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Steve Davies: A World of City-States

Updated: Dec 15, 2019

This summary was written by Vera Kichanova, President.


On 16 May 2017, Dr. Stephen Davies, Head of Education at the Institute of Economic Affairs, spoke to the Oxford Hayek Society at Lincoln College on the subject of: 'Why the Future Could Be a World of City States'. The event was co-organised by European Students for Liberty.



In his talk, Steve argued that the future could be a world of city-states. Although maps define how we view the world, they no longer capture reality. Cities are growing as a proportion of the world’s population; they are centres of economic growth and innovation. Increasingly, humans are living in 'city-regions'; these are metropolitan areas consisting of cities and surrounding towns and villages. Such city-regions are becoming increasingly politically-powerful and increasingly independent.


What makes a city-region successful? According to Steve, the key factors are:


  1. economic, social and cultural diversity (in other words, connections to different parts of the world);

  2. the presence of the so-called 'creative class' (“these annoying people from Shoreditch”);

  3. geographic location.


Among other factors which Steve suggested make a difference are the percentage of international students living in a city-region and the number of direct flights to the city-region.


So what brings city-regions to failure? Steve argued that it is the domination of a single industry, cultural homogeneity, an extended public sector or, of course, the incompetence of local politicians. A by-product of urbanisation is a growing political divide between successful city-regions and failing or failed city-regions. Such an analysis helps to explain the rise of populist politicians like America's Donald Trump and France's Marine Le Pen, both of whom did well in rural areas and failing city-regions.


If we are approaching the era of city-states, this may herald the start of a new, ‘bottom-up’ way of governing. Big cities can already establish direct transnational links between each other while ignoring national governments. However, it is yet to be seen what will happen with the in-between bits, given the fact that many people do want to live in rural areas and do not welcome globalisation.



Every attendee took a copy of the books Peace, Love and Liberty and Why Liberty, both collections of essays written by distinguished scholars, entrepreneurs, activists and edited by Dr. Tom Palmer, a former President of the Oxford Hayek Society and current Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute. For the best question of the evening, one attendee received a free ticket to the IEA's annual Think conference. Steve's talk was followed by a wine reception.


Dr. Steve Davies is Head of Education at the Institute of Economic Affairs in London. Steve was a Senior Lecturer in the Department of History and Economic History at Manchester Metropolitan University, before being appointed Program Officer at the Institute for Humane Studies at George Mason University in Virginia. Steve has also been a Visiting Scholar at the Social Philosophy and Policy Center at Bowling Green State University, Ohio. A historian, Steve graduated from the University of St. Andrews in 1976 and gained his PhD from the same university in 1984. He has authored several books, including Empiricism and History (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003) and was co-editor with Nigel Ashford of The Dictionary of Conservative and Libertarian Thought (Routledge, 1991).

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