This is my written review of Balaji Srinivasan’s essay on How to Start a New Country.
The traditional way of starting communities is starting in-person, on real land, first. With technologies like blockchain emerging at a steady speed, people are rethinking this concept. They are looking into starting communities online, or on the cloud, first. Then migrating together to form bigger cities and countries.
What does it mean?
When talking in terms of starting new countries, we should first start by agreeing on what that means.
It’s widely agreed that starting a new country either means finding unclaimed territory and settling in it as ruler or inhabitant while enforcing your own rules. Or it means changing the laws and the way affairs are conducted in an already existing country.
These previous ways are described as “strict or loose” definitions. However, there are two other ways to define a new country — numerical and societal.
About 20% of the countries recognized by the United Nations have less than 1M citizens, and about 55% have less than 10M citizens.
This begs the question, should an online community of millions of participants be recognized worldwide as their own communities with the right to self-governance? I have to remind you that gathering a few million and maybe a few dozen million members on the internet is far from an impossible feat. We can already see it with Twitter, which has 300M users, and Kylie Jenner that has 295 million followers on Instagram.
For society to recognize a community as a country, it has to be a member of the UN that is internationally recognized by other countries and is deemed capable of self-governance.
3 Other Ways to Create a New Country
New countries have continuously been created over the centuries. Almost all of them were due to war, election, or revolution.
In this case, it wasn’t much of a brand new country. It wasn’t a completely blank slate. The ‘new’ versions of these countries were still widely based on how they were in the past. Whether that is in rebellion against the old or in trying to stay the same way. The old indefinitely shaped the new.
“Because the brand new is unthinkable, we fight over the old.”
The three discussed ways are quite conventional and have been widely discussed throughout history.
But there are three other ways to create new countries, although they aren’t as discussed and are considered as unconventional ways of doing so:
- Micronations — when a group claims a vacant plot of land and “declares” themselves a country. These often go by unrecognized officially as they don’t pose any threat to governments: these countries often have very few members and don’t have the resources to oblige people to recognize them.
- Seasteading — most people consider seasteading as the most non-feasible option. It relies on the fact that cruise ships already exist and their prices are lowering at a steady rate. Making some people hope and wonder whether it’s possible to make cruise ship trips go from a couple of weeks to a lifetime on international waters. These cruises would frequently dock to replenish resources but will still have the ability to self-govern and implement their own rules while living out at sea.
- Space — just think of Elon Musk and SpaceX’s mission to one day make Mars habitable for humans and start our civilization on another planet. This is like micronations, but on a larger scale and another planet. Though, obviously, we’re still quite a few years away from being able to make it a reality.
After discussing the most popular options for starting new countries, here comes our golden solution: cloud countries.
The idea of cloud countries is so special because unlike the previous 6, there is no technological or socio-political breakthrough needed to make it work. All the technologies needed to make this concept work already exist.
This solution largely relies on blockchain technology and Web 3.0 where people can own identities on the web.
Communities start coming into existence on the web where you’re not constrained by physical limitations. People with like ideas can connect from anywhere around the world. Strong feelings of national belonging start forming as those communities are optional. Compared to physical nations where many are obliged to conform with the societal norms and beliefs that they might not necessarily agree with, cloud countries are places where people’s beliefs are optional and by choice.
These will have such a big number of members where everyone has such a strong sense of national identity that they decide to crowdfund to buy land near each other.
I’ll give the example of the Bored Ape Club. They have members who are holders of their NFT’s. The ownership of these NFT’s grants the members access to certain benefits and events and even A-list celebrities!
They were able to crowdfund enough money to host their own social events. That is exactly how cities on actual lands will be made. The community will crowdfund enough money to buy enough land for a village, a city, then a country.
You can test out these communities. You can join and become a member of a certain community then leave once you decide you don’t like it or just stay if you do enjoy being a part of the community. It’s this idea of micro-politics that’s interesting.
Micro-politics and Microeconomics
Naval mentioned this concept once in one of his podcast episodes with Shane Parrish. It’s the belief that macroeconomics and micro-politics are complete bullsh*t as no idea or belief can be proven wrong.
We can’t test out different political regimes in the United States at the same time to decide which one is best. Therefore most opinions, that are sometimes used as arguments and facts, are just theories.
Even when deciding that a certain way of governance works well by the majority, there will always be a minority that disagrees.
This is why the best-case scenario is to have, for example, different kinds of regimes, and people can choose which one to be part of. Like in cloud cities you know…
Oh, How Convenient!
What makes cloud cities a more viable option than the others is the fact that it only utilizes technologies and processes that already exists
Cloud cities only need the technology that we already have. No to figure out ways to travel to Mars or sustain a cruise on the ocean for long periods.
How it will all work…
The next step is to describe exactly how we might go about this.
Though cloud cities seem perfect at first sight, there is never any telling what the consequences of such a system can be. But we can predict a few.
Since these communities are all controlled by their own members, some might try to ‘gate-keep’ their community. If these communities aren’t all open to everyone and anymore, there might be a way for bigger gaps between different classes of people.
Some communities could impose requirements to becoming a member. Maybe things like having a certain amount of achievements or money under your belt…
As money and emerging technologies and advancements move to certain communities and less advantaged people move to others, they will each have only themselves to self-govern, which makes it even worse for people that aren’t well off.
Many will be left behind at a faster rate than they are now, which will create bigger societal differences and discrimination.