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Newt Gingrich Proposes “Free Cities”

August 19, 2010

At the National Review, (and oddly, without mentioning Paul Romer) Gingrich rebrands Romer’s Charter Cities:

The U.S. should negotiate a series of bilateral treaties with receptive governments, carving out undeveloped sites the size of Hong Kong. Then a joint venture between the host government and the U.S. would launch brand new Free Cities in these places, with a complete set of American-style freedoms and responsibilities, guaranteed by treaty for 50 years.

Treaty-based Free Cities would entice and attract enterprising people and capital from around the world by offering: self-government; the rule of law; low taxes; reliable prosecution of corruption; freedom of faith, speech, and press; public registration of real property; a merit-based civil service; multi-ethnic meritocracy; zero tariffs; and an American university.

Free Cities would exemplify free-market globalization, rather than the economic exploitation of protectionist colonialism. They would generate millions of jobs where there are none today. And rather than opening another bottomless pit of statist foreign aid, these cities would be self-funding. A Free Cities development strategy would pay its own way by attracting funds from the private sector.

Hat tip to Karl Gallagher. That Newt has taken up the cause of competitive governance is tremendous news. Welcome aboard. I can’t help but raise a few quibbles, however, as Newt appears to insist on American-style this and American university that. If the U.S. can lead the way on the creation of Charter Cities in the poorer regions of the world…awesome. Dynamite. But the irony is that the U.S. itself doesn’t even offer the freedoms Gingrich calls American. One of Paul Romer’s tactics seems wise to me here. Whenever Romer raises the idea of multilateral agreements for establishing a Charter City, he mentions Canada as a party and not the U.S.. And with good reason. The U.S. has a long, shameless history of intervening in the affairs of puppet states. And given America’s own political constraints, I find it hard to believe the freedoms Gingrinch adumbrates will receive ensured protection. What happens when a Free City starts making autos in direct competition with General Motors? How long will that promise on zero tariffs last? I’ll take the under on 3 months.

[Update: Michael Strong has alerted me to the fact that Gingrich’s coauthor, Ken Hagerty, proposed the Free City concept in the Weekly Standard, back in 2007.]


  1. nicolas1776 permalink
    August 24, 2010 12:53 am

    I still can’t find a good incentive for politicians to allow a charter city to take off some place within the borders they control, that isn’t vastly outweighed by incentives not to allow it. It seems to me most concentrated interests would see it as a threat and that the dispersed interests standing to gain wouldn’t even necessarily think of it that way.

    I can see watered down versions being tried (and indeed they are.. especially in authoritarian countries) but nothing like fully autonomous city states with vastly different rules and rulers.

    Maybe I haven’t read the right papers but the things I’ve read tend to focus on the direct benefits to people moving into the free city and the indirect benefits to those remaining in the host country. But we first and foremost need to understand the complete set of incentives for the major actors. It seems to me they have little to gain and lots to lose with full fledge charter/free cities.

  2. Stephan permalink
    August 23, 2010 8:04 pm

    The Newt has to go on about American this, America that, Our Values this, Proudly American that, yadda yadda yadda, etc, etc, Because like it or not, Americans are very proud when it comes to concepts of their own country, and any American politician, no matter how internationalist he may actually be, has to pander to this and play any idea off as something that boisters home grown american values.
    That said, the old values that the U.S used to represent far more then it does now were indeed good guidelines for how to start and run a charter city, or any sort of society… Just too bad that they no longer apply in practice, and are no longer seen as being worth much, thanks to the twisted meddling of the Federal Government.
    A modern charter city, run according to current concepts of “American values” would be a less than perfect place, to put it politely.

  3. August 22, 2010 11:03 am

    Charter Cities are a great idea but yes, Gingrich isn’t marketing the idea well with images of bite-sized Americana chunks in foreign countries. I can see governments running a mile from that suggestion. The only way charter cities will happen (and they will) is if the initiative appears home grown and the ‘host’ country is seen to have ultimate control over the territory (however tenuous that is in reality). And it will need to be something even more ‘free’ than the USA: that is, still lower taxes, more open borders, less over-the-top punishment of minor offences, etc.

  4. AMW permalink
    August 20, 2010 4:31 am

    Russ took the words right out of my mouth. Why not set up a free city right here in the U.S. It wouldn’t even need to be a joint venture.

  5. August 19, 2010 10:12 pm

    This sounds like a GREAT idea! But why don’t we start within our own borders? After all, if freedom is a great idea for the oppressed masses of foreigners, it’s an even better idea for us.

  6. Dave permalink
    August 19, 2010 6:54 pm

    This sounds like a terrible idea. We have plenty of workers in America, and globalization is just a way for American companies to pay less for labor and make more off the back end.

  7. August 19, 2010 5:10 pm

    Newt’s co-author, Ken Hagerty, has been promoting Free Cities before Romer; here is a 2007 article in The Weekly Standard,

    Hagerty is credited as co-author of the National Review article, but without specifying that he is the originator of the concept:

    “Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is cofounder of Renewing American Leadership. Ken Hagerty is vice president, policy, of that organization.”

    • Mike Gibson permalink*
      August 19, 2010 5:25 pm

      I stand corrected!

      Little did I know….

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