How private cities can help the poor

A piece on private cities I wrote was published today in the Freeman. This sentence captures the idea, perhaps the most unappreciated idea in economics:

Proprietary communities offer a solution to a host of problems commonly assumed to justify government intervention. Private property internalizes externalities. Proprietary communities take advantage of that fact by creating private property over land spaces traditionally thought of as public domain. They work by creating a residual claimant in the provision of public goods. That is, proprietors keep as income the rents collected through leases after costs are deducted.

Here’s another important point:

An additional advantage of private cities is that they incentivize institutional change. Institutional change is rare because of the logic of collective action. While the gains outweigh the costs of protecting private property rights, the gains are dispersed and the costs are concentrated. Those benefiting from such change have an incentive to free-ride, letting others agitate for the change.

Poor countries are poor because their governments are predatory. Proprietary communities concentrate the benefits of economic liberalization, increasing the likelihood of success. Honduras is the closest to achieving private cities. About one year ago, they passed a law allowing for ZEDEs (zonas de empleado y desarollo economico). ZEDEs can opt out of Honduran civil and commercial law, bringing in a legal system of their choosing. In order to internalize the gains from such changes, some companies have expressed interest in creating private cities similar to the ones described in my essay.

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