Arnold Kling  

Paul Romer on Charter Cities

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Excellent discussion between Romer and Russ Roberts.

Romer is quite aware that informal norms matter. In terms of my earlier discussion of law and order, he understands that order and law are different things. The question I would like to have asked would be whether a brand new city would be orderly. If one assumes that formal laws are only a small percent of the influence on human behavior, and you bring people from all sorts of backgrounds into a new city, it seems to me that the what will emerge may have very little to do with the formal rules of the city and much more to do with the habits and norms that people bring to the city.

When William Penn comes to Pennsylvania with his charter, he brings with him settlers with particular norms and backgrounds. As David Hackett-Fischer has shown, those particularities gave the region a distinctive culture that persists even to this day. If you create a charter city in Brazil and move Haitians there, will the interaction between Haitian culture and, say, Hong-Kong laws produce a result that looks more like Haiti or more like Hong Kong? I would predict the former.


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COMMENTS (9 to date)
Indignant writes:

If you allow hundreds of thousands of Haitians (or other third-worlders) to immigrate to the US and settle near Miami, will the interaction between Haitian culture and, say, US laws produce a result that looks more like Haiti or more like the US? I would predict the former!

Nathan writes:

Given the unique characteristics of immigrants, I would predict that the degree to which the charter city resembles Haiti would depend a great deal on whether the Haitians moved there themselves, or were forcibly relocated.

GU writes:

Cite to the Hackett-Fischer work?

Arthur_500 writes:

The answer to your question lies in Philadelphia itself. Would William Penn recognize anything about that place today? I think not.

Homogeneity is what makes a place have that distinct situation. As that changes so to do the norms that were once apparant.

I would suggest that Hong Kong will change as there is less English influence and more People's Republic of China influence. Twenty years from now you may not recognize it.

david writes:

Looks like "informal norms" is going to be the new intellectual dogwhistle for "people with brown skin"!

Look, norms matter. So do laws. Wealth disparities just north and south of the US-Mexico border - between cities that share a fence - are staggering. Then there's the usual DPRK/ROK comparison. Or if you favor a "it's the culture of the ruling elite" sort of explanation, there's PRC/ROC to compare.

Arnold Kling writes:

A few responses:

1. Hackett-Fischer refers to the book Albion's Seed.

2. I favor admitting lots of Haitians to the U.S., but I think that dumping hundreds of thousands into one particular location would be a bad idea. You want to aim for a high rate of assimilation.

Mala Lex writes:

Haitians in Miami do seem to behave, in terms of law and property, like other Americans. Also, one might note that Olde Pennsylvania took in lots of Germans, who seemed just as law-and-property focused as the British around them.

So I guess the question is which parts of national cultures are artifacts of their property rights regimes, hence change rapidly, and which parts are more durable (religious, long-customary).

tjames writes:

The filters through which immigrants must pass - and the barriers to entry - matter. As a nation of immigrants, we have had many waves of immigrants who came here for various reasons and faced different hurdles in doing so. This filtering can result in an immigrant population that differs in noticeable and important ways from the norms of the source populations.

We have populations who have come here for religious reasons, or economic reasons, or because they were persecuted for something (beliefs, ethnicity, whatever) that specifically did not represent norms in their home countries, or because they themselves no longer wished to live under home-country norms, and even a substantial population that was brought here forcibly.

I can imagine a wide spectrum, from immigrant populations that act a lot like the home country, to those that no longer act much like the home country at all.

Patri Friedman writes:

It seems obvious to me that it depends on how fast they move in, whether they move into an existing culture, and how integrated they are. If you start with a culture, and bring new people in slowly and acculturate them, you can end up with the new culture at a large scale. If you bring people in too fast, or they set up separate enclaves, they don't get acculturated.

Here's an example: college. I went to a small college with a strong, long-lasting culture. So it had 25% yearly turnover, but the newcomers had minimal culture of their own, and were spread out throughout the culture. A lot of work was done on cultural transmission, but the culture was maintained.

At Google, the company was doubling every 9-18 months during my time there, and they were able to maintain a strong and unique culture fairly well. The main challenges were that some elements of the culture were related to small size, and try as you might, it is almost impossible to maintain those elements as you grow.

US immigration was (if I recall correctly) over 1% a year at peak, and we saw strong acculturation.

So culture can be transmitted, and the acculturated population can grow at exponential rates even with pretty large incoming transfer rates.

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