Can You Think of a Radical Idea to End Poverty?

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What’s the best idea out there to reduce poverty and improve urban life? Well, Paul Romer thinks a big part of the answer is his charter city idea.  What’s the charter city idea, you ask?  I’m not sure, actually. Professor Finkler has been on me to read about it, and I may finally take him up on it, as the new issue of The Atlantic has a feature piece, “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Ending Poverty.”

How’s that for a provocative title?

The article of course profiles Romer, who is by any account a fascinating character.

In the 1990s, Paul Romer revolutionized economics. In the aughts, he became rich as a software entrepreneur. Now he’s trying to help the poorest countries grow rich—by convincing them to establish foreign-run “charter cities” within their borders. Romer’s idea is unconventional, even neo-colonial—the best analogy is Britain’s historic lease of Hong Kong. And against all odds, he just might make it happen.

We’ll see.

In addition to charter cities and making Aplia happen, Romer is also the hero of David Warsh’s Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations: A Story of Economic Discovery.  The first half of the book is a short course in the history of economic thought; the second is an accounting of Romer’s role in launching endogenous growth theory. Both halfs are well worth reading.