21 August 2010

As Nations Collapse, City-States Provide Centers of Stability

The 21st century will not be dominated by America or China, Brazil or India, but by the city. In an age that appears increasingly unmanageable, cities rather than states are becoming the islands of governance on which the future world order will be built. This new world is not -- and will not be -- one global village, so much as a network of different ones. _FP
As national governments grow larger and more unwieldy, corruption and dysfunction become the new normal. Huge, clumsy new government agencies prove easier to form than to dismantle. Unionised government workers and power-hungry bureaucratic king-pins refuse to relinquish power or benefits, until huge national governments become the harsh taskmasters of an increasingly dissatisfied populace. The situation grows more unstable until it can no longer sustain itself. At that point, regional islands of stability form focal points for new organisation.
...we have to look back nearly a thousand years, to the medieval age in which cities such as Cairo and Hangzhou were the centers of global gravity, expanding their influence confidently outward in a borderless world. When Marco Polo set forth from Venice along the emergent Silk Road, he extolled the virtues not of empires, but of the cities that made them great. He admired the vineyards of Kashgar and the material abundance of Xi'an, and even foretold -- correctly -- that no one would believe his account of Chengdu's merchant wealth. It's worth remembering that only in Europe were the Middle Ages dark -- they were the apogee of Arab, Muslim, and Chinese glory. _FP

Accelerating this shift toward new regional centers of gravity are port cities and entrepôts such as Dubai, the Venices of the 21st century: "free zones" where products are efficiently re-exported without the hassles of government red tape. Dubai's recent real-estate overreach notwithstanding, emerging city-states along the Persian Gulf are investing at breakneck speed in efficient downtown business districts, offering fast service and tax incentives to relocate. _FP

...the advent of global hubs and megacities forces us to rethink whether state sovereignty or economic might is the new prerequisite for participating in global diplomacy. The answer is of course both, but while sovereignty is eroding and shifting, cities are now competing for global influence alongside states. _FP
The author of the FP piece linked above envisions the rise of the city alongside the continuing power of the nation-state. But conventional contemporary thinkers too often lack the historical perspective which allows the concept of the "rise and fall" of nations to become a tangible reality inside themselves and in their writings.

A large number of nations in Africa and Asia are teetering on the brink of Yugoslavia-style dissolution. Whether illogically slapped-together by imperial conquerors without regard to tribe, language, culture, or religion -- or simply having outgrown whatever bounds held them together up intil now -- these booby-trap nations sit waiting for the right trigger to explode and dissolve in smoke and flames.

Larger nations which are intimately involved with these "booby-trap" nations stand to be hurt badly when the IED-nations explode. A chain reaction of exploding and collapsing states could easily result -- particularly when dysfunctional governments intentionally place their nations in extreme risk via unwise policies of debt and demography.

Things fall apart, yes. But they also put themselves together, afterward. Consider how the pieces may choose to re-organise.

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Blogger Max said...

I d much prefer city states to current nations. Self governance on local level means more efficient government focused on actual population needs ,not some unfunded federal mandates as is the case in US now

Saturday, 21 August, 2010  
Blogger gtg723y said...

Max: That is what the United States with its Constitution was supposed to be. The individual States were supposed to be a federation of cities and towns and farms, where decisions for the state were made in the state capitol, each municipality having its own representatives based on population to be represented . Each state has its own set of needs due to population, population distribution, trade needs, and climate. Therefore each State needed to set up its own policies within the Federation, then each city would do the same. The States would convene and do the same for the nation. The way the founders set everything up if you wanted to live in a socialist or communist city you could, if you wanted to live in an anarchist city you almost could, as there are certain inalienable rights endowed to each of us that may not be violated. Cities could set up their own voting laws for city leadership, or a lottery if they would rather. The states could each in turn do the same. The federal government, those that are sent by each state to represent its citizens is made of Representatives that are chosen in a particular fashion that may not be violated. These representatives then discuss the issues that only apply to each and every state as a whole. This leaves little for the fed to do, in fact the fed has four jobs. To broker international trade agreements, to settle disputes between the states, to provide a navy for the common defense of the many states, and to provide and maintain post roads. Thats it, that is all the Federal government has the power to do, everything else is left to the state, the city, and to you. The constitution is a very short document, if you read it you would be pissed, and demand the immediate repeal of Amendments 14,16,17 and 27.

Sunday, 22 August, 2010  
Blogger LarryD said...

Bad government has been taking its toll on US cities, people have been leaving for the suburbs for decades.

Detroit is a particularly bad example, but Boston and San Francisco have been in decline for some time, too.

Once you get down to a small town (~5,000 - 10,000), the low degree of separation throttles corruption to a degree where failure is less likely. Or to put it another way, things don't get out of hand when the politicians can't live far enough away that the voters can't get their hands on them.

Monday, 23 August, 2010  
Blogger PRCalDude said...

Cities are in decline because they're sink-holes of NAM section-8ers and other violent minorities subsidized by the US government.

This begs the question, "If cities are already the most ethnically-diverse/lowest-trust geographical areas in Western countries, how will they become the new sovereignities?"

Societies are set up around consensus and commonalities - usually of ethnic and religious consensus.

Dubai is certainly a prosperous area, but it is home to a lot of criminals that parents wouldn't want their kids around. Misha Glenny discusses this in McMafia. Moscow is similarly diverse and low-trust/high crime. These places seem to hold it together when they have dictators running them.

Monday, 23 August, 2010  
Blogger Mike Courtman said...

Sounds a bit like the fall of the Roman Empire. People getting feed up paying high taxes and not seeing a lot of services being provided, or their tax money going to people very different to them, so they give up on the nation-state and retreat into city states.

To a certain extent this would get around the ethnic rivalry problem, since no ethnicity could benefit from getting more than its far share of tax dollars.

Thanks to nuclear weapons, it's also possible for a fairly loose collection of city states to protect itself as a more unified foreign power. If the Austro-Hungarian Empire had nukes they wouldn't have been such an easy pushover as they were in WWI, when unified ethnic states had a big edge in the form of more organised and cohesive armies.

I still think a country is better off with a numerically dominant ethnicity though, even if it is a loose collection of city states. Nuclear weapons are no defence against civil war and seperatism.

Tuesday, 24 August, 2010  

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