got to have the resources to do it.

My solution to that is not find the resources or invent the resources, but take the resources. You are a majority of the citizenry of the country. You are the democratic majority. You are the source of those resources.

I'm a 1960s guy. In those days we did things, then when people said "No," you said, "If they're right, you do them." I can't think of an institution that has the democratic majority on its side, right on its side, and public interest on its side more than the city.

That's why one of the things we are adopting next year at the Global Mayors' Parliament is a Declaration of the Rights of Cities and Citizens, because I want to use rights language when we come to talk about cities.

The point is the city has not a need for resources to pay for these things; it has a right, and it should fight for those rights the way every rights fight has always been fought, within the law to be sure, but with civil disobedience, in the courts, with demands, and with the righteousness of those who know that what they are doing is the true public good.

JOANNE MYERS: I have to say that your compelling take on all this confirms that handing power to the mayors who will get things done is certainly the way to go. I invite you, the citizens who elect them, to join us and have a glass of wine and continue the conversation.

Thank you very much.

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