Charter cities, the neo-colonial solution to poverty?


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This month's edition of The Atlantic contains an excellent profile of economist Paul Romer and his campaign to create charter cities. Money quote:

FAST-FORWARD SEVERAL CENTURIES, and Henry the Lion’s would-be heir is Paul Romer, a gentle economist at Stanford University. Elegant, bespectacled, geekishly curious in a boyish way, Romer is not the kind of person you might picture armed with a two-handed flanged mace, cutting down Slavic marauders. But he is bent on cutting down an adversary almost as resistant: the conventional approach to development in poor countries. Rather than betting that aid dollars can beat poverty, Romer is peddling a radical vision: that dysfunctional nations can kick-start their own development by creating new cities with new rules—Lübeck-style centers of progress that Romer calls “charter cities.” By building urban oases of technocratic sanity, struggling nations could attract investment and jobs; private capital would flood in and foreign aid would not be needed. And since Henry the Lion is not on hand to establish these new cities, Romer looks to the chief source of legitimate coercion that exists today—the governments that preside over the world’s more successful countries. To launch new charter cities, he says, poor countries should lease chunks of territory to enlightened foreign powers, which would take charge as though presiding over some imperial protectorate. Romer’s prescription is not merely neo-medieval, in other words. It is also neo-colonial.


Ryan Hahn

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July 09, 2010

As the article notes, even if he could somehow find a country willing to explicitly give up its sovereignty to a neo-colonial power, how could he possibly find a developed country willing to take it?

Sheer fantasy.

July 10, 2010

This sounds similar to the Chinese Joint Venture Free Trade zones that are currently being set up in Sub-Saharan Africa. The issue is how these charter cities/free trade zones will be perceived by the local populace. The words envy and resentment come to mind, then of course the intentions of the charter city or free trade zone managers is another matter. This idea requires a bit more thought, for example, charter cities/free trade zones need not be run by foreigners. They could be subject to tender and run by citizens who wish to live and make a decent living outside of the chaos and lawlessness of their contries whilst remaining at home as opposed to emigrating to a G-8 country.