Brexit, Global Cities, and the Future of World Order

“By now it is a familiar map of the United Kingdom – the one showing the geographic distribution
of the June 2016 vote to “Leave” or to “Remain” in the European Union. Along with the majority in
Scotland and a few mid-sized English cities, Londoners voted in large numbers to continue the UK’s
membership in the EU. Twenty-nine of the city’s thirty-three boroughs voted to “Remain.” All told,
roughly 60% of the total London vote favored staying in the EU. Notwithstanding the votes of its most
populous and urbanized areas, the UK, as a whole, voted narrowly to leave.

This relationship between London, one of the world’s quintessential global cities, and the less
densely populated, less wealthy parts of the UK, is one key to understanding Brexit. More broadly, the
emergence and role of global cities, and specifically the fortunes of those cities and the misfortunes of
their hinterlands, are an important lens for understanding both the post-Brexit landscape and the future
of world order.

Whether or not Brexit foreshadows an even more dramatic turn in global political economy, it
does suggest what some have described as “the new political divide,” the growing gap between those
who favor open societies and those who favor closed societies (The New Political Divide, 2016). The
emergence and role of global cities can illuminate this new division. An increasingly open economy has
required global cities as platforms for orchestrating global commerce. Those cities have become the
focus of economic activity, concentrating large numbers of “winners” in the open economy and
attaining new levels of political influence. At the same time global cities are icons of inequity. The
inequality between global cities and their regions – like that between London and the rest of England –
threatens to undermine the political consensus surrounding open economies and global engagement, in
favor of closed economies and isolationist disengagement. However, if cities can live up to their own
claims of growing global political influence, they may be able to bridge this emerging divide. Specifically,
bridging the gap between those who favor open economies and those who favor closed economies will
require global cities to address regional economic disparities and to enfranchise and advance the
interests of those beyond their borders. If they are up to this task, global cities may be the key to saving
the open economy from itself.”

Read the whole article here.

Brexit, Global Cities, and the Future of World Order

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