You have likely heard a friend, colleague, or relative repeat the stereotype that the world would be a much better and more efficient place if governments were run like companies. American business people love this line; American politicians too. Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak apparently loves it so much that he is proposing laws that allow businesses to become actual local government – not the old-fashioned way of sending lobbyists to pave their way to greater influence, but by choosing Company Passes Land. You have the right to exercise the same power as any other county in Nevada. This includes the power, immediately or at some point, to:
- Raise taxes (or not!) Create school boards (or not!)
- Do dishes (or not!)
- Hire a police force (or not!)
- Do you offer (or not!) Community services like garbage collection
The thing to remember is that whatever is built will still be in Nevada. And Nevada? Still in the US I’m sorry for telling you, but Seasteading, it isn’t.
It is more helpful to view Nevada’s proposal as the natural evolution of Donald Trump’s “Opportunity Zones” – geographical carvings with great incentives for developers, ostensibly to help poor communities. Opportunity zones were generally not rated as very helpful to the people in and around them. However, they were good for Trump’s friends.
You can also think of Sisolak’s idea as a further development of an old American tradition: the company town in which a company consists of service providers, employers, landlords and school teachers. I was surprised to learn that at one point three in every hundred American residents lived in a corporate town. This is unlikely as today’s best-known companies – Uber, Lyft, and Amazon – are doing everything they can to not benefit many of their employees.
Nevada is a natural place for this type of jurisdiction. Not only has it put itself on the map with various forms of regulatory arbitrage – with a more permissive approach to gambling, marriage, sex work, taxes, etc. – it is also home to 32 tribal reservations and colonies that enjoy tribal sovereignty. This is not intended to draw a straight line or ignore the great historical, political, and cultural differences between a reservation and a transit chapel. All I’m saying is that Nevada is gloriously full of strange jurisdictions, so it’s no surprise that its Democratic governor would be open to such experimentation.
Nevada also has a fair amount of space, which is important if this legislation comes into existence. The way it would work is that companies that own more than 50,000 acres of land that is not in an existing district are essentially allowed to set their own rules as long as they have $ 250 million in the bank and pledge to invest an additional $ 1 billion over the next decade.
Oh, and there’s one more requirement: Local self-government in Nevadan is “limited to companies that do specific business areas including blockchain, autonomous technology, Internet of Things, robotics, artificial intelligence, wireless communications, biometrics, and technology for renewable resources “.
That all sounds very specific, doesn’t it? How many large, well-capitalized, land-owned blockchain companies are there?
At least one! It’s called Blockchains LLC and has been completely open to its intentions for years to achieve just that level of autonomy. Its owner, Jeffrey Berns, donated $ 50,000 to Sisolak’s campaign and went public with his stated goal of “creating a kind of experimental community spanning approximately one hundred square kilometers that includes houses, schools, business districts, and manufacturing studios become.” “according to the New York Times.
Or, as Berns puts it: a “sandpit” that “influences humanity for the better” with “as many possibilities as there are grains of sand in all sandboxes on earth”.
Blockchains LLC is your average blockchain-crypto-something-changing-the-world-BUY-MY-COINS revolution, which means it’s both ambitious and completely incomprehensible to an ordinary person. If you have the patience, you can watch this video where Berns talks about his vision with a hologram of a 12 year old girl.
If you cut the crypto bs, and I’m warning you there are a lot of them, that’s the gist of a legitimately important mission: how to make a meaningful and secure connection between our physical and digital selves. I think that partly explains the seemingly paradoxical desire to have a blockchain-based county in the Nevada wilderness.
As far as I can tell, Berns’ company is concerned with self-sovereign identity: creating tools that you and I can use to show that we are actually what we say we are. If you’ve ever struggled to get a driver’s license, fix a typo on your Social Security card, stolen your identity, messed up your tax returns, or tried to recover a dormant eBay account, you know that’s way, much harder than it sounds like. Our digital tracks and shadows just don’t meaningfully correspond to our arms, legs, and brains (and souls, if you believe in something like that).
Blockchains LLC is one of many technology companies trying to put individuals in control of these scattered pieces. The goal is to match each person to all of their “bits” in a secure manner without government intervention, and the blockchain is one medium through which this can be done. Berns has also apparently bought safes in the mountains of Sweden and Switzerland, where people (well, his customers) can keep “private keys” that are used to keep proof of identity.
Note that the key, the bunker, and the mountain are unique, physical things – portals to all other things that are digital and less tangible.
The longing to start a physical city, country, or community from scratch seems to be fundamental to the way people act politically and socially. Lately, the sheer power of this desire among technicians says a lot about how societies have failed to figure out how to reasonably coexist both on earth and online. The same tension lurks among the debates over whether or not Trump should be banned from Twitter: We agree that what happens on a technology platform corresponds to what happens in the material world, but it is not one-to-one. One game, so we, I’m not sure what to think of this watery space in between, especially given the non-territoriality in which these controversial speech acts take place.
In addition to fulfilling the massive ambitions of a rich man, a blockchain city can therefore also be understood as a consolidation effort: as an attempt to reconcile two parts of our lives that are currently operating on different levels.
That almost goes without saying, but I also think we are going through a period of deep human frustration over the lack of new frontiers and that people who pride themselves on disturbing things and thinking big are offended by the fact that they don’t just can go and colonize a new place like their predecessors. Not doing anything about asteroid mining … but that is definitely related to asteroid mining.
If I were a gambling woman, I’d bet that Nevada legislation will not pass: the proposed legislation requires public hearings, and I can think of a big grassroots effort to keep it from getting enforced. Even the Charter Cities Institute, a think tank whose aim is to achieve this very kind of legislation, warns that the public hearing “invites problems in the same way as a discretionary review, etc. problems of NIMBYs regarding development new homes. ” but is likely an inevitable inclusion. “
Nevertheless, I can see that the state of Bern and its company have made enough concessions so that this legislation does not matter. Nevada wants Berns to stay, and with so many other states courting zillionaires like him, the zillionaire has every lever. His company will end up with some degree of political and administrative control over his land, and hand the more annoying things over to the state or another county. I think (hope?) That serious people who are passionate about tech will ultimately want to focus on the technology and not spend their time figuring out how to, I don’t know, put waste management into the blockchain.
Obviously, it’s fun to think about the best way to build and organize a new city, country, or community. It’s also a really important practice – it has defined political philosophy since Plato’s Republic. But in practice it’s also a huge pain in the ass. Why? Because it’s not that easy to run a government like a business.
Excerpt from Terra Nullius, a newsletter about the places in the world where the rules do not apply. Subscribe here:
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