Chartered Cities vs. Democracy

Via Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber (who was pointed to this by Doug Henwood)–first Paul Roemer:

Next, David Ellerman's critique:

One of the hot topics today is the debate about Paul Romer’s idea of charter cities. One easy introduction to the debate is Romer’s TED talk with the full story on Romer’s website. Sebastian Mallaby also did a recent piece in the Financial Times as well as an earlier piece in The Atlantic on the topic. A similar and more explicitly (right-wing) libertarian idea is pushed by Patri Friedman substituting floating cities for Romer’s charter cities (thus solving the land problem) and is called “seasteading” with the story given at his website and his TEDx talk. Patri’s father is David and David’s father is Milton, in case one wondered about the libertarian parentage of these ideas.

One of the interesting sidelights of the charter cities and seasteading debates is how they “out” the lack of any necessary connection between liberalism and democracy. As Mallaby puts it in the FT article about Romer: “In mild professorial language, [Romer] declares that poor countries should hand control of these new cities to foreign governments, which should appoint technocratic viceroys. The better to banish politics, there must be no city elections.”

For classical liberalism, the basic necessary condition for a system of governance is consent. Consent could be to a non-democratic constitution which alienates the right of self-governance to some sovereign–which in the case of a charter city would be the technocratic viceroys, or their principals such as some well-meaning foreign governments. Consent plus free entry and exit suffice to satisfy the governance requirements of classical liberalism. Classical liberalism per se sees no moral necessity in democratic self-governance at all (with or without safeguards). Most modern libertarians are not “against” democracy; it nice if you have it (and it works well with safeguards) but it is also OK if you don’t have it but have a consent-based non-democratic governance regime with good rules and the possibility of exit.