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The Inverse Amish

January 3, 2014

Balaji Srinivasan makes a great analogy

Just like the Amish live nearby, peacefully, in the past – imagine a society of Inverse Amish that lives nearby, peacefully, in the future. A place where Google Glass wearers are normal, where self-driving cars and delivery drones aren’t restricted by law, and where we can experiment with new technologies *without* causing undue disruption to others. Think of this like a Special Innovation Zone similar to the Special Economic Zones that Deng Xiaoping used to allow China to experiment with capitalism in a controlled way.

9) In sum: I believe that regulations exist for a reason. And I believe that new technologies will keep coming up against existing rulesets. I don’t believe the solution is either to change the rulesets (which, again, exist for a reason) OR to give up on new technology. I think instead we need a third solution: a way to exit (whether to the cloud for purely digital technologies, or to a Special Innovation Zone or ultimately a startup nation), prove/disprove these new technologies among a self-selected, opt-in group of risk-tolerant early adopters, and report back to the mothership on what works and what doesn’t.

10) This concept – a Special Innovation Zone – is a new idea. It is really about humility, not hostility. USG is a big thing, it has a lot of responsibilities, it runs a nation of 300M people, and it can’t just change federal laws to permit some crazy tech guys to try (say) self-driving cars without affecting millions of people. A new region – like a Special Innovation Zone – can experiment with this kind of thing without bothering anyone who wishes to live under the previous rulesets.

Again: this is complementary to USG’s own efforts. I don’t see them as competitive, anymore than a startup competes with IBM’s research labs.


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The new American Nations

November 17, 2013

In traditional media, the American political and cultural divide is broken down into two factions – red states and blue states, representing the ends of the one-dimensional political spectrum from conservatism to liberalism (the colors, oddly, being reversed from the typical historical association). But author Colin Woodward finds not two, but  eleven distinct American regional cultures. A writeup in the Tufts University alumni magazine comes with a tantalizing graphic:


The deep cultural differences in the United States prevent regions from coming to agreement on national policy and influence the formation of coalitions. For example, the attitude towards federal government regulation is different between the descendants of communal Quakers and Puritans in Yankeedom and the fiercely independent Scots-Irish of Greater Appalachia.

I’m addicted to secession-maps, so you get one more. This blog post shows what would happen if the State and Federal governments of the USA collapsed and territory fell under the control of city-states. The power that a city can project over each point of land area is modeled as a function of population divided by an exponential function of the distance, with the most powerful city winning dominion.


Burning for the Sea

November 17, 2013

The dream of Seasteading is catching on in the greater Burning Man community. The cultural separatist festival has long held a contentious relationship with local authorities whom they pay for event permits every year. In exchange, the authorities provide law enforcement and emergency services to the festival, some of which, such as drug busts, are not welcome.

In their search for total creative freedom over their own culture and lives, it was inevitable that Burners be drawn to the last Earthly frontier – international waters. The melding of Burning Man’s culture of creativity and self-reliance with the more explicitly secessionist dream of Seasteading was the raison d’être for the Ephemerisle festival in the first place.


ephemerisle-bubble (1)

Google’s mysterious barge parked at Treasure Island further stokes the imagination of Burners drawn to the creative freedom of the high seas. It is now known to be used for some sort of massive floating art and technology exhibit, to be over 50 feet tall and 250 feet long when construction is finished.

Google has been largely closed-mouthed about its waterborne behemoth. After rumors circulated that it was going to be a showroom, a floating data center that could be used in the event of a natural disaster, or perhaps a big party boat, the company issued a statement Wednesday calling it an “interactive space where people can learn about new technology.”

Asked to comment Thursday on the planning documents, which we obtained from the port under the Freedom of Information Act, Google officials sent us the same brief statement they issued a day before.

Whatever it is, the barge’s backers expect it to draw 1,000 visitors a day as it sails from spot to spot around the bay. Among the envisioned mooring sites are Piers 30-32 and other San Francisco docks, Fort Mason, Angel Island, Redwood City and Rosie the RiveterHistorical National Park in Richmond.

As yet, there is no information as to whether the Google barge backers were inspired by Ephemerisle.

The Geeks shall inherit the Earth

November 17, 2013

Balaji Srinivasan speaks at Startup School 2013 about technology that enables political exit

The Floating City Project: Help TSI Raise Money on Indiegogo

August 15, 2013

Mike here. It’s been slow here at Let a Thousand Nations Bloom. But in case you haven’t seen this elsewhere, I wanted to post the Seasteading Institutute’s  Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for designing the first floating city. They plan on working with Deltasync, a Dutch architecture firm with expertise in building floating structures. You don’t have to be Rockefella to help a fella (or to kickstart a new frontier). Please help put the campaign over the top!

The Floating City Project

The strategy behind this project is to accelerate the creation of an actual floating city while making seasteading – pioneering the oceans and creating new societies – accessible to the average person. Our years of engineering and legal research, combined with the input of our community, has culminated in our latest strategy to produce pragmatic plans for the first floating city. We realize that it will be more economically feasible to locate a seastead as close to an active port as possible, instead of international waters. Locating near shore will greatly reduce costs compared to mooring a platform in deeper waters. It will also reduce the cost of transporting people and goods to and from the seastead, making it easier for residents to take the plunge into ocean living.

Bitcoin and Unbreakable Law

June 13, 2013

bitcoin logo

Imagine that you were entertaining a business deal with a man with an supernatural ability to make two kinds of promises: 1) promises that are impossible for him to break and 2) ordinary, breakable promises. Why would you accept anything other than the unbreakable promises from him? If he offered to make  breakable promises you might grow suspicious about his intent.

It’s easy to see how unbreakable promises would be a revolution for contracts and law. Enforcement costs for contracts would be drastically reduced. It would enable a new era of globalization, allowing people to participate in contracts with each other without regard to jurisdiction. The rights promised to a citizen of a country could be guaranteed instead of relying on the benevolence and caprice of their sovereign.

This is why I find Bitcoin so exciting. Sending someone a bitcoin is like making a promise that can’t be broken because the rules governing the transfer of bitcoins are secured by cryptographic algorithms which cannot be broken. Bitcoin is a system of rules for the accounting and transfer of property rights in a way that is completely verifiable and unforgeable. The regulation and enforcement of property rights is a big portion of what governments do so bitcoin opens the door to more efficient and trustable decentralized forms of governance.

In contrast, transactions in the traditional banking system rely on a fragile chain of trust and threats of force. If I try to send you money you must trust that your bank and my bank will not make a mistake or attempt to defraud us. You must trust that the government regulators which oversee banks are reliable, thorough, and honest. You must trust that banks fear the consequences of the law if they break a promise and that they haven’t captured their regulators. And with most methods of electronic bank transfer in the USA, the recipient will not be able to verify that the transaction went through for several days.

But in practice we know that people sometimes write checks that they can’t cover. We know that government banking regulators sometimes freeze accounts. And we know that banks and countries sometimes become insolvent. This year depositors in Cyprus and Argentina have seen their property rights in their bank accounts violated. Cypriots were promised the money in their bank accounts, but then their government together with the EU decided to change the rules. When rules change too often they cease to become rules at all.

Auditing and enforcing promises made in the traditional financial system requires tremendous resources, employing hundreds of thousands of people and costing billions of dollars a year. There are middlemen that guarantee transactions against fraud, regulators that ensure that those middlemen remain solvent and comply with banking regulations, police men and lawyers that prosecute fraudsters, intelligence agents that monitor transactions for illegal purchasers, banks to keep your money safe, and many other specialties. All of that overhead is obsoleted by bitcoin because promises cannot be forged or broken.

The importance of Bitcoin is bigger and broader than just a new kind of currency. It also represents a breakthrough technology in rule-making. The technology underlying bitcoin can be used to create systems for the maintenance and transfer of property rights in other goods, such as domain names (see the namecoin project). I hope that people continue to find astonishing new uses for this technology.

Property rights based on cryptography are a remarkable advance in governance technology for several reasons. First, they are unbreakable. Second, they are opt-in rulesets – nobody forces you to join the bitcoin ecosystem just because you are born in some jurisdiction. Third, it eliminates a mountain of compliance and auditing costs. Far fewer regulators, banks, courts, and cops are needed to maintain order when forgery is impossible. Fourth, it is universal – anybody can choose to opt-in to the system.

Cypherpunks and crypto-libertarians are way ahead of me. For decades they had the vision of property without government and of laws without force. Now that I see an example of it in the wild I finally understand what all the fuss is about.

History of Future Cities

March 20, 2013


Daniel Brook recently published excepts from his book on four designed or somewhat cultivated cities–St. Petersburg,  Mumbai, Shanghai, and Dubai. Fascinating bit of history on Shanghai and how market reforms were introduced throughout China:

Two decades ago, when Shanghai’s leaders looked out over the new New China born of Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms, it seemed history had gone off the rails. It wasn’t Shanghai, the city that invented Chinese capitalism, but Deng’s new experimental instant metropolis, Shenzhen, on the border with Hong Kong, that was brimming with factories and drawing thousands of ambitious young people from across the country. It was as if Deng had held a great national casting call for China’s next business hub and upstart Shenzhen had gotten the part Shanghai assumed she was destined to play. Hoping to set things right, Shanghai officials lobbied their superiors in Beijing, urging them to reopen to the world China’s historic global gateway city and financial center.

Back then even Deng’s pro-market political allies were wary of Shanghai. Some officials worried that unleashing China’s cradle of cosmopolitanism and revolution could upend their rule. Others fretted that the symbolism alone would aid their ideological enemies. Deng was already beset by anti-market factions within the Party who warned that his new Special Economic Zones for international investment would become “foreign concession zones” reborn. Though Deng had been able to overrule them in creating Shenzhen, the symbolism of their critique would be much more salient in Shanghai, a city that had actually been a grouping of foreign concessions during China’s “Century of Humiliation,” from the Opium War through World War II.

But the Shanghai city government kept pushing.


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