To kick off The Atlantic's new special report on the past and future of the world's global capitals, we begin with a survey of the surveys to answer that universal question: What city rules them all?
Just the world's top 100 metros generate roughly half of the globe's total economic output, according my own Martin Prosperity Institute estimates. The top twenty produce nearly 30 percent and the top ten accounts for more than a fifth of global economic production. More than 80 percent of U.S. economic output comes from its cities and metros areas, compared to roughly two-thirds in Europe. Even in China, which has urbanized much more recently and where many remain in rural areas, 78 percent of GDP comes from cities and metros, according to recent estimates from the McKinsey Global Institute.
But in contest for one metro to rule them all, New York takes the crown as the most economically powerful metropolitan, according to my assessment of five recent comprehensive rankings of global cities. London is second, followed by Tokyo and Chicago. The former tops the ranks of the most economically powerful cities in Asia, though Seoul, Hong Kong, Singapore and Shanghai also rank highly. Paris, LA, DC and Boston also show strength.
The most common way to rank cities is by their populations. It's well known than more than half the world's population now lives in cities and metro areas. In another couple of decades that will increase to roughly three quarters. But population is a crude measure of economic strength, which is more a function of productivity, technology and human capital or skills.