Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Utopia from Scratch

Posted by Caitlin Endyke

An interesting experiment: sometimes, would it be easier to solve a society’s problems simply by starting from scratch? 

In a recent This American Life episode (go to Act III, transcript here), regular Planet Money contributors Chana Joffe-Walt and Jacob Goldstein traveled to Honduras to speak to some local officials, and one internationally-known economist, about their attempts at doing just that.  It’s an interesting theory- take a country with a wealth of problems but not fiscal resources, where people are resistant to wide-sweeping reforms that would be necessary to get the country back on track, and create within that country a small space where the old rules don’t exist.  A space where you toss out all the corruption and all the things that don’t work in the rest of the nation and create a real-life utopia, using laws and infrastructures modeled after successful developed nations.   In theory, what happens is people in the country surrounding the carved-out utopia see that these reforms work, and make for a better quality of life, and then they advocate for the country as a whole to adopt similar systems.  Then, a few years down the line, you’re able to essentially re-create an entire nation in a better image. 

In practice, it doesn’t quite go that smoothly.  This radio piece lays out how the Honduran government initially ran with this idea, but then got mired in a series of pitfalls ranging from a lack of outside financial investments to the clashing of key-player personalities.  Not to mention scars of history and the implications of imposing western systems on a formerly-colonized nation. Still, it’s interesting to think about.  If you could create a utopia within a nation, one where you could throw out all the laws and rules and systems that didn’t work and replace them with ones you thought would, what would that place look like?  If we were creating a Commons utopia, what laws would we keep?  What new infrastructures would we make sure we put in place? Does this very idea- of starting from scratch- fit into a commons framework? 

Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

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