Development & Education

Charter Cities: Curing poverty or neo-imperialism?

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Image of Haitians after the recent earthquake (Image by United Nations Photo (cc: by-nc-nd))

This story is adapted from a broadcast audio segment; use audio player to listen to tracks by the artists featured in this segment.

The biggest problem facing the people of Haiti -- or any poor country -- is the rules, says Stanford economist Paul Romer. Good rules can keep people safe. Bad rules can harm society.

Rather than trying to change the rules inside of existing countries, Romer believes it would be easier to create entirely new cities with new and transparent rules. Romer explained his idea in Prospect Magazine:

How would such a city work? Imagine that a government in a poor country set aside a piece of uninhabited land. It invites a developed country to enter into a new type of partnership, in which the developed country sets up and enforces rules specified in a charter. Citizens from the poorer country, and the rest of the world, would be free to live and work in the city that emerges. It could create economic opportunities and encourage foreign investment, and by using uninhabited land it would ensure everyone living there would have chosen to do so with full knowledge of the rules.

The cities would be "a modern, voluntary version of what happened under imperialism in places like Hong Kong," according to Here & Now host Robin Young. But Romer insists idea is to give people more choice. He tells "Here & Now:"

"Many people around the world would leap at the chance to just go some place where they could be safe, their kids could get an education and they could get a job."

Romer believes these new charter cities may be their best chance.

You can also watch Romer explain his idea below:

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