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.
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.
- Improvements in technology allow us to produce more goods with less effort.
- 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.