Romer responds

Last week I blogged my reaction to Paul Romer’s dramatic proposal to create Charter Cities in the underpopulated corners of the planet.

This weekend Paul responded on his blog:

Chris and I agree that an evolutionary dynamic can lead a vibrant neighborhood but that it can also lead to a dangerous slum with no roads, sewers, safe water, electricity or other utilities.

We also agree that there is a risk associated with new systems. Sometimes they don’t work, as the public housing projects in Chicago demonstrate. Sometimes they work remarkably well. Architecturally similar high-rise buildings in Hong Kong and Singapore provided livable housing for large numbers of working poor in the 1960s and 1970s. (As an aside, Chris and I seem to agree that the key difference between these cases lay not in the hardware or architecture but rather in the supporting rules, particularly those related to crime.)

The challenge that Chris posed to me, one that several others have also suggested, but not as precisely, is how to assess the tradeoff between faster growth and higher risk that the new-system dynamic seems to offer. A related question is who bears that risk.

Read his excellent answers here. He even breaks out one of my heroes, the woman who got me interested in social science and the world, Jane Jacobs.

I’m intending to respond, but it’s 12:30am and I just got back from the office (it’s that kind of week). Replying to someone several times smarter and more experienced than me will have to wait a couple of days. In the meantime, suggestions in the comments box are welcome.