Charter cities syllabus

I’m interested in teaching a charter cities course next year so I wrote up this draft syllabus.

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I’m interested in teaching a charter cities course next year so I wrote up this draft syllabus. If you are interested in having me teach the course listed below, please reach out.

Course Objectives: We are living through an era of global change. America is retreating from her traditional role as enforcer of the rules based liberal order. Europe is struggling with migration and demographic changes. China is exporting their model of development, with many strings attached, via One Belt One Road. African population growth creates opportunities and risks. New policies and governance models are needed to help humanity deal with such challenges. Charter cities are one such model.

Charter cities are cities with substantial legal autonomy from their host country. Charter cities might have different courts, different administration, different labor law, different business registration, or all of the above. Singapore, Hong Kong, Shenzhen, and Dubai, all charter cities by a loose definition, are some of the most successful cities of the post-war era. Replicating their successes in low income countries can help lift tens of millions of people out of poverty.

This course is meant as an introduction to the ideas of charter cities. We review the importance of governance, the theory of jurisdictional competition, the philosophy of numerous small political units, and charter cities fictional representation before delving into real world examples. The course ends with the practice of charter cities, understanding what charter cities projects are occurring around the world, and what the future might hold.

Format: The class format is seminars and discussions. For the first hour of each class, I will give a lecture. For the rest of the class, I will facilitate a discussion on the readings.


  1. Reading quizzes (30%): Each class will start with a 10-minute quiz on the previous weeks reading
  2. Participation (20%): Approximately 2/3 of class time is dedicated to discussion. Students will be evaluated for their participation in those discussions.
  3. Final project (50%): Students will have the option of which type of final project to undertake. Students can work in groups for the final project. However, the expectation for group projects is higher than for individual projects. A). Traditional research paper: For individual students a 15 to 30-page research paper. For groups I expect a longer paper which goes into greater depth. B). Charter cities business plan: A 10-page business plan and accompanying deck. I will judge the business plan as an investor. Key elements include, host country (including personal relationships), business climate, urbanization rate, and practicality. If the proposal is sufficiently good and the students are committed, I can help raise funds. C). White paper: A policy white paper on charter cities which can be published by an organization like Brookings or AEI. A good white paper will have a concrete charter cities proposal for a specific host country. D). Other: I am open to pitches for a final project which does not fall in the aforementioned category.

Schedule and Readings

Week 1: Introduction

• Charter Cities TED Talk by Paul Romer• Technologies, Rules, and Progress: The Case for Charter Cities by Paul Romer• Three Types of Charter Cities by Tyler Cowen (Youtube Video)• Your Next Government? By Tom Bell• Local Governments are Changing the World by Mark Lutter• The Landscape of Innovative Governance by Mark Lutter

Week 2: Governance

• Why Nations Fail by Acemoglu and Robinson• Institutions by Douglass North• Regulation of Entry by Andre Schleifer

Week 3: Theory

• Exit, Voice, and Loyalty by Albert Hirschman• Pure Theory of Local Expenditures by Charles Tiebout• Art of Community by Spencer MacCallum• Toward a Theory of Property by Harold Demsetz

Week 4: Philosophy

• Liberal Archipelago by Chandran Kukathas• Anarchy, State, and Utopia Ch 10 by Robert Nozick• Archipelago and Atomic Communitarianism by Scott Alexander

Week 5: Fiction

• Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson• Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein• Artemis by Andy Weir

Week 6: History

• The Sovereign State and Its Competitors by Hendrik Spruyt• Medieval Cities by Henry Pirenne• History of Future Cities by Daniel Brook

Week 7: China

• How China Became Capitalist by Ronald Coase and Nina Wang• The Economic Impact of Special Economic Zones: Evidence from Chinese Municipalities by Jin Wang• Special Economic Zones and the Economic Transition in China by Wei Gei

Week 8: Hong Kong/Singapore/Dubai

• From Third World to First: The Singapore Story by Lee Kuan Yew• City of Gold by Jim Krane• A Modern History of Hong Kong by Steven Tsang

Week 9: Special Economic Zones

• Special Economic Zones: Performance, Lessons Learned, and Implications for Zone Development by FIAS• Special Economic Zones: An Operational Review of Their Impacts by World Bank Group• The Political Economy of Special Economic Zones by Lotta Moberg

Week 10: One Belt One Road

• One Belt One Road by Bruno Macaes• China’s Asian Dream: Empire Building along the New Silk Road by Tom Miller

Week 11: Urbanization and new cities

• New Cities: Opportunities, Visions and Challenges by CityQuest• New Cities and Concepts of Value: Planning, Building, and Responding to New Urban Realities by CityQuest• Urbanization by Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser• Sun, Sea and Robots: Saudi Arabia’s Sci-Fi City in the Desert By Glen Carey, Vivian Nereim and Christopher Cannon• Charter Cities Podcast – Mwiya Musokotwane• Charter Cities: Possible locations and embryonic growth issues by Alain Bertaud (Youtube)

Week 12: Practice

• Seasteading by Joe Quirk with Patri Friedman• Tech Envisions the Ultimate Startup, a City by Emily Badger• The Politically Incorrect Guide to Ending Poverty by Sebastian Mallaby• Honduras Experiment with Charter Cities by Economist• ZEDE White Paper by Mark Lutter and Jorge Colindres• Creating the Charter Cities Ecosystem by Mark Lutter (Youtube)• Refugee Cities: Expanding Options for Displaced People through Special Economic Zones by Refugee Cities• Welcome to Liberland, the World’s Newest Country (Maybe) by Gideon Lewis-Kraus