Cities vs. States

What happens in our cities, simply put, matters more than what happens anywhere else.

-Parag Khanna

 In a provocative Foreign Policy article, Beyond City Limits, Parag Khanna examines the future influence cities will have on our world. As Khanna points out, today "100 cities account for 30 percent of the world's economy, and almost all of its innovation." Tomorrow, there will not only be more cities, but a significant number of megacities, each of which will assert a powerful gravitational force economically, politically, and culturally. Khanna lays out the trajectory of city growth quite well, but his article doesn't live up to its promise.

Subtitled, The age of nations is over. The new urban age has begun., one would expect an explanation or, at least, speculation as to the manner in which cities will decouple from states. State economies have always been dominated by their urban centers. Simply pointing out that cities are growing bigger and continuing to innovate is hardly a proof that state systems need to worry. The strongest example of an imbalance between the state and city interests given by Khanna is China, where "cities have now begun to bypass Beijing as they send delegates en masse to conferences and fairs where they can attract foreign investment." This may indeed challenge Beijing's particular love of centralized control. However, the government delegates of capitalist societies have been similarly outnumbered even prior to calling themselves capitalist and yet they persist.

Khanna has penned an interesting primer on the primacy of the modern city. I fully agree that cities pose a challenge to states and, if we are lucky, could lay the foundations for a worthy successor. Still, I don't find any explanation of how cities would move beyond the limits states impose upon them. I would have welcomed his input.