Monday, February 02, 2015

Podcasts listened to while ironing

Econtalk is a great podcast economics series, often featuring the first class economist Russ Roberts as host. I've just listened to a fascinating podcast with Russ and Alex Tabarrok on 'Private Cities', in which they discuss the limits, failures and successes when it comes to leaving it to private enterprise to making a city work.  Lots of examples are given, although the focus is on an Indian city called Gurgaon, which has minimal municipal government. In Gurgaon, the private sector fails in the areas you might expect, such as in the the provision of an effective sewerage system and a main road network, but it has also led to one of the best fire departments in India. Also, a lot of the failures don't compare too badly to the alternative, which is corrupt public control (traffic is hell in most cities in India). As India and China expand at a dizzying pace, it will be interesting to see how the different models fare, what works and what doesn't. The podcast also touches on China and US, which I keep telling everyone is far less 'free market' than is widely thought by us European folk.

On a side note, I've always been in favour of living in a city or town with a broad cross-section of the population, providing vibrancy, edge, colour and a sense of opportunity for all, in contrast to the opposite extreme, which would be a city for the rich and privileged. A trade-off to this is that there would naturally be a higher crime rate, higher civil disobediency, higher taxes due to higher social provisions etc. The long-run problem of such a city however, is that if richer folk have the option to move to private neighbourhoods or cities nearby, you can't blame them for it, but the result is that a process of ghettoisation begins and the once valued diversity becomes skewed toward the less favoured elements. I used to think private cities were morally unfair primarily for this reason. These days, I see them as inevitable and while I still think there are many negative spill-over effects, I no longer have a moral opinion about whether they are 'right' or 'wrong'.

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