Esther Dyson on Charter Cities
And, as we are seeing worldwide nowadays, national governments are difficult to overturn and also difficult to (re)build. Democracy does not always lead to liberty or good outcomes.
So, perhaps cities are the right place and have the right scale for massive social change. This does not mean that national governments are irrelevant, or that they no longer hold life-and-death power over people’s lives; but cities make more of a difference in people’s daily lives. Especially in a world where many of the big things – trade, technology, legal regimes – are globalized, most of the small things are actually happening in cities. By 2050, seven out of ten human beings will live in cities, up from about 50% now and barely 14% in 1900…
But cities still often operate in a pre-market way. They mostly build their infrastructures themselves, and innovations do not spread easily, owing to a lack of incentives and, for that matter, much of a market…other than when one city hires managers from another.
On the other hand, cities are increasingly behaving like companies, becoming intimately involved in their citizens’ quality of life, and, in an increasingly mobile world, competing for “customers.” Despite registration systems such as those in Russia and China that restrict movement, people can come and go from cities much more freely than they can cross national borders. Meanwhile, cities can be both more flexible and more arbitrary, and compete on terms not available to legislatively restricted national governments.