Thanks, I edited it to read succeeded and failed. There are lots of examples that I left out as the list of social movements in very large. I will likely slowly add to the list over the coming years.
The goal is mostly to get tech folks thinking about the mechanisms for social change. I think the EA folks do that ok now, but tech hasn’t really done so, and developing good mental models will be useful for them.
I agree with most of the report, there are some smaller differences which I spell out in the comment below
This is a good, comprehensive overview. Some comments
The report starts by saying, “”Rethink Priorities has been piloting expanding into human-focused neartermist global priorities research.” Charter cities should be viewed as a midtermist position. The time horizon is longer than malaria nets, de-worming, cash grants, etc. The time horizon is closer to AI safety, bioweapons, etc, and should be measured in decades.
Chinese growth, which resulted from special economic zones and urbanization, is the greatest humanitarian miracle in the post-war era, lifting 850 million people out of poverty. The charter cities movement is the only group trying to replicate that success. That deserves at least ~1% of EA time and attention imho.
Special economic zones (SEZs) are not the right comparison. A city is the smallest unit that can sustain economic development.
SEZs have four important differences with charter cities
Size: Most SEZs are geographically small, <1000 acres. Charter cities are cities and require tens of thousands of acres
Reforms: Most SEZs have weak reforms, tax breaks, one stop shop, etc. Charter cities create a new legal environment from the ground up
Industry: Most SEZs are single industry, electronics, textile manufacturing, etc. Charter cities are cities, with a multitude of industries and supply chain linkages
Administrative autonomy: Most SEZs have limited administrative autonomy, the rules come from the government. Charter cities have a wide degree of delegated authority to respond to changing conditions on the ground.
With these differences, Shenzhen is closer to a charter city than SEZ. In 1980 it was >320 sq km and had significant devolved authority, “Except for the railway, post and telecommunications, banking, civil aviation, and national defense, all other management authority was delegated to the provincial government”
A recent edited volume by Siqi Zheng is a better guide to thinking about charter cities than the SEZ literature. She reviews new cities, urbanization, special economic zones, and industrial parks in China.
“If we consider large industrial parks as the seeds of new, so called consumption cities that develop around them, China has built 1568 national level and provincial level industrial parks in 270 municipalities since 1998 which account for 10% of China’s GDP and 33% of its foreign direct investment” (p12). This has many parallels to our discussion of industrial parks as anchor tenants for charter cities.
Admittedly, there are important differences between SEZs in China and potential charter cities in Africa. China had more state capacity, had more restrictions on markets, had fewer ethnic differences, etc. However, even if the success is an order of magnitude lower, that means lifting 85 million people out of poverty.
Charter cities are more tractable than people think
A decade ago Romer got the Madagascar president interested in charter cities and legislation passed in Honduras. The legacy of the Honduran legislation is ‘charter towns’, like Prospera and Ciudad Morazan, too small at the moment to be described as cities. It’s possible to imagine an alternative history where Romer got traction earlier.
The recent successes in Honduras should cause folks to update their priors
Cities are hot, according to journalist Wade Shepard there’s over 200 master planned cities being built right now. There’s Akon City, Lanseria, Enyimba Economic City, and many more. Few, if any, of the cities can be considered charter cities. However, it’s possible to imagine the energy and political will for new cities being harnessed for charter cities.
The Charter Cities Institute has seen a marked uptick in interest, over the last few years, as well as over the last few months. We’re working with two governments on charter cities legislation and see a strong pipeline of charter cities projects that should start making public milestones in the next year or two.
In short, there are many good reasons for EAs to pay more attention to charter cities.