In the quake’s immediate aftermath, all eyes turned to Romer, who had left his full-time post at Stanford the year before to proselytize his idea of “charter cities.” A charter city is an enclave created by fiat on an empty stretched of land, governed by the (laissez-faire) rules of its charter and administered by a third party nation. Anyone can emigrate there and can leave at any time. Romer’s favorite historical example was Hong Kong, which proved to be the lodestar for China’s capitalist reforms. Last summer, Romer modestly proposed transforming the American base at Guantánamo Bay into a charter city run by Canada, with the aim of creating Cuba’s own Hong Kong.

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