John Galt is alive and well… in Honduras.
The MKG group is establishing a Randian utopian off the Caribbean coast of Honduras on a private, unoccupied island. The stated goal is to build the freest city in the world. The city will set strong protections for private property, have light-to-nonexistent regulations, and in all ways thrive for complete economic freedom.
The founders, with $15 million in seed money, expect to create a libertarian utopia, a true shining beacon of freedom. The Hondurian government expects to harbor an enclave of economic growth and prosperity that will attract capital to their impoverished nation. The rest of the world, I suspect, expects there will be some sort of catch.
The idea for this charter city, which will be the first of three in Honduras, is credited to NYU Professor Paul Romer, but the concept of starting over with fidelity to an ideal is nothing new. Speaking historically, I am very wary of utopian projects. Most tend to fail when confronted with the realities of human nature. Yet, some do succeed enough to influence the course of history, like the utopian project that was the Mayflower voyage.
The MKG Honduran project intrigues me because I think it has a chance to succeed brilliantly. Unlike many utopian ventures the Randian utopia is not seeking to remake the world. MKG does not have a defined vision of what their community will look like, or how it will behave. MKG is creating, in essence, an economic freedom sandbox. They will, and I will, watch to see what grows, rather than attempting to shape the growth.
In this way the Honduran venture is somewhat reminiscent of the American War for Independence. The American Revolution differed significantly with most other Revolutions (think French or Russian) in that it did not try to create new rights, or imagine a new world. To the contrary, the American Revolution sought a restoration of rights lost. To use contemporary political terms, the American Revolution was a conservative revolution, and this, I think, is one basis to the claims of American Exceptionalism.
The sadness of the charter city experiment is that it is necessary at all. It is hardly the mark of a great, free, society, when leaders like Professor Romer, former Google engineer Patri Freidman, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, and entrepreneur Michael Strong, feel the need to flee America to test-drive liberty. The implication is that what is broken in America cannot be fixed. They may be right.
Those who hope that this experiment serve as a model for nations may too be disappointed. The world does not need another proof of concept for economic freedom. Hong Kong has been one example of a charter city that is freer than most places, and certainly the growth in nations that have moved away from regulation and control toward freedom has been demonstrated again and again. Think only of the vast differences sixty years have wrought on the otherwise homogeneous peoples of North and South Korea.
I do hope the MKG group succeeds, because we may need enclaves of freedom. But the necessity of such retreats could only mean that freedom has been driven to the periphery of our world.