483: Self-Improvement Kick

483: Self-Improvement Kick

Jan 4, 2013
A perfectly normal guy gets rid of everything he owns, changes his name, says goodbye to his friends — and begins walking. In the name of peace. And Honduran government officials try to heal their corrupt country by starting a perfect city, from scratch. For the new year, we bring you stories about how far some people go in hopes of a better life.
  • A young idealist named Octavio Sanchez is chief of staff to the president of Honduras. He gets an idea: What if you could cure all your country's ills by just ... starting over? In one little spot, you could create a whole new, perfect city. Do all the reforms you want to do in that one place — and if it works, it could spread to the whole country. But how could he pull off such a radical project? Then Octavio sees a TED Talk by a famous American economist, Paul Romer. Romer has more or less the same idea: poor countries could invite richer countries to found and run ideal "charter cities." It's not colonialism, Romer explains, because the poor countries are asking for help. Octavio and Paul get together and persuade the Honduran president. They're off and running. They choose a spot, they change the constitution to make it legal, they start searching for investors. But then, the whole thing starts to sour — for reasons both inevitable, and surprising. Chana Joffe-Walt and Jacob Goldstein of our Planet Money team went to Honduras to find out how it all went down. (28 minutes)EconomicsPolitics

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The birth of a city: This napkin drawing shows a map of Honduras. The dot is where a brand new city would be built, free of the country's ills.

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