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Are cities the new countries? (bbc.com)
98 points by ximeng on Jan 18, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 99 comments


Countries were relevant back in the days when territory was the most prized thing and war was the best means of acquiring it. Countries evolved as a means of ensuring territorial integrity, via means both explicit (borders enforced by militaries) and implicit (cultural/linguistic homogeneity, leading to xenophobia and other such barriers).

But territories are no longer the most prized thing: economies are. And economies are produced by cities, not countries.[1]

Moreover, the rise of the importance of cities is genuinely a challenge to the institutions of countries, not something that is merely happening in parallel to the ongoing importance of countries. This is because the factors which allow cities to thrive -- internal diversity and external trade -- are almost diametrically opposed to the factors which allow countries to maintain their territorial integrity.

Of these two forms of power, I'm betting on cities.

1: http://www.zompist.com/jacobs.html

The cities run on resources produced by countries. Food, water, minerals, power. Even if power is generated locally, it probably burns fuels acquired from outside the city.

So a strong economy can import everything it needs, and stand on its own. But that also exposes it to risk, as it cannot truly sustain itself in times of trouble. On the other hand, rural communities can be mostly self-sufficient, but when pushed to that extreme, life becomes harder and not quite as interesting.

So the truth of the matter is that it is a symbiotic relationship. I'm not sure I see any practical value in pitting cities vs. countries.

I think you're conflating the concept of "countries" with the concept of "land". Cities do indeed need resources which are produced from the land, but the artefacts of countryhood (national identify, borders, etc.) don't really contribute to this production. In practice, cities are supplied by "city regions", which arise through natural economic and geographic forces, and which do their damnedest to ignore artificial jurisdictional boundaries. Hence the irrelevancy of countries as an institution.

(For more on this line of thinking, see the Jane Jacobs link in the post you replied to).

> Hence the irrelevancy of countries as an institution.

How do you see the evolving boundaries of force monopolies between nations, cities and private entities. Pre-nations, it was complicated, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peace_of_Westphalia

Well, in some ways it was more complicated; in other ways it was much simpler.

Prior to Westphalia, the borders in Europe were predicated on religious affiliation. This made for a very complicated map. So Westphalia established the idea that a nation could be a superset which included both Catholics and Protestants. This makes for a simpler map -- if one is mapping the boundaries of the newly-established idea of nationhood, and then retroactively mapping that concept onto the past.

However imagine drawing a map of the present, but with pre-Westphalian sensibilities. You'd want to know: where are the Catholics living, and where are the Protestants living? That map has gotten a lot more complicated (even before you try to account for all the Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Pagans, etc.), and at this point the question hardly makes sense outside of certain bits of Ireland.

Analogously, force monopolies are primarily of interest (at a national level) where territorial integrity is the primary name of the game. But if economic exchange (both competitive and cooperative) between cities were to become the acknowledged name of the game, then although force monopolies would almost certainly continue to exist, they'd be of as much interest as (say) the boundaries between different police departments.

In other words, I suspect the mapmakers of the future draw on the basis of something other than force-monopoly boundaries. This may look more complicated to our eyes -- but we might also look more complicated to theirs.

[edit: grammar]

Thanks for the thoughtful response.

City-level economic exchange of creativity does interact with force monopolies via industrial espionage, now global thanks to networked computer systems.

Thanks for the good question. :-)

You're right of course, and this isn't going to stop anytime soon. Moreover, even if the world were to evolve towards city-states rather than nation-states, there would still undoubtedly be inter-state treaties governing things like trade / subsidies, copyright / intellectual property, extradition, tax avoidance, etc. These treaties would govern much of what has traditionally been done at a national level, and would render the local force-monopolisers -- whomever they might be -- as simply instruments of a larger system, rather than autonomous actors in their own right.

Indeed, one could argue that this is already the world that we're living in. We still draw maps and run political dog-and-pony shows based on national boundaries, but we're already living in a world of post-national urban economies and international treaties, both of which are only gaining strength these days.

At some point an administration will need to guarantee supply of sustenance for the people in their city. It makes sense to me for a city to therefore still desire territory it controls, for agriculture.

You don't have to control agricultural land. You just need to trade for food, which is beneficial to both farmers and city residents. Many cities do not control the lands that produce their food. In fact, many cities may not even be in the same province or even nation as the source of their food.

For instance, Washington, D.C. produces no food of its own (excluding neighborhood gardens) as the District contains no farmland within its borders. The Potomac is polluted, meaning fishing is not a viable source of food either. Virginia and Maryland have farmland, though the counties and cities in either of these states in the DC metro area either do not have farmland or have very little farmland.

All of these counties and cities get their food via truck, train, ship or some combination thereof. Modern transportation has made it so we no longer have to have farmland nearby to avoid spoiled food.

Cities also consume a lot of energy which primarily produced from oil, coal and nuclear power that is extracted and transformed outside of cities.

Even if a city would only consume wind and solar, it's quite likely that the majority of solar panels and wind turbines would be installed outside of the cities themselves.

And even if a city did produce its own power, where are the materials for all those panels and turbines coming from? Where is the sand coming from to melt into glass?

This is not new. History is full of powerful city states that were stable during centuries thanks to their trading networks. Venice is a very good example. There are many more examples.

Betting on cities is betting on continued decline of nations.

Writing off the nation in exchange for the bright lights of the city is also a dangerous bet, because cities are very fragile.

Nobody ever gave shit about territory itself. Just that economic power used to come mostly from arable land.

War has not gone away. We just happen to live an age of global hegemony, so it seems distant right now.

All you folks in the city will learn your lesson pretty quick once the food stops flowing in. Don't get too uppity!

Your assumption that "city folks don't know how to farm" is fairly far-fetched.

In the US, less than 2% of the population works on farms. That's roughly 6 million people at a full 2%, less than the population of NYC alone.

Should farmers decide to not ship out food for some reason, it would be easy for cities to keep them in line if they are facing an existential crisis.

No, it would be impossible to get farmers to farm if they decide not to. And equally unlikely that city folks could do the job, cold. It'd be mass starvation and revolution.

If farmers don't grow, they might not get to live either. They don't get medicine, farming equipment, fertilizer, gasoline, electricity, cell phones, the Internet, clothes, or anything else they've come to depend on. A lot of farming is automated, using GPS and other systems to drive tractors with extreme accuracy. Without gasoline alone it would be impossible for many farmers to find the labor to grow what they do. Farming is a lot more high tech than you might think.

In short, farmers are just as dependent on cities as cities are on them. They trade not out of the goodness of their hearts but for selfish reasons. Even farmers themselves must trade, as not all farmers grow food, and not all farmers that grow food can live on just what they grow. A cotton farmer in Alabama is going to have just as hard a time eating as a banker on Wall Street.

...thus my observation that cities are not the center of the universe - they depend on the whole ecosystem just like everybody else.

And, here's a secret, every farmer has land and can have a garden. They will eat no matter what. Sure they need that oil and gps, to produce enough food for 10,000 people. But they just need their hands to feed themselves. So no, they aren't going to starve, or even suffer very much.

A farmer who decides not to grow food for the city isn't going to be around long enough to tend his garden. It's not just the city's population that outnumbers the farmer 49 to 1, the city also has all of the resources and power needed to force the farmer to farm and trade, by threat of violence if needed.

I wouldn't envy the farmer; being in a position where a potentially violent and desperate brute depends on you is not stable in the long run. You might start out feeling that you've got the power, or that you're at least on equal terms, but that only lasts as long as you can keep the brute content.

The Soviet Union forced farmers into collectives, and it was a disaster and was ultimately abandoned. Oppression of rural populations by urban centers can be extremely costly.

Not saying urbans can't impose their will on the countryside. But the resistance would be fierce.

Preposterous notion. The farmer can sabotage that in so many way, undetectable until the crop doesn't come in months later. And if farmers are being held at gunpoint, society has broken down to a degree where cities are unsupportable.

> ...thus my observation that cities are not the center of the universe - they depend on the whole ecosystem just like everybody else.

It goes both ways: cities depend on farms and farms depend on cities. Neither can sustain its way of life without the other.

>And, here's a secret, every farmer has land and can have a garden. They will eat no matter what.

Here's a secret: not every farmer owns land. There are about 6 million farm workers in the US and about 3 million owners of farmland.

About half of farms are owner-operated and about half have a landlord renting out the land to a farmer or farmers.

The landlords actually have fairly concentrated holdings, with roughly 8% of the landlords holding half of the rented out land, or about 25% of the total amount of farmland.

In a situation in which farmers refuse to grow food, these landlords would lose their rents and have a very strong incentive to A) kick off the farmers who refuse to grow and B) get someone to grow food since the prices of foods would have gone through the roof.

These farmers will starve.

> Sure they need that oil and gps, to produce enough food for 10,000 people. But they just need their hands to feed themselves. So no, they aren't going to starve, or even suffer very much.

They need oil and gas for things beyond food for themselves. Heating and cooking, for instance, require a good bit of firewood. In colder climates it can take many acres to keep warm. Even in the Southern United States it can get cold enough to kill during the winter.

Many wells are deep enough that they require pumps to get water out. Guess what powers them? Electricity. Since lots of farmers own land in places that couldn't be grown on without irrigation, such as the desert, things are going to start sucking really quick.

Electricity also powers refrigerators and freezers, which enable food to keep for much longer periods of time and reduce the risk of foodborne illness. Without trade, are these farmers going to have access to salt to cure meats? Are they going to know how to properly store food without any refrigeration? They certainly won't have the ice cutting industry of the 1800s.

Gas also provides the transportation to get medicine, clothes, blankets, seeds, tools, pesticides, and fertilizer. Without cities, farmers would also not have accurate weather forecasting, something that is quite important for them.

TL;DR I think you vastly underestimate the difficulties of subsistence farming without modern technology or the benefits of trade between cities and farms

Source for statistics: https://www.census.gov/prod/1/statbrief/sb93_10.pdf

So, define 'farmer' any way you like. I define it as, someone who knows how to farm. These people have power. They can refuse to perform their skill. Somebody else will have a terrible time coming up to speed in time to save civilization.

Folks who live in the country can garden. A garden can feed you. It takes no electricity and no gas to grow a garden. My Amish neighbors do it every year.

Cured meats is an irrelevant point. Grow beans.

Grains and vegetables can be canned and dried (are canned and dried by my neighbors every year). No electricity needed.

I think you vastly overestimate the difficulties of gardening (not farming) out here. We do it every year here in Iowa. Without all the support you imagine we need.

But of all those that are requirements (not internet, etc.), are medium-term requirements at best, and farmers are probably in a better position to adapt to losing them than a city population is to losing its food. For instance: people only need medicine if they're sick and farms can grow crops without fertilizer, gasoline, and electricity (just not enough to feed billions).

There was an episode of the ted radio hour recently[1] about this very topic, it seems to be gaining a lot of traction.

A lot of it makes sense, one of the big points is that democracy at a state level is broken, but it is still efficient at a city level.

1 http://www.npr.org/programs/ted-radio-hour/462178064/buildin...

But since we're abstracting away from soil, cities are only the sum of people, structures and laws. It's all position independent.

Not in the slightest: cities are almost entirely about position. The whole point of a city is to provide easy and rapid access to a maximum diversity of goods, services, buyers, suppliers, needs, and ideas. If you took the people and laws and buildings of London or San Francisco and spread them homogeneously across the great plains, then this accessibility would be tremendously diminished and economic productivity would drop accordingly.

When I submitted the (exact) same article last night I thought about how this topic was covered in a book I read titled, Superclass: The Global Power Elite and the World They Are Making. Part of the premise was that people in some of the large (and prosperous) cities of the world have more in common with each other than they might with the many of the people of their own country.

Due to the mobility offered by airlines, the concentration of successful people going to relatively few universities, and the global reach of their companies, many New Yorkers might know more people living in London than they knew living in the majority of U.S. states.


Personally I have always felt that people who live in large cities have a much easier time navigating foreign large cities (even if they don't speak the language) than people from smaller towns in the same country. Using a subway for instance.

You may also like:

"Dead Souls: The Denationalization of the American Elite"


"Debates over national identity are a pervasive characteristic of our time. In part, they raise rhetorical questions, but they also have profound implications for American society and American policy at home and abroad. Different perceptions--especially between the citizenry and the more cosmopolitan elites--of what constitutes national identity generate different national interests and policy priorities.

The views of the general public on issues of national identity differ significantly from those of many elites. The public, overall, is concerned with physical security but also with societal security, which involves the sustainability--within acceptable conditions for evolution--of existing patterns of language, culture, association, religion and national identity. For many elites, these concerns are secondary to participating in the global economy, supporting international trade and migration, strengthening international institutions, promoting American values abroad, and encouraging minority identities and cultures at home. The central distinction between the public and elites is not isolationism versus internationalism, but nationalism versus cosmopolitanism."

That's a great example of the endgame of income inequality will transform the world.

I find it sad, as that is the cynical world my children will inherit.

Honest question: Did you believe this before you had children, or did you realize it afterwards?

More afterwards. For me, getting acquainted with schools again has made academic discussion more real.

Also, watching the changes in industries I interact with at work over the last decade has been eye opening.

Cities grow by drawing in people from around them. They can exist only thanks to the unproductive rural regions.

If we separate cities from their region - it just means the money generated in cities won't be used (among other things) for fixing problems in the countryside. It's just hiding the externalities.

Also from history I know of at least 3 unifications of small states and it was beneficial in all cases (at least for the people involved) - see Polish, German, and Italian unification. Why do we think it's different now?

The article isn't about rural versus urban. But even so, a question: why does the countryside have to be unproductive for people to leave? From what I've seen it's more often that it's productive, but too efficient. The people aren't needed for working the land. Or, fewer people are needed to work larger plots of land.

I meant it's by its nature less productive per square meter than cities.

Modern country could manage with <5% of population working the land, but I don't think we have any countries where 95% live in cities. And I don't think it's obviously good idea to force them to migrate (by putting a border between them and their jobs).

I don't think we have any countries where 95% live in cities.

Suprisingly we do, and not just microstates. Belgium is listed at 97.5%: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urbanization_by_country

If you set the threshold at 90% instead of 95%, that includes much of South America: Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Venezuela.

It doesn't seem to bother anyone that folks in poor rural countries with no functional cities are separated from their potential jobs by a border. Why would we care more about rural New York State'ers being excluded from NYC than we would about Haitians being excluded from Davenport, Iowa? The latter exclusion has a much higher humanitarian cost, and most of the justifications for strong national borders can be used in a hypothetical world where the NYC metro area was sovereign, just like they are already used for city-states like Singapore and Monaco.

I'm exactly as worried about haitans as about new yorkers. Not much, because I don't know them :) But yes you should fix the situation with haitans. It doesn't make sense.

I just think introducing new borders is painful (I can speak from my family experience with new borders - I live in Poland), and dismantling borders is great (personal experience with EU).

The point is that it's not the XIX century anymore. Telecommunications and airplanes allow people to literally bypass the countryside and hop from city to city. Cheap transportation costs mean that markets are distributed and not as heavily reliant on local expansion as they were. Before, if an industrial business wanted to expand, doing it locally was the easiest and cheapest option; that's not true anymore, and in fact it's often counter-productive for some types of businesses (ones that can get critical mass online but not necessarily in their own country).

The only real barrier left, IMHO, is linguistic. English works in most cases but not all, and especially in some European regions there is still a heavy preference for localized languages.

Better communication is a point against the urbanization if anything? Why cram millions of people, endure traffic jams and pay outrageous rent when you can telecommute?

A lot of people actually enjoy meeting in meatspace.

Telecommunications and airplanes allow people to literally bypass the countryside and hop from city to city. Telecommunications were supposed to let us bypass the city, so that we could live in the countryside.

I wish we can have real city states as I think they have a lot of advantages over large-central states. Easier accountability of the governments, easier mobility and probably less trade restrictions.

Funny. I sometimes wish we had a global "state" with general rights to move freely, vote on global issues etc. Then people could organize in tiny city states or whatever within the global state.

(now when we are talking fantasies)

A state exists primarily to defend its polity against other states. It takes a lot of resources to maintain a military, accomplish geopolitical objectives, pursue a coherent foreign policy.

Let's say we found aliens living in the next solar system. That would be the beginning of the global human state. Even if they're not hostile, humanity as a whole world need to band together to figure out just what to do about them.

What you're looking for is pan-national governmental institutions. There are plenty of those.

Isn't that an oxymoron - multiple pan-national states? You're only supposed to need one.

Anyway, I predict when other people are discovered in another solar system, then each nation on Earth will attempt to have a relationship with them and it will be business as usual. Why would America or China agree on the best policy vs interstellar trade? They agree on so little else!

That's why I said it would be the beginning of the new state. It wouldn't happen overnight. But it's bound to happen.

The fundamental axiom of geopolitics is that when confronted with a threat, humans consistently identify with the people they are closest to and most like. Family first, then tribe, village, region, country.

The size of the threat begets a corresponding organizational response. We don't cooperate all that well with China now, but you can better believe that if there were a compelling reason to, like, say, aliens in our back yard, we'd figure it out in a hurry.

That's in some ways how the EU is working out, although the global state is smaller and the city states are more like regions. The EU provides a single market, a customs area, freedom of movement and to some degree a currency. Most of the former Communist states are a lot smaller than 19th century imperatives would have dictated. In the EU and EU accession countries, there's Poland (40m), Romania (20m), and then all other countries are 11 million and below. And in Western Europe the independence movements are about spin-offs of similar populations. Scotland is 5 million, Catalonia is about 7.5 million (5 million in Barcelona), Brittany is about 4.5 million, the Italian city states a bit smaller. That's the way things are going.

What evidence do we have that any of those things would occur? The pre-modern city states really did not have better accountability or less trade restrictions, as far as I know they were characterized by kings and tariffs, and were at war almost all the time.

I'm not saying it would be a particularly good system to copy, but the old Swiss confederacy is probably the prime example of self governed city states bound only in an alliance, i.e not through a monarchy. What came out of it (after some Republicanism was forcefully infuced by Napoleon) is something most Swiss are very fond of - a federal Republic with a very modest central government and checks and balances on steroids (via direct democratic participation that can overrule anything the elected leaders can come up with). Governance as local as possible makes sense for many things - not all though.

Effectively Switzerland is pretty much a one-dimensional (only 30 to 70 km in width) multi or triple center city-(cluster) state due to it's economically usable geography wedged in between the Jura and alpine Mountain ranges. This 300 km long plateau only covers about 30% of the Swiss total land area.

Geneva plus Lac Léman region (Lausanne, Montreux) on the one end. Seperated by the "Röstigraben" from the German part of the Swiss Plateau, which itself is culturally divided by the Brünig-Napf-Reuss line[2].

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swiss_Plateau [1]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Br%C3%BCnig-Napf-Reuss_line [2]

Agreed, up to one point: I'd argue that looking at it as a triple city cluster is too much of a simplification - these centers are simply not large enough to render the others insignificant. I.e. the Berne, Lugano, St. Gallen and Lucerne urban und cultural areas aren't totally insignificant compared to Zurich, Geneva/Lausanne or Basel. Switzerland is simply too multifaceted to reduce it like that.

Fair point, forgot about those sensible Swiss.

Well, if you look at the Old Confederacy, you were only really wrong in one account: the assumption that it needs to be a monarchy. These fellas were rather fond of going into battle, it's just that all out war has somehow been avoided since the mid 17th century.

When you think that the New York Metropolitan Area has a bigger GDP than Russia, what you are suggesting (real city states) starts to actually make sense.

Where are you seeing this? I got California > Russia > New York State: http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=new+york+gdp%2C+califor...

New York Metropolitan Area GDP (or GMP) in 2015: $1,573.8 billion http://www.statista.com/statistics/183808/gmp-of-the-20-bigg...

Russia GDP in 2015: $1,235.858 billion


Depending on how you define it, the NY metro area extends into NJ, CT, and PA. I still don't think it surpasses Russia, but it does surpass the vast majority of countries, including Spain: http://www.usmayors.org/metroeconomies/2013/201311-report.pd...

Metro area includes parts of NJ, PA and CT but not all of NY state.

WolframAlpha is using data from 2014. Given that Russia's economy nearly halved in 2015 that makes the original statement probably true by now.

Go cheap oil!

Why so?

Don't you think that an economy greater than Russia deserves to govern itself, or at least have much greater autonomy?

Or that perhaps the key to New York's success is dependent upon the existing government framework?

I doubt that. Singapore, Monaco and Luxembourg are doing just fine without the blessing of a big state.

I'm not so sure these are very good examples. Monaco is effectively a tiny gated community of France for the super rich that produces little-to-no goods or services. Luxembourg is heavily dependent on support and the existance of the EU (receiving approximately €3,000 per person, the highest in the entire EU). Singapore is probably the best example of a city-state succeeding outside the framework of a larger state, but the size of their public debt is a little frightening for such a small country - and would be slightly less so if it was within a larger body.

There are also Andorra, Lichtenstein and probably Macao and Hong Kong (They could be just fine without England and China).

Monaco and Luxembourg both are inside the EU and exist very much as a result of cooperation with France (and the Treaty of Utrecht). They both have ceremonial militaries only, and subsist by facilitating tax avoidance for the nearby elites.

Wouldn't that argument work in reverse too? How much autonomy does Vermont (lowest gdp) need anyway?

Interesting. My group of friends seem to routinely come back to the topic of the UK becoming a federation of city-states.

Seems we're not the only ones thinking that way.

Most libertarians/classical liberals believe in that concept. It used to be like that in the middle ages, especially in Germany and Italy.

Look for instance these two articles: http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB100014240527023039195045775226... https://mises.org/library/politics-johann-wolfgang-goethe

Perhaps not a federation of city states, but I would definitely be in favour of a federation of England/Scotland/Wales/NI/Dependencies - perhaps even with London as a separate federal part

Arguably the UK already has a pretty "federal" structure - just that the whole thing is dominated, naturally enough by England and London.

Any attempt to balance things out would require devolving powers to the English regions, which nobody seems to want.

pretty "federal" structure

Absolutely not, the separation of powers is both unclear and inconsistent among the devolved nations. It's also not really constitutionally guaranteed. The devolved assemblies have very limited powers over taxation and welfare spending.

Apologies - I guess I should have checked my understanding of "federal" before making such a comment!

I loved this description of the UK:

"an archipelagic supergroup comprised of four variously willing members."

mentioned in this article:


That's a suitably euphemistic way of putting it :)

The thirty or so years of recent low-level civil war in Northern Ireland are not mentioned there, or indeed anywhere in mainstream UK politics.

The 19th century Empire was run centrally from Whitehall. Gradually it rolled back in the 20th century: Ireland, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Israel, various Arab middle eastern countries, and so on. This has left the country with an imperial-derived system suited for paternalistically ruling people it considers inferior from a distance. It's just that the distance has scoped down. People within the UK and even within England are starting to regard it as distant and uninterested, especially in the recent floods this year and the last. It's on a much smaller scale than the Katrina disaster but I think the resentment is starting to build in a similar way.

Small-government conservativism in the UK means considering abandoning Liverpool as it's too far away.

See also the promise of greater powers for Scotland before the 2014 Independance Referendum, a promise which was later reneged on.

Westminster still very much holds the leash, and reserve the right to yank it at their leisure.

Certainly, that alone would be a move in the right direction.

> London as a separate federal part

Not the first time I've heard the suggestion of ejecting London from the Union :)

My first real introduction to UK politics was listening to an only mildly tipsy ex-London mayor rant about how if he could, he'd gladly "pay the rest of the UK £10 billion to go fuck itself, and get us towed out into the mid-Atlantic and declared an independent city state."

This impressed me on several levels. :-)

Boris Johnson then?


Was it a Mayor or a Lord Mayor?

An ex-mayor, and not a Lord Mayor. Really small search space here. :-)

Indeed - London is a hugely different economy. But it relies on people commuting in across a huge area. Where all those salaries were counted would make a huge difference to how the system worked.

To make it work properly would probably require a different currency, so London£ could free-float to the sky like the Swiss Franc while the rest of the UK had a weaker £ more suited to export-driven economy. A large chunk of the economy would be exporting power and water to Londonistan.

London would become even more like Singapore or Dubai than it already is: skyscrapers for the mega-rich surrounded by immigrant guestworkers.

I always view London as a 'world capital' that just happens to reside in England.

Country is essentially a political tool. Historically borders have been drawn so that tax collection and defense is easy. There is no reason to assume anything else for the future.

With rising costs of defense tech and automation allowing small crews, defense is about money. Tax money to be specific.

Bitcoin is making money transactions difficult to follow. International banking and tax havens are also a thing. Either we are going to see private armies and private countries, or countries shift taxation away from income and transactions. And start to tax something more traceable.

Location is prized and traceable. Water, electricity, internet bandwidth, everything that moves through fixed cable is also good candidate. Then comes traffic. If we rely on liquid fuels, road traffic could be taxed without tracing. But planes and ships are probably going to see some tax entering/exiting a port.

The article seems to be right for the wrong reasons. Country formation is usually very Machiavellian business.

The problem is that cities are very dependent on the land around them: Water, Food, natural Resources.

> "When we talk about countries, it's often about what separates us, language and culture. But when you talk about cities, we face very similar challenges."

Yeah, and big consumer companies (FMCG and the like) have already noticed that for a while and approach regional markets with high density populations the same way - they are are indeed many more shared needs than differences. Once you go out of the metropolitan areas, however, you see way more differences driven by local cultures.

Maybe they have a lot in common with other big cities, but I'm not sure it's accounting for more than other factors.

Anecdotal example: When talking to people from other countries (but same professional background and income bracket, tech conferences for me specifically) the differences are often very visible and also major than talking to someone from the countryside. Sure, there's always stuff that's different (and the ribbing under friends and colleagues of "quality of life/size of your house" versus "only 30mins to work instad of 60+/small apartment" never gets old - at least here in Germany)

So yes - for exactly the topics mentioned: transportation, housing, etc it's absolutely true - but not necessarily for most aspects of life.

There already was a page in the world history when struggle between cities was more important than power play between countries. Genova vs Venice was way more important for Europe and the Midfle East than London vs Paris in its time.

There was a portion of a recent TED Radio Hour which referenced this:


Someone should draw a map of the U.S. if city-states were to rise to power.

I made an attempt at something like this a while ago! http://spacesurrounding.blogspot.com/2013/10/rise-of-city-st...

Interesting, but linking Seattle, Boise, and the Tri-cities into one mega-region seems to decrease the seriousness of the concept to me.

Anyone else think of franchises when they read this title?

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