My latest Globe and Mail column is out.
This week, the mayor of Canada’s biggest city did something
remarkable: He basically declared war on firearms. In response to
several highly publicized shootings, David Miller announced that he
wants Toronto’s City Council to crack down on gun clubs, firing ranges
and businesses that manufacture, assemble and distribute weapons.
“Do we as a society value safety, or do we value a hobby that creates
danger?” he asked. “That hobby directly results in people being shot
and killed on the streets of our city.”
Not surprisingly, Mr. Miller’s bold move has generated a great deal of
controversy. At the same time, it reflects a growing trend in the
world’s major cities.
Just as he is taking the lead in trying to control guns, figures such
as Michael Bloomberg in New York City, Richard Daley in Chicago, Job
Cohen in Amsterdam and Ken Livingstone, the former mayor of London,
have explored new approaches to everything from education, crime and
smoking bans to environment and climate change – even bringing modern
management techniques to government. While there remains more work to
do, their efforts and those of their peers have made their
jurisdictions safer, smarter, greener, more aesthetic, more efficient,
wealthier and more globally competitive.
state and national leaders.
Overall, these mayors, as well as premiers and governors, are proving
themselves to be much more in tune with global trends than are heads of
In today’s world, cities, regions and mega-regions composed of two or
more cities and their suburbs have become key competitive players
alongside global companies and nation states. Canada and the U.S., for
example, are not competing against China and India. Rather, specific
regions in North America are competing with dynamic regions such as
Bangalore and Shanghai.
Two new books –
The Post-American World by Fareed Zakaria and
The Second World by Parag Khanna – argue that the new global economy power will be more dispersed and multipolar.
Mr. Zakaria believes we are experiencing modern history’s third great
power shift, after the rise of the West from the 15th century on, and
the rise of the U.S. in the 19th century. But he argues that this
latest transition is not so much about the decline of America as it is
about “the rise of the rest,” and by that he means much more than
simply China or India. The end result will be a “landscape that is
quite different from the one we have lived in until now – one defined
and directed from many places and by many peoples.” Mr. Khanna
similarly predicts that we are headed toward a “global,
multi-civilizational, multipolar” world with three superpowers: the
U.S., China and the European Union.
Each of the Big Three powers will assert its influence differently, but
the intense demand for energy and resources means that the underlying
goal will be the same. And the main battlefield for this geopolitical
competition, Mr. Khanna argues, is the “second world” – about 40
strategically important “transition” states whose relationships with
the superpowers have the capacity to tip the balance.
Like both of them, I agree that it’s a big mistake to view power in
this new world as a competition confined only to large nations. In
fact, small states will increasingly find themselves with more
influence and more room to manoeuvre. Their competitive position will
be strengthened and they will have the opportunity to act as important
stabilizers in the global system.
They are already doing very well, economically speaking.
According to my Global Creativity Index, Sweden (first), Finland
(third), Switzerland (fifth), Denmark (sixth), Iceland (seventh),
Canada (11th) and Australia (12th) are right up there with the U.S.
(fourth) and Japan (second). Interestingly, Russia, China and India sit
well down the list: 25th, 36th and 41st, respectively.
Canada and Australia are seen as models for open immigration and talent
attraction, Ireland as a prototype for economic revitalization. Denmark
and Sweden show how markets and welfare states can work together and
why high taxes do not necessarily mean low competitiveness.
In my view, these small states, among several others, are the best
places to look for innovative, alternative models of economic
prosperity and social cohesion.
A big reason for the improved competitive stature of smaller nations
stems from the shifting nature of global competition. Today,
competitiveness no longer turns on market size, raw material, control
over natural resources or even business costs, but rather on which
places can best attract and retain innovative and entrepreneurial
Ultimately, it is less in nations and more around these regional
locations that talent wants to be and where it clusters. Global talent
is not migrating to England but to London; entrepreneurs and technical
talent are not going to China and India, but to Beijing, Shanghai and
In this regard, even the most thoughtful commentators remain overly
enthralled with the power of the nation state and miss the rising
importance of the city region.
In fact, the best way to understand the past century of U.S. global
hegemony is through this lens. It’s not the size of America’s market or
its natural resources or its military supremacy that defined its
ascendance and dominance. Rather, it is America’s role as an attractor
of (and haven for) the world’s top talent.
That history includes many great entrepreneurs, from Andrew Carnegie
(born in Scotland) in steel to Andy Grove (Hungary) in semi-conductors,
as well as the influx of scientists (Albert Einstein, Enrico Fermi) and
artists (Marc Chagall, Igor Stravinsky, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe) who
fled Europe in the 1930s and 1940s. In Silicon Valley, a third to a
half of all start-ups have someone born overseas on their founding team.
Yet our system for making global policy shows little sign of
adjusting to this shift, because it remains overwhelmingly organized
around heads of states, foreign affairs ministers and central bankers.
Mr. Zakaria worries that even as U.S. companies pioneer globalization,
and while America remains “the most open, flexible society in the
world,” its government is impeding the country’s ability to adapt.
Regions such as New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago are
well positioned to compete for global talent, but restrictive U.S.
government policies on immigration and homeland security make it harder
for them to do so.
U.S. presidential candidate John McCain says a new “League of
Democracies” – composed of about 40 advanced democratic nations – is
needed to inform global policy-making and bring stability to the world
system. While national leaders have shown themselves to be increasingly
ineffective and out of touch, it is mayors, premiers and governors who
have consistently demonstrated their ability to navigate today’s
wrenching economic and social shifts.
For my money, a League of Cities and Regions – made up of the world’s
largest cities, regions, states and provinces – is more in tune with
what the emerging “post-American” world really needs.