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Is the nation-state out of step with the world?

The nation-state strives to control climate challenges, international crime and epidemics, while cities have more political power than ever. Cities act where national authorities only talk.


To imagine a world without nation states is difficult. The understanding of who we are, our loyalty, our rights and obligations are bound up in it. It is quite striking, since the nation-state is not very old. Until the middle of it 19. For centuries, the world consisted of some empires, of vast lands that no great powers claimed, as well as some city states and principals. Industrialization, the struggle for international markets and the emergence of centralized bureaucracies created "national interests". The French and American Revolution also contributed their ideas. New means of communication created common cultures, identities and languages. Imperialist expansion later spread the nation-state model globally. Today, 193 countries are members of the United Nations. While 211 is a member of the International Football Federation.

Why change? Karl Marx pointed out that if you change the dominant mode of production that is the basis of any society, then social and political structures will change. So the question becomes: Is the nation-state today with its borders, centralized authorities and sovereignty out of step with the world?

The attacks against the nation state are not new. Twenty years ago, an exciting new internet announced a future that was free, without borders and identity. At the same time, it seemed impossible for the state to control climate challenges, international crime and epidemics. Future researchers warned that power would end in supranational forums such as the EU and the UN or in cities and regions. The "end of state" theory died of itself around the turn of the millennium. Now it is back and may prove to be correct.

All trends that hamper the development of the nation state strengthen the city.

When the nation state was declared dead in 1995, only tens of millions of people in the world were "online". By 2020, there will be more than 4 billion. Digital technology does not like the nation state. John Perry Barlows Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace (1996) put it this way: the Internet is a technology based on libertarian principles. They emphasize the freedom to act and speak, without censorship, boundless and decentralized – and present almost everywhere. The challenge for the nation state is that it is based on control. Without control of information, crime, financial transactions, borders or money supply, it stops delivering what residents expect.

Who can replace the nation state? Cities seem to be the strongest competitor. There are already cities with the same independent, sovereign authority as states: Monaco and Singapore. The city state was recently welcomed by Forbes magazine ("A New Era for the City-State", 2010), Quartz ("Nations Are No Longer Driving Globalization – Cities Are", 2013), The Boston Globe ("The City State Returns", 2015), and the Gates Foundation project "How we can get to the next?" (The Rebirth of the City-State.

All trends that hamper the development of the nation state strengthen the city. In an interconnected world with almost no boundaries, they are the centers of trade, growth, innovation, technology and finance. According to Bruce Katz at the Brookings Institute, Washington DC and author (with Jeremy Nowak) of the book The New Localism: How Cities Can Thrive in the Age of Populism, the "axis" function of the big cities is important. In our modern economy, innovation happens through collaboration and it requires closeness. Dense urban ecosystems are needed, and hyper- "connectivity" enhances concentration. In general, cities also benefit from demographic growth. For the first time in history (2014), the majority of the world's population lives in cities.

Cities = more political power. This gives cities more political power than ever before. And they are getting more and more eager to use it. Cities are pressing on issues such as climate change and migration. Challenges faced by the national states in general. The world is already in arrears compared to the Paris goals. Since 2006, the C40 initiative has brought together more than 60 cities to foster collaboration and technology development aimed at reducing CO2 emissions. In the United States, where Donald Trump has withdrawn federal authorities from working on the Paris Declaration, the big cities are over-fulfilling the country's climate obligations. They are also strong opponents of narrower immigration laws, depending on their highly educated, foreign labor. App technologies like Uber and Deliveroo have created a sudden growth in the so-called "gig" economy – based on short-term – and not fixed contracts. The development is estimated to cost the British government £ 2020 billion before 21/3,5. Millions of people are already using "bitcoin" and "blockchain" technologies to turn the money supply control away from central banks and governments. The processes create new identities and values ​​that are not national. More and more people primarily see themselves as "global citizens".

According to Bruce Katz, the world is now moving "beyond" the nation-state. This has to be re-imagined because we are in a "middle to middle" state where cities are not independent of their nation states, but also not inferior. He writes: “Cities are not inferior to the nation-states; they constitute powerful networks of institutions and actors that drive economic development. Power in the 21st century belongs to those who solve problems. National authorities talk most of the time. Cities act. Power is increasingly coming from the cities and up. It is not delivered from the nation state and down. ” In the emerging world system, urban and rural development is complementary. Growth in cities creates growth in the countryside and vice versa. Urban migrants' remittances to rural areas are invested in more efficient production, which in turn contributes to new relocation. Through closer interaction and cohesion, the countryside is included in the way urban urban regions ensure mutual economic growth.

Some want to build new cities floating in international waters.

New cities are needed. But the nation-state does not voluntarily relinquish power, tax revenues and resources. Separating new forms of sovereign power from an established state is not easy. That is why it is exciting to create completely new city statuses, says Paul Romer, former chief economist at the World Bank. He has long advocated creating "cities with charters". That is, special, administrative urban zones that largely operate independently. Cities that work are the right size, he claims. A city with its own charter, built on uninhabited land, will provide the opportunity to experiment with innovative rules and systems that attract investment and people. Rome's ideas are based on the cooperation that China and the United Kingdom have on Hong Kong. Especially economic export zones, which have been around for several decades, are another example. They are geographical areas that are physically secured by the host country but work with other sets of financial laws, taxation and labor regulations. Purpose: to encourage foreign investment.

"Seasteads" and "Liberland". Building new cities on new land is also necessary due to. climate deterioration and rising oceans. Especially the big cities in Asia are at risk. Some want to build new cities floating in international waters – "seasteads" – so they cannot be reached by states and their military. Others are looking for enclaves in the borderland between states, such as Croatia and Serbia, where a "Liberland" is being established. 100 people have signed up as citizens willing to immigrate if Croatia does not allow them. A constitution, a currency, a president and a national team in football are already in place. "It's a tax haven, not a tax haven and a paradise of freedom," according to founder Vit Jedlica. Digital technology will enable such "free ports" for the economic elites of the world.

Mohsen Mostafavi, principal of the Harvard Graduate School of Design, summarized the history of the city with the following analogy from the breakfast table. First came the hard-boiled egg – the ancient and medieval cities – surrounded and protected by walls. Then came the fried egg – the cities of the 1800s and 1900s without protective walls and a center surrounded by expanding surrounding areas with housing and industry. Finally, the modern city grew. Mostafavi portrayed it as a scrambled egg: a delicate root, yet a root that spreads beyond full of possibilities, technology and confusion. Is that where we are?

The article builds on an essay by Jamie Bartlett,
director at the think tank DEMOS, London.

Eric Berg
Erik Berg
Erik Berg worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs / NORAD from 1978 to 2013. He now heads Habitat Norway.

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