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He’s the mayor of London, and the joker of U.K. politics. But he wants to be the next prime minister.

Londoners love to grumble about overcrowding, but their mayor insists that the city’s rapid population growth should be celebrated. “In one week’s time, there will be a birth in a London maternity ward somewhere,” says Boris Johnson. “What we need is the wise men to gather around the crib with … I don’t know …” The Conservative politician, who is rarely at a loss for words, deploying them in great flurries, quickly finds a punch line: “Oyster cards!” The image of latter-day Magi bearing gifts of the mass-transit passes used by Londoners is deliberately absurd. Comedy almost always sugars Johnson’s serious intent.

The growing pains afflicting global magnet cities such as London and New York are certainly serious. At some …

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