Our next guest post comes from Vinay Gupta, the creator of, among other things, the Hexayurt, a shelter you can build for $200, and the Open Tool Box, an open source consulting group that aims to find better solutions to disaster relief.–Editor
For a long time, I’ve been joking with people about Guptastan – the state which is in the box. It only recently occurred to me that people don’t realize that I’m absolutely serious about starting a new nation state within three or four years if conditions are historically right.
This is not a joke. It’s very, very clear to everybody that we have serious and possibly insurmountable problems in American liberty. Hakim Bey discusses the “closure of the map” meaning that, for now at least, there is no more frontier for people who want a more rugged freedom to flee to. He omits in large degree that the map has been opened and reopened by genocide, but we will put the matter of the Americas to the side for now.
Barring the sudden opening of new land, and in abundance, we are out of frontier. There are microniches which could be opened – tiny atolls in the middle of the Pacific, disused oil tankers strapped together to form new “land” as the age of oil ends – but the fragility imposed by extremely low population and geographic isolation is unwelcoming to put it mildly. Unlike many pondering the evolution of the Nation State, I’m unwilling to consider the proposition without land to back up sovereignty.
Sovereignty is the point of this. Bluntly, I do not like your law. No, Sir, I do not. I do not like the incarceration rates in the USA. I do not like a policy which seems, on the whole, to be moronic and self serving. I do not like that the effective IQ of congress appears to be around 40, resulting in obscenities like subsidizing making fuel from food, resulting in taxing Americans to cause starvation in foreign lands. I do not like the fact that everybody agrees that military procurement is broken, and nobody is able to fix it, even though everybody involved is theoretically on the same side. I do not like the absence of preparedness for a nuclear event, a pandemic flu, or the inevitable economic crash caused by lying to people for generations about the fact that they will always be richer tomorrow than they were today, and that it is possible to live well forever on the hard labor of the Chinese factory worker. No, Sirs, I do not like what you have done with America, the most bountiful nation on earth in terms of natural resources, only just scattered with people, and with every historical potential for national success, and the international role of being the beacon of liberty.
In short, all y’all have screwed up America so badly that it might be time to consider Plan B.
(This is a decision I have made for me, which is a story for another day.)
So let us say that America dies. There are three or four options: another serious terrorist strike, perhaps even including WMDs, or a mishandled economic crash resulting in feudalism or socialism of an oppressive kind or chaotic revolution, or perhaps a continuing slide into fascism until there is nothing left of the Republic, or an evolution towards internal disunion so severe that it fragments the nation into little pieces, none of which can fully uphold the spirit of the Constitution. The meaning of the whole may not be accurately reflected in the part.
The dream is alive and lives on. We all know the Founding Fathers got really, really close to something. They built aright, level, square and plumb, and their work lasted quite some time. But their envisaged revolutions – the overthrow every generation or two of the corrupt government – never happened. The tree of liberty died from lack of nourishment as the fat and idle focussed on economy, not on education and political awareness. The tax slavery of the population fed a fat and ineffective State, which every passing day resembles the latter stage Soviet Union more simply by virtue of size and general character. It’s like the Bogons that had been bound up in the Soviet Union were released at its collapse and swarmed Washington…
So we are in the position of “skimming the algorithms off” – looking at America, copying what works, and finding a new place to try it again, updated and upgraded. Modern technologies like PKI and biometrics help. Other modern technologies, like ubiquitous surveillance, hinder. But between these two pillars, we can find a middle way which could allow a new style of State to exist, offering many of the same virtues that America by rights should have by virtue of its principles, and has lost by the nature of its practices. “We do not torture” – yes you bloody do.
So here is the framework of the Libertopian Community Template. The LCT is the idea of rolling up a basic prototype for Libertarian microstates. The expectation is that even a partial success on the first or second outing will result in a swarm of successor operations. In the really dire conditions which are likely to accompany an American collapse, many Americans would be willing to try such templates. Some would try them within America in a resurgence of local government via things like elected sheriffs denying jurisdiction to federal officials and local juries imposing nullification of laws they consider unjust. Others would expatriate or “vacation” in new Weakly State-Like Entities (WSLEs) which is, I think, the most that a microstate can hope for on the first outing.
A WSLE (yes, it’s pronounced Weasel) has four basic defining properties which are, I think, likely preconditions to success.
- WSLEs are parastate entities. They draw on loopholes and other fudges in international law for their legitimacy, rather than attempting to attain full-fledged sovereignty from the outset. Parastates are closer to free trade zones than autonomous regions, apart from in two critical matters: taxation, and criminal law. The parastate defines its jurisdiction in libertarian forms, but does not ask for recognition, only tacit acceptance. The reasons for this will become clear.
- WSLEs are inherently temporary. They based on a 20 year land lease, or a 50 year free trade agreement, or a 30 year “open city” experiment. WSLEs do not stand and fight, WSLEs basically stay put as long as they are broadly speaking welcome, and they refer anybody who is deeply unhappy with their presence to the simple, historical inevitability of their closure when the treaty expires. If it takes 10 or 20 years to really get a WSLE going, and the lease expires in 30 years, the window for really serious opposition to get irritated, angry, scheme, research, plan, prepare, organize and then finally execute serious action to crush the WSLE is short… by the time such opponents do the math, it may well turn out to be a lot easier to plan on coming in after the lease expires and taking whatever is left over.
A “flag held high unto the ages” is not for us: we must be so far inside the OODA loop of conventional nation states that they have very little chance of understanding what that was until it is gone again. WSLEs are small, fast, live in holes, do not attempt combat with big dogs, and run from hole to hole in the event of trouble. They do not die with their boots on. Remember this is the experimental phase. Full implementation may take generations or, at current rates of change, 30 years.
- WSLEs have police, not armies. Because they are not States, only weakly state-like entities, WSLEs do not have armies. They draw their state-type protection from the region which granted them their license to exist in the form of a free trade zone or similar agreement. However, the “police” in a WSLE might well constitute, in an emergency, the entire population armed with hunting rifles and so on. You can’t really do a WSLE without arms, which makes some jurisdictions a lot more welcoming than others. But those arms are personal possessions of the population. I’ve explored ideas like having a WSLE rent land to, say, a largish mercenary company as a training base and I think there is considerable merit to having a significant military understanding present within a WSLE just to make sure that things like regional conflicts do not turn into a problem more quickly than the residents of the WSLE can evacuate to, say, international waters and plead for protection with the governments that gave them their passports.
- WSLEs run on tourism. Not because libertarian tourism is a cheap and easy way to make money with more-or-less any WSLE, but because the more people have visited Tor-two-ga, the less easy it is to demonize it, wipe it off the map, or sabotage the idea of libertarianism as a reasonable way of life. One has to beware the temptation to cater to sex and drug tourism exclusively: if there is sex tourism, let it be tourists having sex with other tourists, rather than rented bedmates. If there is drug tourism, let it be covered by the general rule of not prosecuting events that occurred between consenting adults, rather than by (say) specific mandate. Everybody likes to think their WSLE will be kinda like Burning Man or kinda like the Virginia Colonies. Nobody really wants it to be like the red light districts of the third world. So let’s try and maintain a framework which implements that policy goal.
As for the rest? English common law with appropriate modifications, binding arbitration agreements to implement private courts, and something like geolibertarianism to raise whatever funds the government requires to operate, with the excess being divided equally among the population. A fall-back position for economic failures might rest on a self-preservation clause which is designed to allow people to escape serious punishment for non-violent property rights violations undertaken for their own survival, based on a restorative justice framework where the lack of damages from, say, farming unused land is basically zero. (and thanks to Arto for the long discussions which came to this equilibrium.)
My proposal for starting an African WSLE in the event of disastrous developments in America around the election or the financial crash is threefold.
- The WSLE produces anti-HIV medications legally. Without regard to patent laws of course, and delivers them at cost to the people of the State which encloses the WSLE. In exchange, it receives a land grant, the ability to nullify or ignore local laws, and an ironclad rationale for not having IP laws apply. Of course, on the other side, the WSLE does not export anything. Doctors or their agents come into the WSLE, fulfill prescriptions on behalf of patients, and then go through the “customs station” between the WSLE and the nation state it exists within. Other than that, there is no export: IP enters, but it does not leave. Electronically exporting IP which leads to diplomatic pressure being put on the WSLE is a strongly discouraged thing.
- The WSLE publishes careful notes about how life works there. This includes especially careful documentation of problems. It needs to be an open lab for new ways of life, and it needs to be transparently not a threat to anybody. One can also imagine a large non-resident “advisory board” consisting of interested Libertarians from all around the world who could be members of the project, and perhaps enjoy visiting rights and so on.
- The WSLE maintains an escape fleet. Simply, in the event of a diplomatic breakdown or a regional war, the WSLE maintains the ability to get the entire population into international waters, and to hold out there for a short period while help arrives. I’m going to stress this very strongly: WSLEs do not fight wars, they abandon their ground, evacuate the population, and reconstitute elsewhere if it can be arranged. Contingency planning beyond regular policing functions is oriented around flight, possibly with layered retreat defense, rather than fight.
WSLEs are guests of local governments, not nation states and it is on this distinction that their successes and failures will rest. But given that the planet has very little land free for the taking, the WSLE approach of “negotiate a corner to live in” has much to recommend it, and a foreign policy based on not being too annoying and not being at all threatening is a critical component of this approach.
Finally, we come down to population. I believe the appropriate number is a shade under 30,000 – the size of a small town. It is an M2 community (i.e. in Monkeysphere / Dunbar number terms, it’s a bit over 150 * 150 people, approximately two moneyspheres in radius.) I believe you need a population of about this size to support things like first world style medical care and regular flights to the nearest airport. It also creates some resilience in local infrastructure. It also gives some guide as to the amount of territory required: at 1 acre per person, it’s about 50 square miles or 130 square kilometers. Not a small patch of land.
If you take a look this Google Map, a suitable territory would be about two pixels.
Do you think a few tons of good quality anti-HIV medications could get ground rent and a no-questions-asked policy for two pixels of this map?
I think so. The hard part is finding 30,000 people who’ll invest $30,000 – $50,000 each in moving to Africa to live in what amounts to the world’s most interesting tourist town. That’s not going to happen without massive social dislocations in the first world so, until the time is ripe, this is where the plan sits. A small crew could do a lot of planning and research, but the money won’t flow until there’s no place else for it to go.