Continuing Education... Paul Romer on Urban Growth

EconTalk Extra
by Amy Willis
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Paul Romer on Urban Growth... Campbell Harvey on Randomness,...

We hope you enjoyed this week's conversation with Paul Romer of New York University and director of NYU's Marron Institute of Urban Management. And now we'd like to hear what you got out of it, and for you to help us continue our conversation.

Have a look at the prompts below and share your response in the comments. We look forward to the interaction.

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What's the difference between private and charter cities? 1. When asked about Gurgaon, the subject of much of Roberts's recent episode with Alex Tabarrok, Romer, referring to the interaction between public space and private space, asserts that Gurgaon has "completely failed on getting this right." Does Tabarrok agree? How might a future private city do better? How does this illuminate the difference(s) between private and charter cities? Which do you think hold more potential for the future, and why?

2. Romer suggests that the Millennium Development Goals touted by Jeffrey Sachs should all be scrapped and replaced with one single objective. What does he suggest, and to what extent do you think Romer's is preferable? What do you think Nina Munk would say to Romer's suggestion? Explain.

3. Toward the end of the interview, Roberts asks Romer what the role for the intellectual should be in urban growth, and Romer suggests two. The first is to provide brand new ideas or possibilities for discussion, and the second is what he calls "reframing." What does he mean by this? Which do you think is a more efficacious strategy? In what other policy areas might you suggest "reframing" could be advantageous? Explain.

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CATEGORIES: Extras (147) , Growth (73)

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COMMENTS (5 to date)
Greg G writes:

regarding #3

This idea of "reframing" was my favorite part of the podcast. I could not disagree more with the commenters who suggested this was not "a real free market discussion of transportation policy."

When the topic of the role of the intellectual came up I was expecting the usual simple false dichotomy choosing between "central planning" or "bottom up solutions." I was delighted that something much more interesting actually developed.

Romer described reframing as a way of showing people that solutions they may have dismissed due to moral objections might actual be optimal ways of making people's lives better in some cases. Intellectuals have an important role to play in showing people that their moral objections just might be limiting their thinking too much.

Actually, Romer had done a beautiful reframe of just this type earlier in the discussion. He agreed with Russ's point about "luggage." He agreed that the ability of people to move to areas of greater opportunity is crucial. He agreed that forcing competition between cities for talented people is crucial. All that directly addressed Russ's moral concerns. But then Romer pointed out that people are already remarkably mobile and routinely endure great hardships to migrate from undesirable areas.

He pointed out that the bottleneck is on the supply side. There simply aren't enough cities wiling to accept all the refugees and respect their rights. Some limited central planning for new cities just might be the best way to address this supply side bottleneck.

Romer quickly pointed out that too many mandates can easily gum up the works but laying out a basic city grid with well planned public spaces just might be the best way to facilitate bottom up growth.

I don't think it matters much what our opinion is on whether new ideas or reframing is more important. Reframing is itself a form of creating new ideas. To the extent that the two are different they are meant to compliment each other rather than compete with each other anyway.

Seth writes:

Re: 2

The single objective is that every family have the ability to choose between a number of different cities that would be happy to have them.

I prefer Romer's. I think Munk would too. I have a meme I call 'true measures'. A true measure is something that is hard to game and relates closely to the intended consequence.

I think Romer's objective is also a good one for education and I think it illustrates how this works closer to home.

Sachs' Millennium goals are similar the education bureaucracy's key goal: increase test scores. On the surface that sounds reasonable, but often results in things that do not help educate children ranging from outright cheating, with complicit teachers, to achieve the test score objective to teaching to the test and teachers recruiting their classes to give the best chance of bolstering their performance.

But, the goal shouldn't necessarily be increasing test scores. It should be giving families choices on education. That's the true measure. Do families have choices between a number of schools that would be happy to have them?

Brendan riske writes:

In regards to 3


I couldn't agree more. Reframing is exactly the right attitude for an intellectual to have. There is no alternative should never be accepted in public policy. I want to reframe the austerity/bailout argument. It isn't about lazy people verses working people, or tax payers verses tax dodgers. It is fundamentally about the finacial crisis and it's effects on banking and public finances. Default shouldn't be a moral issue.

Linda writes:

[Comment removed for rudeness.--Econlib Ed.]

Amy Willis writes:

Brendan- interesting...So how exactly does austerity/bail out need to be reframed? What do you see as the effects on banking and public finance?

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