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At the TED conference in Oxford last month, Paul Romer put forward a big idea: charter cities. His basic vision is that the best way to promote growth in developing countries may be to start over. Of course, you can’t just sweep away the existing system of economic and political institutions; they may be killing growth, but they are well-entrenched. So do the next best thing: clear some ground and build new charter cities.

Those cities will have rules — indeed, economic history teaches that they must have rules — but they will be focused on providing an environment that promotes economic growth. In short, property rights and the rule of law are in, corruption and political patronage are out.

His provocative example: If the U.S. gives up on Guantanamo, Raul Castro should invite the Canadians to help manage the area as a charter city. Over time, perhaps Guantanamo could become the Hong Kong of the Caribbean.

To illustrate how prosperity varies around the globe, Romer uses the increasingly popular approach of showing night time satellite photos. North Korea is a sea of darkness next to South Korea, illustrating the perils of too much government control. The darkness of Haiti, as compared to its neighbor the Dominican Republic, similarly illustrates the perils of too little government or, at least, too little governance.

As Romer frames it, development is a classic Goldilocks problem of finding the right set of rules — not too hot, not too cold — and then allowing people to make the choices that eventually lead to prosperity.

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