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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/5320/are-cities-the-new-countries/

Are Cities the New Countries?

July 14, 2006 by

The BBC News Magazine asks if the nation state is under threat from the rise of the super-city? The author seems to hope against this decentralization as he clings to his nationalist sentiment. But, at least he is willing to ask the question.

Sociology Professor Richard Sennett at the London School of Economics is one academic that has recognized the changing relationship between cities and the countries they are in.

“The most important place to London is New York and to New York is London and Tokyo,” Dr. Sennett states. “London belongs to a country composed of itself and New York.”

London Mayor Ken Livingstone was recently quoted as saying “…I think anything short of a fully independent city state is a lost opportunity, with its own foreign and defence policies thrown in.”


Manuel Lora July 14, 2006 at 7:54 pm

This is something that I think is a real possibility after we see the inexorable collapse of the US and perhaps other large blocks (EU, etc.). I can imagine much smaller political units in the next, oh, 50 years or so. One can hope at least.

Dennis Sperduto July 14, 2006 at 9:20 pm

For me, the important question is what type of ideology will these more decentralized political units adopt? If they do not adopt policies that acknowledge and support economic and civil liberties, including the primacy of private property, little positive will be gained.

For instance, how many of these newly decentralized political units would let the market choose money; how many would not work against the implementation of a commodity (gold) standard? For all its egregious faults, at least the EU has instituted a common, albeit fiat paper, currency across a very large geographical area, thus eliminating within the EU the trade barriers caused by smaller political units manipulating fiat currencies.

Also, the Balkans is relatively decentralized, but this area of the world is no shining example of freedom. And, not that Hong Kong was or is any Libertarian/Classical Liberal paradise, but do we really believe that cities like London, New York, and Tokyo will adopt economic policies even modestly similar to those of Hong Kong? Finally, I would not be surprised if self-proclaimed cultural elitism is not an important factor in this debate. Remember, it a toss up as to whether the world’s intellectual and cultural center is Paris or New York’s Upper West Side.

banker July 14, 2006 at 9:37 pm

It is easier to switch cities than countries. You don’t have to worry about an FBI or IRS tracking your movements across an entire continent.

Manuel Lora July 14, 2006 at 9:49 pm

David, yes, that might be the case, but I don’t think it matters much what they do. I argue that it would not be worse than today, because smaller states would do less damage and be less powerful vs others. Lots of legal systems is better than fewer. I’d rather see 2000 countries than 200.

Curt Howland July 14, 2006 at 9:54 pm

Hence from Verona art thou banished:
Be patient, for the world is broad and wide.

There is no world without Verona walls,
But purgatory, torture, hell itself.
Hence-banished is banish’d from the world,
And world’s exile is death: then banished,
Is death mis-term’d: calling death banishment,
Thou cutt’st my head off with a golden axe,
And smilest upon the stroke that murders me.

Ohhh Henry July 14, 2006 at 11:10 pm

While I agree with Mr. Lora’s comments, I have a feeling that the current ballooning growth of our largest cities has more to do with bubble economics and socialist policies in general than it has to do with any organic growth factors.

It seems to me that a city becomes a megalopolis because of (a) the wide-ranging taxes that can be scoured out of the hinterland and concentrated into the hands of those who control political power from their urban power bases; (b) the need to keep highly specialized and influential persons on corporate payrolls, in the area of government relations – for example lobbyists, lawyers, tax accountants, labor negotiators, HR specialists, etc.; (c) the general availability of government largesse in the form of government jobs plus an infinite variety of welfare such as elite free or subsidized schools, hospitals, concert halls, museums, etc. which those in the government urban power base will naturally want to lavish on their immediate surroundings and not on their rural consituents.

In the absence of these influences I suspect that wealth would be more distributed – in a free market, corporations and individuals would tend to spread out in order to minimize the cost of land, avoid congested transportation routes, and to seek relatively undeveloped areas in order to find cheaper labor. While some industries would benefit from a certain amount of concentration, e.g. for workers with certain skills and to be close to their markets, I doubt if you would find massive megalopolises such as we have now.

If you examine the largest cities in the world, the ones whose politicians are squawking the loudest that they need “national” powers in order to do their jobs, I think you will find that they are mostly the beneficiaries of government spending and regulation, and that the reason for their growing fiscal discomfort is that the economic model which has led them to their extreme size is nothing but a pyramid scheme which is doomed to failure.

M E Hoffer July 14, 2006 at 11:20 pm

0hhh”s point is most obvious in viewing Chicago v. Illinois, NYC/LI v. New York, Phila/Pitt v. Pennsylvania, Boston v. Massachusetts….

Truly prime examples of the victory of Hamiltonian precepts over Jeffersonian virtues.

The Anti-Federalists were Right.

Nick Bradley July 14, 2006 at 11:45 pm

It would be very difficult for a city-state to pursure statist policies; the development of mega-cities, even though their relationship is decidedly socialist in nature currently, would not endure in the long run if the nation-state broke down in the long run; the larger the political entity, the harder it is to sustain socialist policies.

HardCorps July 14, 2006 at 11:48 pm

Ohh Henry-

Actually I think capitalism has shown the opposite. The first primary need of humans, defense, is much easier with larger groups. Then on the economic side look at corporations – why do they like to have all their employees under one roof? It’s because it’s much easier to share ideas within the company thereby increasing productivity. Also, companies like to move to large cities because there is a higher pool of qualified applicants for more technical jobs. Also, employees in similar occupations tend to hang out with their own kind, increasing the spread of ideas also.

Think about buying in bulk – it’s much cheaper and that’s what is motivating large companies to move together.

I definitely sympathize with your sentiments about powerful politicians, but I think the causation is in reverse. It is because of the wealth that companies create that politicians have more to feed on.

About the money question – gold is accepted everywhere in the world, and the dollar is too for the most part. Smaller sized governments will be forced to compete with each other like we have on an international scale now, and national too. The less powerful any single governments are, the better off for freedom of the individual.

Cooper July 14, 2006 at 11:52 pm

Think again, O. Henry and M. Hoffer you have greatly misunderstood the importance of the large cities to the state as a whole. Take Chicago away from Illinois, New York City from New York, Philadelphia from Pennsylvania, Boston from Massachusetts and you’ll get a great reduction in the transfer of wealth from the big cities to the small towns. It is the smaller communities that benefit from the current system.

banker July 15, 2006 at 12:29 am

No one can beat face time, hence, the need for cities. Why drive 50 miles to see a business associate or commute 2 hours to work? Industries like finance and banking require lots of employees in close proximity to both each other and their clients. Cities have existed for many millenia born out of the needs of commerce. Even with the internet and video conferencing technology people still have to have some sort of physical presence to conduct business. Hence, the need for cities like New York, Tokyo, and London.

Besides, who likes living in the suburbs?

HardCorps July 15, 2006 at 12:53 am

I’m slowly rotting in Eugene, OR – but I have only a school year left!

Andrew July 15, 2006 at 8:38 am
Daniel M. Ryan July 15, 2006 at 9:28 am

A cautionary quote: “You can’t fight city hall.”

Dennis Sperduto July 15, 2006 at 9:51 am

Regarding intra-national wealth distribution, since the major cities are generally the financial centers and homes of the national central banks, they are the initial and arguably largest beneficiaries of the vast amounts of paper money and electronic financial entries (i.e., inflation) created by the existing national fiat money regimes. With that said, I am not so certain what geographic regions are the net subsidizers and which are the net beneficiaries of the vast wealth redistribution that is performed in a myriad of ways by governments.

Tim Swanson July 15, 2006 at 12:08 pm

Anyone else reminded of the Family Guy episode in which Peter created his own country whose sole geographical territory consisted of his house?

See: E. Peterbus Unum

Ludwig July 15, 2006 at 12:49 pm

“You can’t fight city hall.”
–but you can piss on the steps and then run away
(Gary North quote)

AB July 15, 2006 at 1:24 pm

“Besides, who likes living in the suburbs?”

I do. Living in City is living like Rats.

Urbanitect July 15, 2006 at 1:40 pm

The creation of megacities is a purely market-driven phenomenon. A higher-order division of labor requires larger and larger labor market to sustain. That large a labor market occurs only in megacities, and explains why incomes in these megacities are so high.

M E Hoffer July 16, 2006 at 9:43 am

This: “It is the smaller communities that benefit from the current system.” from Cooper, is Classic~

Cooper, remember, there are road signs, in the U.S., that are Black & White, as opposed to Red, White & Blue.

Maybe a detour from the Interstate Highway system will give you a peek at the empirical evidence you’ll need to prove, or not, your supposition.

Urbanitect, with this: “A higher-order division of labor requires larger and larger labor market to sustain. That large a labor market occurs only in megacities, and explains why incomes in these megacities are so high.”– could you, then, explain why 40+% of NYC’s population receives some sort of “public assistance”- public housing, section 8 subsidies, WIC, Welfare payments, Food Stamps, MediCare/MediCaid… ?

Urbanitect July 16, 2006 at 2:18 pm

I think your statistic is erroneous because I don’t see how people on food stamps could drive up real estate prices to million-dollar apartments, which is the reality in New York today.

M E Hoffer July 16, 2006 at 8:15 pm


People occupying housing stock, by whatever means, drive up the cost of housing, at the margin.

Remove the myriad of wealth transfer payments “to the poor”, and the various “rent control” regs, in NYC, and those 650 sq ft. U$D1MM shoeboxes would be lucky to trade for half the price.

You might want to check: http://www.gothamgazette.com to get an idea of the massive amount of state intervention afoot in NYC.


Urbanitect July 16, 2006 at 8:35 pm

Even 500,000k shoeboxes are still exceptionally expensive.

James Stevenson July 16, 2006 at 8:41 pm

So you recognize that many of the “welfare” payments are going to rent controlled apartments occupied by the wealthy. Does this not dilute your original rationale?

Michael Insantio July 16, 2006 at 8:45 pm

It is amazing how ME Hoffer thinks he has so many explanations and answers to the worlds problems in his responses to posts on the Mises Blog. Why don’t you use your knowledge to make the world a better place? Who are you ME Hoffer?

M E Hoffer July 16, 2006 at 9:21 pm

J. Stevenson,

I’m not sure I understand your Q, would you mind rephrasing it?

M. Insantio,

Could you provide, for my edification, examples, from my posts, that lend any credence to your supposition that I think I have: “so many explanations and answers to the worlds problems” ?

And, with this: “Why don’t you use your knowledge to make the world a better place?”– what kind of assistance are you in need of?

Keith Preston July 17, 2006 at 8:36 am

I have long held to the view that city-states would be the most likely replacement for the current nation-state system following the demise that some of the more advanced theoreticians of the state have predicted for it. Because of this, some anarchists or libertarians have at times accused me of “city-statism” which is a bit off. I have no desire to maintain municipal governments as presently constituted. A better idea would be to conceive of a “city” as a mere collection of private communities, intentional communities, sovereign enclaves (like “Little Italy”), independent neighborhoods or non-state public areas (“the commons”).

Individual liberty is better protected in an environment where emigration is actually a serious and viable option.

JIMB July 17, 2006 at 7:48 pm

Banker — You can switch cities easily because the largest controlling power isn’t the city government. If the city did have monopoly power over violence in a territory, you would have a small state, not a city — with all the problems that come with a state.

TGGP July 18, 2006 at 11:21 am

Can anyone give me a rough estimate as to when the state will collapse? I’m getting rather impatient here!

jamesgeorgeinedu2 July 2, 2007 at 6:36 am

MARINA April 20th 2007
An urban multidimensionality… ah egbon your side… the prolonged ah, mouth left wide open for a while longer than necessary…. All agberos but me. CMS- hol your 120 note, no shange oh! Mini shangi oh- ebole! You are awe stricken and begin to wonder… N120 note? Haba? Since when? This is the spirit of Lagos… constant invention.
Dis lagos self…
Nike turns to Nekke, adidas to abibos…the Lagos answer to everything just like Marina.
Creative energy misdirected, but truly excessive. For dis Lagos, all na soji… tia eye….

Absorbing all this poesy, this new speed of doing especially when you have just come from a slower part of the world, Northern Nigeria for instance…. Difficult. Astonishing.
Been trying to understand why (for weeks), Thursday, zoom, bus stop Obalende: Osodi isale, Town planning way… yahuzee the new dance hall step… loud music, see them dance, exemplifying the suffering… such sad faces. Oh pity. Oops… the people aren’t sad that’s the way the dance goes, and the sun… tremendous heat.
Bus conductor making it easy for me… Ol’ boy foget dat shine your eye tin, Lagos na for men wey soji…. Enlightenment bringing sudden truth. Ol boy soji yourself, eye de tia for Lagos… Tuface Ibibia: my guy na your eye you go shaping becos e bi like say e don de hapin…’ Wetin don de hapin, na dem sabi. Men wey sabi, made men It is all so unbelievable, this code yarn.
The Lagos syndrome begins to get you down: it becomes a bore waking up in the morning: you begin to hope for a way out- a release of tension, you lose the nascent poetry of Lagos. You become a victim of Lagos: not a poet, but a part of the poetry: an inconsequential part, a part that will never be remembered…never! Fuck Lagos! You become it and vice versa…. In truth you do not understand and are truly not happy… you want out of Lagos, but it is impossible: what is made in Lagos stays in Lagos …forever.
Rewind: a way out, a release of tension! No pepper, you no go eva fit fom activity. Lie don stat…on your marks, get set, hustle.
You enter Lagos: selfless poet waiting to be moved towards it excitedly, hoping …! You approach ready for battle- two days in, you still haven’t seen the agberos! But you want out, meanwhile as you zoom through Jibowu daily, the way beckons: Bestway, Chisco, Globe Motors etc…just as Six Foot Plus yarn for im jam, ‘dis Lagos, we must groove am.’
One comes to Lagos with all these enthusiasms: Enthusiasm! Hope, hoping, hopping, my experience exactly, I should know…. Surprisingly, Lagos puts a constant melody in ones head and like a curse or cross, one has to sing this melody daily… mine is Shoprite… I sing it everyday for an hour.
Zoom: Ekene-Dili-Chukwu night bus: good morning Lagos… mans head stuck out of the window… he can hardly wait to see Lagos. When he is heading for his first holiday: levels don shage: head hidden maliciously far into the vehicle, looking round it suspiciously at everyone on board: all agberos but me, he seems to be saying, with one hand on his crutch and the other clutching onto his phone… im don soji. Who says you can’t leave Lagos? Of course you can, but without a thing you must. The change you are calling is not available at the moment, please try again later… dis Lagos self.
You come to Lagos selfless, a hero and warrior- leave selfish, beast, tyrant. Bros foget dat shine your eye tin, Lagos na for men wey sabi…!
A nameless hybrid of English and Yoruba secretly spoken and understood by all. London- English, Berlin- German, Lome- French…but Lagos- ol’ boy, na you get your mouth. It is because of this multidimensionality, that Lagos’ future cannot even aspire to be [like] Adeola Odeku. Adeola Odeku na F.E.Z, Lagos na hussle, Agidi, simple.
Philosophy: the now exists as a pathway to the future, which itself exists as a pathway to other futures. The futures just keep on coming. The only true discourse of the future will thus be one of how the city works, of what makes the organism work now, and how it will function later. Zoom: Lagos, Marina…. Marina is the heartbeat of Lagos… na becos of dis Marina, people de yarn say dis Lagos na so so skyscraper and bridge. It is here that the pulsating force of Lagos is generated. A large percentage of the money that runs the city and creates its pulse is generated here. Soon, when individuals realize that they too can own cities in the city, the entire Lagos go ‘Marina-up’.
What then is this Marina?
A cluster of Nigerian Towers ( I mean this as an insult… what is a Nigerian tower but plenty of dormant burial places for a few steel bars, stacked over each other, with facades fighting to be like 40 year old European buildings, that are ten times taller than the Tower in question, with total disregard for context, I wonder…) affronting a road, itself filled with multiple layers of shopping and commerce and the agberos’ plying the streets in three piece suits. Few Towers (about 40), plenty of talk, relics of a time when in Lagos the Nigerian architect was king. High buildings, plenty of concrete details, large shrouds over stacks of steel resting places (facades)… darkness and lots of fraud. You can come naked for an interview to the Marina… typical street front chant- Oga com check my own now…’ Everything, everything even body parts at the Marina! Convenience!
The buildings themselves are vehicles of advertisement, supposed to advertise the Marina to us as the peak of Nigerianness. Adverts! In the unbelievable density of the marina, from the window of Floor 6 of the Eleganza Towers, I see houses…shanties- incredible! This is the last straw in the back of Lagos’ future: Organism!
Anyway, we zoom back to 2007… Marina then becomes: windows turned into air conditioning units, failed and broken curtain glass, unglazed concrete frames…. Dirt! Marina brings to the fore the failure of illusionistic facades, and advert culture… the death of today’s Lagos architecture (and indeed its architect), the birth of the urbanitect… the future of Lagos beckons.
The future Lagos will be a convenient multidimensional, multilayered organism of unbelievable density, a clean and legible Marina.

this is the archetypal city of the 21st century… imagine.

jamesgeorgeinedu2 July 25, 2007 at 12:19 pm

the issue of megacities is an oppurtunity for us, the inhabitants of these cities to rethink proffesionalism. the population of the third world city lagos is to grow an unpreceedented 9million in the next few years art the rate of 21 people to the hour. at such a scale of growth,the concepts that define the boundaries of our cities are inadequate. the health and public transport sectors in lagos have collapsed… is there anyone ready to rethink the components of the megacity with me?

jamesgeorgeinedu2 July 28, 2007 at 1:03 pm

the city as we know it will suddenly disappear, like all of the objects within it. a kind of virtual reality will engulf it… a smaller point city will appear… what will be called the city-object… A dwelling forest at the center of the former city. A crucial link between the various extremes of our present lives, merging living, working and leisure in one complex hub. the most profitable cities are those where both information and services can flow quickly from place to place, according to Corbusier, a city built for speed is built for success. all the issues of earning and large divisions between the different groups in our present cities will be solved by the creation of these virtual cities… imagine a life without hold-ups, and smog, one that generates its own energy, and reuses its wastes…this is the future of the city if technology continues as it is today. individual freedom will be ere protected because the possibilities of leaving are vast, and distance between “cities” will be negligible or better still navigable by foot…
ideas needed please…!

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