Cities of the North

I’m a few weeks late in blogging about Paul Romer’s novel proposal for ‘Charter Cities’. As he describes them:

Charter cities offer a truly global win-win solution. These cities address global poverty by giving people the chance to escape from precarious and harmful subsistence agriculture or dangerous urban slums. Charter cities let people move to a place with rules that provide security, economic opportunity, and improved quality of life. Charter cities also give leaders more options for improving governance and investors more opportunities to finance socially beneficial infrastructure projects.

All it takes to grow a charter city is an unoccupied piece of land and a charter. The human, material, and financial resources needed to build a new city will follow, attracted by the chance to work together under the good rules that the charter specifies.

Action by one or more existing governments can provide the essentials. One government provides land and one or more governments grant the charter and stand ready to enforce it.

One of Romer’s three cases would be in northern Australia.

Case 2: Australia and Indonesia create a new regional manufacturing hub

In a treaty that Australia could sign with Indonesia, Australia would set aside an uninhabited city-sized piece of its own territory. An official appointed by the Australian prime minister would apply Australian law and administer Australian institutions, with some modifications agreed to in consultation with the government of Indonesia.

People from Indonesia, many of them lower-skilled workers, could come live as temporary or permanent residents in this zone, but would remain citizens of Indonesia. A portion of their labor income could be taxed and return to the government in Indonesia. Levels of free public services and welfare support would be comparable to those in Indonesia. As citizens of Indonesia, the Indonesian inhabitants of the city would have no claim on residency or citizenship in Australia proper. They would be subject to the same immigration controls whether entering Australia from this zone or from Indonesia.

Highly skilled workers from all over the world would be welcomed as well, but would be subject to the same immigration controls they would face from their home countries. Australian citizens and firms would be able to pass freely between Australia proper and the new charter city.

As part of the treaty, the Indonesian government could agree to award the chance to move to the new city preferentially to residents from a small number of rural areas where people practice environmentally harmful forms of subsistence agriculture and forestry. The government could designate part of the land to be freed up in this way as a nature preserve, setting aside a much smaller portion of the now uninhabited land for a charter city of its own.

More here. And Chris Blattman responds (and Romer again).

2 thoughts on “Cities of the North”

    Sounds like colonisation.  Basically selling pieces of territory to a foreign power.
    Could work fine in the short term, but what happens after a few generations when the “charterist” no longer feel loyalty to a distant government and think they are being neglected by all?


  2. Might Romer’s Charter City be a solution to the refugee “crisis” that seems to be sucking up so much political capital in Australia?
    My first thought was whether Australia might finance the development of a Charter City in Indonesia, populated by refugees arriving in Indonesia.  My second thought is to turn Christmas Island into a Charter City.
    Paul Romer might be able to put together a group of entrepreneurs to run the Charter City at Christmas Island.  If I were running the Charter City, I would invite the Singapore government to be an investor, and invite migrants from mainland China to help set up a “seed colony” with rules that blend together Aussie values, Chinese entrepreneurial spirit, and Singaporean bureaucracy.


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