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Good Charter Cities Overview

February 4, 2010

Paul Romer, in Prospect Magazine:

The right rules can harness self-interest and use it to reduce poverty. The wrong rules stifle this force or channel it in ways that harm society. The deeper problem, widely recognised but seldom addressed, is how to free people from bad rules. I floated a provocative idea. Instead of focusing on poor nations and how to change their rules, we should focus on poor people and how they can move somewhere with better rules. One way to do this is with dozens, perhaps hundreds, of new “charter cities,” where developed countries frame the rules and hundreds of millions of poor families could become residents.

One of the highlights of the article is Romer’s discussion of commitment problems. If businesses invest in a region, how can they be sure their success won’t be subject to arbitrary interference from the current government? It seems regime uncertainty has undermined many half-way attempts.

There’s also another point in the article worth emphasizing:

Because Hong Kong helped make reform in the rest of China possible, the British intervention there arguably did more to reduce world poverty than all the official aid programmes of the 20th century, and at a fraction of the cost. And, if many such cities are built, fewer people will be trapped in the failed states that are the root cause of most humanitarian crises and security concerns.

The game of political philosophy is not won by trying to convince people with reasons. Instead, you have to instantiate and convey desirable elements. The first rule of our political philosophy is to never, ever try to convince someone of anything. Build something better than they currently have, welcome them, and their choice will make plain the core elements of their true values. It’s too bad there isn’t somewhere twice as wealthy as the U.S. “I want what he’s having” is far more potent than this offering from the 1967 Harvard course catalogue:

Philosophy 171. Political and Social Philosophy: Half course (fall term). Tu., Th., (S.), at 10. Professor John Rawls. An examination of some of the philosophical concepts and moral principles expressed in a rational appraisal of social institutions. Special attention will be given to such concepts as justice, equality, liberty and tolerance, the common good and social utility. Readings from classic and contemporary writers representing specific interpretations of these ideas.

Prerequisite: One half course in philosophy.

Can you believe they met on a Saturday?


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