By Mark Lutter
There have been a range of government responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. From cover-up to the largest quarantine in history, and that’s just China. Singapore,Hong Kong, and Taiwan have demonstrated how to effectively contain the virus. South Korea has shown that even with thousands of infections, it’s possible to keep the virus under control. The West, on the other hand, has had less than inspiring reactions. Italy, France, and Spain are all under self-imposed lockdowns. The San Francisco Bay area recently imposed a lockdown which other US regions are likely to soon follow.
There is reason to believe that charter cities would respond well to epidemics. The advantage of charter cities over existing institutions is that charter cities are designed to have better social technology, the ability to effectively coordinate large groups to achieve desired outcomes. This capacity for effective coordination is key to limiting the damage of COVID-19 and other epidemics.
Fighting COVID-19, for example, is not technologically difficult. Effective tracking of the disease is needed first. If cases are tracked and quarantined, containment is possible. Singapore is a model in this approach. However, sometimes containment isn’t possible. South Korean containment failed when a secretive cult spread the disease. The South Korean reaction was to rapidly scale up testing to identify and contain new cases. They have seen new cases decline over tenfold since their peak. In a worst-case scenario, like Italy, what is necessary is medical personal protection equipment, hospital beds, and respirators. None of these are technologically complicated. Though scaling production can take time.
No matter what the stage of an epidemic, social distancing and strong personal hygiene is crucial. Social distancing can be accomplished both voluntarily, with people deciding not to go to conferences, concerts,sporting events, and other public gatherings. Social distancing can also be accomplished via government mandate by shuttering various public places.Personal hygiene is ultimately a personal issue. However, it can be affected by an ad campaign and other social pressures.
There is precedent for better social technology stopping an epidemic. A Liberian Firestone plantation with 80,000 employees had 0 deaths during the Ebola epidemic due to rapid adoption of effective policies to spread the threat of the disease. Without any public health experts, they were quickly able to adopt best practices for containment from online sources, quarantining a handful of people. The managers realized the threat to the plantation and their profit margins. Their quick actions saved lives.
The point of a charter city is to develop institutions which lead to economic development. A key pillar of these institutions is capacity. State capacity is the ability of a government to effectively accomplish complex goals in a timely and efficient manner. Given that charter cities aren’t states, we’ll just call it capacity.
A charter city needs capacity to be successful. They need to be able to build roads, regulate labor law, collect taxes, attract foreign investment, and more. All of these tasks require the creation of a flexible,effective administrative structure. This administrative structure can then be applied to new challenges, like an epidemic, responding quickly to the needs of the residents and businesses in the city.