“If Mayors Ruled the World” (Ep. 162)
Our latest Freakonomics Radio episode is called “’If Mayors Ruled the World.’” (You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript, which includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)
The episode expands on an idea from political theorist Benjamin Barber, whose latest book is called If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities. Barber argues that cities are paragons of good governance – compared at least to nation-states – and that is largely due to their mayors. Mayors, Barber argues, are can-do people who inevitably cut through the inertia and partisanship that can plague state and federal governments. To that end, Barber would like to see a global “Parliament of Mayors,” to help solve the kind of big, borderless problems that national leaders aren’t so good at solving.
In the podcast, you’ll hear Stephen Dubner interview Barber. You’ll also hear from mayors all over the U.S., including Eric Garcetti (Los Angeles), Toni Harp (New Haven), Richard Berry (Albuquerque), and Marty Walsh (Boston). Walsh gives us a concrete example (pun intended) of how being mayor is very different from being a state legislator:
WALSH: As legislator we process things, we work forward to an ultimate goal, but by the time we get to a final vote it’s quite a bit [of a slow process]. … As a mayor, we can make an impact immediately. You know one small thing, I was driving down the street and there was a big pothole in the street down on Park Street. I made a phone call and five minutes later it was filled.
That is ultimate power, isn’t it? Mayors do get stuff done! Dubner also talks to Ed Glaeser, the economist and author of Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier. Glaeser doesn’t love the idea of convening a parliament of mayors:
GLAESER: I support the idea of communication across cities, so I think sharing ideas certainly is a good idea. A parliament is by definition essentially a legislative branch. I think the beauty of mayors is that they’re deeply executive. So I’m not particularly eager to transform these wonderfully focused executives into parliamentarians.
Dubner also talks to Chris Smith, who writes about politics for New York Magazine. Smith tells us that the power of New York City’s mayor is vastly under-appreciated and underestimated:
SMITH: Short of declaring war, New York City’s mayor has a greater direct influence on more lives, I would say, than even a president.
- Building Grand Central Terminal
- Presiding over the opening of the subway
- Taking a joyride on that inaugural subway trip
- Licensing the first taxicab
- Building 19 new fire houses, 110 school buildings, and 35 miles of new wharfage
- Securing 277 acres of park space
- Finishing construction of the New York Public Library
- Opening the Queensboro and Manhattan bridges
- Installing the world’s first high-pressure water service to fight fires
Yes, many of these projects were initiated by his predecessors — but still, what a closer! Hats off to you, Mr. Mayor.