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Charter Citizen

In October 2012, the Supreme Court of Honduras forced closure on a recent chapter of neoliberal expansionism, ruling against the constitutionality of autonomous cities within its borders.

The ill-fated enterprise dates back to the 2009 TED conference, when liberal economist Paul Romer took the floor to pitch “charter cities,” built on the territory of host countries and subject to the market-friendly jurisdiction of credible guarantor nations. At the 2011 TED conference, Romer returned to announce that his initial speech had directly impacted the Honduran congress’s passage of a constitutional amendment and statute (Decree No. 123-2011), which enabled the creation of such cities in “Special Development Regions.”

Private interests soon followed, overseen by Milton Friedman’s grandson, Patri, and Michael Strong, cofounder of Conscious Capitalism, Inc. Their respective city models had more anarcho-capitalist and libertarian tilts than Romer’s. (Strong’s, for example, made third-party guarantorship a voluntary provision). Notwithstanding these differences, all three plans promoted minimal legal apparatuses to lure foreign investment.

Laissez-faire utopias are not new to the developing world, which has periodically served as a sketchpad for the capitalist dreamer. What Romer's, Strong’s, and Friedman’s theories contribute is the marketization of government. Neoliberalism, Wendy Brown writes, demotes “the political sovereign to managerial status”: a weak monitor of the transnational flows that perforate its bounds.1 If the nation-state’s alignment of sovereignty and territory increasingly founders against globalized competitors, as the city planners reason, then the state itself must be abandoned in favor of workable alternatives—“designed in the same way as entrepreneurial business models from Silicon Valley,” Strong proposes, or conceived as an operating system and service provider, tailoring user experience to produce what Patri Friedman calls “a city that’s as fun to use as an iPad.” 2

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