Peter Young is the managing director of the Free Cities Foundation. In this interview, we discuss the development of autonomous administrative areas around the world called ‘free cities’, where new types of governance can be offered to citizens outside the control of existing states.
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Paul Romer, former chief economist at the World Bank and a Nobel prize winner, proposed in 2009 the concept of Charter Cities. Romer was trying to tackle the problem of stagnant investment in the Global South arising from bad governance. The solution was to evolve the idea behind special economic zones and create autonomous city-states within existing countries.
The autonomy would extend to alternate legal and political systems from the host nation, and to the provision of services by private organisations. An advanced guarantor country would protect the legal rights of residents. The idea was that such cities would become trusted centres predicated on good rules, attracting investment, firms and people, the benefits of which then filter beyond the cities’ boundaries into the host country.
The Free City Foundation have taken Romer’s idea and sought to implement it in different parts of the world. The aim is to provide citizens with alternatives to the status quo: establishing new legal, financial and municipal relationships with residents. The ideology is to reduce the size of the modern state, which is considered to act in its own self-interest at the expense of society.
There are a number of different scales of initiatives for the Free City Foundation: from intentional communities to prosperity zones, all the way to Free Private Cities. Prospera in Honduras is a working example of a Free City: a new settlement on the island of Roatán is being developed within its own civil law, regulatory agencies and taxation; although it must still adhere to the Honduran constitution, international treaties and criminal law.
But this is only the start: many more examples are being developed across the world. Perhaps the most innovative idea is Seasteading, where independent communities are developed in international waters, outside of the jurisdiction of existing governments. Are these initiatives viable and preferable alternatives to the nation-state? That may be too early to tell, but there is a growing number of investors who think they are the future of civilisation.