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Charter Cities Reading List

Reading List

This reading list is meant to be a reasonably comprehensive overview of charter cities. It offers an introduction to various schools of thought and discussions which have influenced our ideas about charter cities.
Charter Cities
Paul Romer originated the idea of charter cities with his now famous TED talk. Mark Lutter has written about more recent developments.
Special Economic Zones
Charter cities can be thought of as the next generation of special economic zones. This section covers special economic zones and their successes and failures.
Techno-libertarians were influential in developing one vision of new city development with seasteading. 
  • The Seasteading Institute is the organizational focal point of techno-libertarian approaches to new cities.
  • Balaji Srinivasan’s well-known talk on the importance of political exit.
  • Thousand Nations was an important blog in the late 2000’s early 2010’s in defining techno-libertarian ideas.
  • Marc Andreessen outlined a zone based approach to regulatory reform to increase innovation. 
  • Patri Friedman’s Cato Unbound caused quite a stir when published. 
  • Joe Quirk wrote a book on Seasteading.
  • Hirschman’s Exit Voice and Loyalty has been influential among techno-libertarians, particularly in developing the idea of ‘exit.’
Georgist-Libertarian Tradition
There is also a Georgist-libertarian tradition, which while often intersecting with the techno-libertarians, is worthy of a separate section.
  • It began with Henry George, who wrote Progress and Poverty arguing for a land value tax. 
  • Spencer Heath, a Georgist, argued that a single proprietor should be a residual claimant on land values and provide public goods.
  • Spencer MacCallum, Heath’s grandson, took his arguments and found empirical evidence of such communities in shopping malls and trailer parks.
  • Titus Gebel takes a Rothbardian approach to charter cities in his book, Free Private Cities.
  • Ed Stringham delineated various forms of private governance, helping to understand social organization without the state.
  • Gurgaon, India, a private city that until recently had no municipal government, is discussed on an EconTalk podcast. The potential for private cities to meet urban demand in India and China is explored.
The Incredible Amount of New City Projects
The rate at which new cities are being developed is underdiscussed. As many as 200 master-planned cities are currently under construction. They are sometimes public, sometimes private, and sometimes public private partnerships. 
  • Our World in Data offers helpful introduction to urbanization.
  • The New Cities Foundation published three (herehere, and here) reports about new city developments.
  • Nkwashi, a new city development in Zambia and Rendeavour, the largest urban real estate developer in Africa, are two projects to follow. Listen to Mark Lutter interview Mwiya Musokotwane, the founder of Nkwashi.
  • Songdo is arguably the most successful master planned city in living memory. 
  • Wade Shepard is a journalist who frequently writes on urbanization and new city development. He also wrote Ghost Cities of China.
  • To Build a City in Africa is a good introduction from the urban planning perspective to developing new cities in Africa.
  • Rising in the East, Contemporary New Towns in Asia looks at new cities in the Asian context. 
  • CCI has created the first ever global dataset of new city projects around the world. See the New Cities Map here (the data is freely available for download). You can also view the live recording of the launch of the New Cities Map here.
Political Philosophy
Charter cities current thought is light on political philosophy, which means there is an opportunity to carve out an interesting niche for enterprising grad students and academics.
  • The definitive attempt to establish a political philosophy for charter cities is Liberal Archipelago by Chandran Kukathas. Kukathas argues for a number of small political jurisdictions that cater to the preferences of their residents.
  • Scott Alexander makes a similar argument in Archipelago and Atomic Communitarianism. 
  • Robert Nozick, in the third book of Anarchy, State, and Utopia argues for a small number of competing jurisdictions.
China's Economic Success
Chinese economic success is largely due to a combination of urbanization and special economic zones which began in Shenzhen. The Shenzhen model in particular, offers a developmental roadmap for future charter cities.
Cities from Scratch
Singapore, Hong Kong, and Dubai, in addition to Shenzhen, demonstrate that it’s possible for impoverished cities to become world-class in two or three generations.
  • From Third World to First by Lee Kuan Yew provides an account of Singapore’s development by its chief architect.  
  • City of Gold is a fantastic history of Dubai which shows how ambition and regulatory arbitrage transformed Dubai from a desert into a gleaming megapolis.
  • Architect of Prosperity is a biography of John James Cowperthwaite, the man frequently credited with Hong Kong’s growth in the mid-20th Century. 
  • A History of Future Cities examines past attempts at new city developments.
  • The Dubai International Financial Centre is an interesting example of how it’s possible to create successful new institutions from scratch. 
  • Abu Dhabi recently created the Abu Dhabi Global Market, modeled on the Dubai International Financial Centre.
Geopolitical Context
Charter cities are both business and political projects. As such, it’s important to understand the geopolitical context in which they exist and develop. 
  • Bruno Macaes is one of the best Western commentators on the emergence of China and its Belt and Road Initiative. His books, the Dawn of Eurasia and Belt and Road are useful starting points. 
  • Parag Khanna writes on how the Future is Asian and the increasing importance of supply chains
  • Belt and Road will encounter challenges in the coming years, as its proponents often assume host countries have sufficiently high growth rates to justify ever-expanding infrastructure projects.
  • Invisible Countries by Joshua Keating offers an introduction to nations seeking independence, including Kurdistan, Somaliland, and Catalonia. 
  • The Sovereign State and Its Competitors by Hendrik Spruyt discusses how the sovereign state won against alternative forms of political organization in the late middle ages, including against the Hanseatic League. 
  • The State in the Third Millennium by Prince Hans Adam of Liechtenstein puts forth a vision of what future states will look like. 
Charter cities are in part an institutional hack. They offer a path to rapidly improve institutions by targeting greenfield sites without entrenched political interests. Thus, it is important to have a deep understanding of institutions and their role in growth.
  • Douglass North is the most important institutional thinker. His two most important books are Institutions and Violence and Social OrdersHere is a shorter article.
  • Daron Acemoglu, Simon Johnson, and James Robinson made important contributions to the institutions literature. Here they review the evidence of the importance of institutions against other causes of development. Why Nations Fail is also a good introduction to institutions.
  • Friedrich Hayek’s The Constitution of Liberty  helped revive an understanding of the importance of stable institutions for long term planning.
  • The Calculus of Consent by James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock emphasizes the importance of ‘constitutional moments’ in shaping long term outcomes.
  • Bill Easterly warns of the Tyranny of Experts
  • The deep  roots literature is an important reminder of the importance of culture.
Charter cities are, of course, cities. A deep knowledge of cities throughout history is useful and helps inform charter city decision making.
  •  Triumph of the City by Ed Glaeser is the best introduction to the importance of cities. 
  • Alain Bertaud, CCI Affiliated scholar, advances his argument that cities are massive labor markets in his book Order without Design.
  • Henri Pirenne wrote a classic, Medieval Cities, which traces the rise of trade and the merchant class and its far-reaching political implications. 
  • It’s difficult to overstate the importance of Jane Jacobs in urban planning. The Death and Life of Great American Cities is Jacobs’ Magnum Opus. 
  • The City: A Global History by Joel Kotkin offers an introduction to the city throughout history. 
  • The City in History by Lewis Mumford traces the emergence of the city to its life today, with particular attention paid to its sociological evolution.
Industrial Policy

Charter city entrepreneurs across continents will face challenges in deciding which industries and anchor tenants to prioritize. Literature on industrial policy can help create a framework for charter city development. 

  • How Asia Works by Joe Studwell is largely responsible for the recent industrial policy craze. He analyzes East Asian economic growth and identifies how state promoted industrialization. 
  • MITI and the Japanese Miracle by Chalmers Johnson is a good overview of how Japanese Industrial policy led to their success. 
  • The Park Chung Hee Era is a collection of essays about South Korean economic development. 
  • Dani Rodrik has been one of the primary proponents of industrial policy. Industrial Policy for the 21st Century summarizes many of his thoughts.
  • The Entrepreneurial State by Mariana Mazzucato explores the role the state can play in innovation. 
Read the latest expert analysis and commentary on new cities, charter cities, economic zones, and innovations in governance.