Charter Cities in Honduras?

January 18th, 2011

Paul Romer, speaking at a TED conference, proposed the creation of “charter cities” in poor countries as a way to develop them. His prime example, China, with Hong Kong, and the new special cities that China has set up under more capitalist rules. Mr. Romer recently visited Tegucigalpa, and has some congresspeople, and the president excited about the possibility of setting up such cities in Honduras.

In the video above he suggest creating a charter city in Guantanamo, Cuba, and in Africa. He addresses the issue of colonialism, in my opinion, a bit weakly. I am in favor of the creation of clusters, as cities like San Francisco, CA, and New York, NY are prosperous because of the right mix of entrepreneurship, talent, and amenities. But charter cities are a bit more delicate.

His idea makes me feel a bit uncomfortable. Singapore, for instance, is very prosperous, but is led by a benevolent dictator. The Panama canal zone is like a piece of the US in Panama, but isn’t the success story that Romer seems to suggest it should be.

Romer makes a very big deal of rules…which is why he calls the cities “charter” cities. But, the word “charter” makes me think of the Magna Carta, which is in essence an early constitutional charter. The political implications of setting up a city like this are very tricky. I am excited at the possibility of seing a cluster of innovation and prosperity in Honduras, but am afraid of what could happen politically.

Would we be creating a colony? Would be we be giving up Honduran sovereignty? Would we be like Puerto Rico? Or perhaps like Panama City? What do you think?

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