THE BLOG
10/21/2013 02:13 am ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

Is the Nation-State Really Dying?

After the last few weeks, Americans have lost patience with our Federal government and in fact, thoughtful observers like Benjamin Barber, author of If Mayors Ruled The World, has written, "The nation-state is failing us on the global scale."

But the Nation-State isn't going away. Not any time soon. That isn't to say that the role of the nation-state isn't changing. It is.

As early as 1995 Kenichi Ohmae, author of The End Of The Nation State, predicted the rise and rebirth of region-states, or city-states like Singapore with a population of less than 5 million people.

Recently, Parag Khanna, of the New York Times reported that the U.S. National Intelligence Council Report forecast the long-term implications of global trends, and observed that "where growth and innovation have been most successful, a hybrid public-private, domestic-foreign nexus lies beneath the miracle. These aren't states; they're "para-states" -- or, in one common parlance, "special economic zones."

It's no surprise that tiny Singapore, over 30 years ago, saw that the "next great leap" in the world economy, as former prime minister Lee Kwan Yew once predicted, depended in part on the computerization of life and work and built its own information super-highway. In turn, they developed the first national policy to become an "intelligent island," a new strategy designed to put Singapore ahead of the pack of nations struggling to reinvent itself for the Internet economy.

The lesson for cities around the world is that they must act now to build the city of the future...not wait for Washington, D.C. or Tokyo or Berlin or any of the national capitals to show them the way. In the new global economy, metropolitan regions--region-states--are the new centers of commerce.

Now more than ever, cities and counties within regions must work together to do joint governmental planning and development, and provide not only police, fire and safety services but other land use, transportation and telecommunications systems as well.

Most people already live in one jurisdiction, work in other, and play or dine in a third. They have no idea that the cost to them is enormous because of the duplication and waste of often so many cities in the region. Moreover, they do not realize that the new creative economy demands consolidation to save money, and to reposition itself in the new global economy.

It is cheaper, sure, but the real reasons are to stimulate economic prosperity. As syndicated columnist Neil Peirce has pointed out, these new "city-states" as he calls them, "have a shared identification, function as a single zone for trade commerce and communication."
Take broadband, or high speed Internet service, for example.

It's as important as waterways, railways and highways were in an earlier era and whether in cooperation with the existing provider or separately, the region needs to take the lead in providing the information infrastructures... It is something every man and woman and child depends on to succeed in the new economy.

The cities within a region, the county, federal and state government agencies in the area, and for that matter all schools and hospitals, and non-profit agencies can build the new information infrastructures needed and deploy them to offer vital public services.

The new global knowledge economy, not to mention our current fiscal crisis, demands that government rethink how to organize itself to be most competitive. That might mean cutting out a city council or two or other top administrative posts in the name of efficiency. At minimum, it means cities within a region (including the counties) ought to be jointly pursuing opportunities to operate services together.

According to Bruce Katz, a founding director of the Metropolitan Economy Initiative at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., and recent author of The Metropolitan Revolution: How Cities and Metros Are Fixing Our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy,"There is a fundamental disconnect between how we live and work in large portions all over America and how we govern...The mismatch between governments and the economy undermines the competitiveness of places by raising the costs of doing business, exacerbating strong development trends, squandering urban assets and deepening racial and class separation."

The Obama Administration hopes to reverse decades of neglect of our cities by stimulating economic prosperity in "metropolitan regions" where, according to Brookings, the top 100 metropolitan areas covers about two thirds of the nation's population and an even larger share of the nation's gross domestic product.

It is these regional--metropolitan--economies that foster quality places, vibrant downtowns, attractive town centers and historic, older suburbs that feed the development and acquisition of human capital, financial capital and contribute to resource efficient, sustainable growth.