This is an expansion on the ideas presented in Nicole’s post entitled When Will We Have A Virtual Nation (And When Can I Sign Up)?
No one more than I believes there’s benefit in the concept of a virtual nation. It was my dream throughout childhood to be a “Man of the World”, living wherever I choose, for as long as I choose. From 0 to 5, I did exactly that; while moving around for work my parents took me to live in Australia, Europe, North America and Africa. My first flight was an international long-haul flight from Australia to the Netherlands when I was seven weeks old. My first haircut was in Milan, Italy. My first school was in Salt Lake City, USA. I rode my first bicycle in Johannesburg, South Africa. For one summer we lived a block away from Steve Jobs. Those experiences lingered and influenced me for two decades until I was finally ready to get back out into the world again, on my own.
Now I feel I’ve achieved that dream — I work remotely for a fantastic and innovative agency in Australia and in the past 18 months I’ve lived in four countries and visited six others — but I’m held to ransom, so to speak, by the restrictions of how well the host of my nationality (i.e. my nation) has negotiated bilateral agreements with other nations. As is expected, I’m not entitled to work in, or draw upon the services of, any nation apart from my own, unless my own nation has negotiated such an agreement for that. I can work in New Zealand if I want and in a handful of nations, e.g. the UK, I am entitled to draw on the free health care system if I need to (however doing so can be incredibly complicated). Except for New Zealand, I’m not allowed to live anywhere outside of Australia for more than three or six months without a special visa entitling me to work or draw upon support services, which I don’t want to do. If I want to go live somewhere for an indefinite period and not draw on either of these entitlements — entering the workforce or drawing from national services—there isn’t a visa for that.
I see virtual nations acting as a potential solution to this.
When reading Nicole’s take on virtual nations, the thing that burned in the back of my mind as I read it was “But how would it work?” I keep thinking about potential models for this and I’ve come up with a couple that I think might work. They are filled with flaws and numbers are entirely arbitrary and unresearched but maybe you can help me solve some of the issues in the comments.
Model 1: Two Layers
This model has two layers of nationality: geographical and virtual. I think this most closely matches Nicole’s idea.
The geographical nation layer provides all basic core services within a specific region: health care, education, employment, housing, public safety, welfare for unemployment and disabilities, roads and transport services, infrastructure for electricity, water and sewage, and so on. This is all funded by a flat universal minimum sales tax of, say, 25%. No exceptions for anyone; same minimum tax rate everywhere.
Same minimum tax rate? Yep. Some high-density locales may need to bump this to a higher rate to be able to provide enough core services. It may not need to be as high for low-density regions. Those who can afford it will pay; those who can’t will move to places with lower sales tax. What’s important here is that the tax rate is tied to a transparent variable with obvious thresholds that trigger changes in the tax rate, and only then with a minimum notice-of-change period of 12 months.
The virtual nation layer is an opt-in system that adds a layer of additional services and support mechanisms on top of the geographical layer. Citizens of each virtual nation pay for it through an income tax, which could vary from virtual nation to virtual nation. So, for example, one virtual nation may set citizenship at 25%, with a minimum annual contribution of $5000 (making it only available to those earning more than $20,000 a year).
What would being a member of a virtual nation entitle you to? Good question! In my head I kind of visualise this as the various specialisations you see in role-playing games. For example, a mage can use spells and wands but a warrior cannot; a warrior can use armour and swords but a mage cannot. So, you choose the virtual nation which best suits the lifestyle you want and the beliefs you hold.
Perhaps you want better than the basic services? Better doctors, better teachers, better homes: so you opt-in to a virtual nation that provides you with access to that as part of your virtual nation taxation.
Model 2: Virtual nations only
This model eliminates geography entirely. The idea here is that the virtual nation provides all core services as well as additional unique benefits. Actual service providers, e.g. hospitals, schools, transport, public utilities, are funded by the virtual nations as people use them. If I move to a specific region, I notify my virtual nation and they add me to the network of service providers in that region, paying for my share of infrastructure usage. On my behalf they pay the organisations that provide perpetual permanent services like roads and public safety. When I visit a clinic, they bill my virtual nation’s government or, if they don’t “accept” my virtual nationality (or my virtual nationality doesn’t provide health care), I pay on the spot.
It’s kind of like having an insurance policy that covers you for all the services automatically.
Separate to that, your virtual nationality would subscribe to a particular set of concepts, beliefs or principles that would further inform its decisions and its benefits. The Virtual Nation of Creatives believes in encouraging creativity and provides additional services in art education and improved connectivity between creative people but at the cost of reduced access to health care. The Virtual Nation of Atheists provides religion-free schooling and the latest medical breakthroughs, but refuses to pay for health services that aren’t scientifically founded such as acupuncture. The Virtual Nation of Nomads provides excellent healthcare worldwide and reduced rates on travel expenses and short-term accommodation, but doesn’t provide support for education that isn’t provided online.
You’re not precluded from any of the things that your virtual nation doesn’t provide, it’s just that you have to pay for it out of pocket.
Members pay a tax to support their virtual nation but what about those who are unemployed? I’m not sure. I think one of two things would have to happen. Either 1) every nation provides an unemployment programme, or 2) if you can’t afford your virtual nation’s taxation dues, you fall back to a single “default” virtual nation that provides very basic core services, and is funded by all other virtual nations (a requirement of being a recognised virtual nation).
There are lots of things that haven’t been considered here. What about wars? Who leads the global government that oversees all the geographic nations? Are there elections and, if so, how do you know where you’re supposed to vote? Isn’t it kind of impossible to implement this? Isn’t the first one just a slightly fairer version of the US applied on a global scale?
What if one of the virtual nations is full of people who are anti-vaccination and their children end up with mumps and putting a drain on a specific region’s health care services? Well, in the second model, maybe healthcare operators stop supporting that virtual nation and it has to set up its own clinics…?
In the second model, what happens when you’re born? Are you born into the default nation or one of your parent’s virtual nations?
Neither of the above solutions are easy to implement now, except perhaps using Model 2 as a layer on top of our existing situation, but it doesn’t do the one thing I wish virtual nations would do: eliminate borders. Maybe there can be a virtual nation just for that? I pay 40% of my income to live anywhere in the world I like? That would be nice.
Lots more thought is needed.
Nonetheless I think there’s room for this in the world now. Although it’s a terrible example to use, Al Qaeda is operating as a virtual nation now and is working (as mentioned in Nicole’s post). Imagine a virtual nation like that but one that wasn’t promoting hate. The infrastructure for such a nation exists now — it’s called the Internet. What virtual nation will we create?
Share your thoughts in the comments on the right, tweet about it, or write your own post in response!