In This Review

If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities
If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities
By Benjamin R. Barber
432 pp, Yale University Press, 2013

Barber, author of the prescient 1996 book Jihad vs. McWorld, sees cities as the best hope for solving global problems and safeguarding democracy. In Barber’s view, nation-states have shown that they are simply not up to the task of global governance. Cities, on the other hand, have demonstrated remarkable political vitality. Their politics tend to be pragmatic and oriented toward problem solving: trash needs to be picked up; streets must be plowed. Barber’s most interesting thesis is that cities, which now house more than half of humanity, are more internationalist and inclined toward bottom-up solutions than states. Barber’s proposal is to make cities the “building blocks” of a form of global governance enshrined in a “parliament of mayors.” The book is organized around short portraits of activist mayors, such as New York City’s Michael Bloomberg, London’s Boris Johnson, Moscow’s Yuri Luzhkov, and Delhi’s Sheila Dikshit. The book is convincing in its claim, echoed in the words of Rio de Janeiro’s mayor, Eduardo Paes, that the leaders of cities have “the political position to really change people’s lives.” Less convincing is the idea that cities can carry the burden of global problem solving, where the challenges include stabilizing financial markets, promoting economic growth and equality, and protecting rights and freedoms.