The case for Charter Cities

Economics is famously the “dismal science,” largely because of Thomas Malthus and his dismal prediction that population growth will always cancel out rising living standards.


Paul Romer *.

But Stanford economist Paul Romer is having none of that. In his 2009 talk at the Long Now Foundation, A Theory of History, with an Application: New Cities with New Rules (website. iTunes), Romer argues that rising standards of living are possible for two reasons.

  1. Improvements in technology allow us to produce more goods with less effort.
  2. Improvements in social rules (eg the patenting of inventions) encourage ongoing innovation.

Then Romer goes on to make the case for his pet project, Charter Cities. In short, Romer hopes that charter cities will replicate the Hong Kong/China development story. Hong Kong, the prototype charter city, was a piece of China that operated on modified British social and economic rules.

Because of the influence of Hong Kong, mainland Chinese officials were inspired to slowly change the economic rules in their own country and create the greatest economic growth spurt the world has ever seen.

Romer hopes that creating Hong Kong clones can provide the same kind of economic progress for the rest of the world.

*Image credit: Wikipedia, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.
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One Response to The case for Charter Cities

  1. Jason says:

    I heard Professor Romer speak at the Center for Global Development on this idea. This type of thinking is everything that’s wrong with international development on many levels. How would governance of these cities work? Who would decide who gets in and who doesn’t? What mechanism would exist to leave for people whose rights had been violated? According to Romer, ubermenschen like himself will design a perfect system and the world’s unwashed should feel lucky to have the opportunity to work in these new cities. I think the idea should only be tried if Romer is willing to subject himself to the application and job assignment process. When I saw him speak, he asked if we would be against compelling people to take an unpaid job in exchange for a reasonable standard of living and a safe place to live. When we said no, he said that is essentially what compulsory education was. The fact that a man who can’t see the difference between one person’s right to compel another to work and the decision of a democratic society to set educational standards has this much influence is terrifying.

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