Satoshi's Sidewalk #25: Free Private Cities
Opening up the marketplace for living together - one city at a time.
The marketplace for living together is rarely spoken of in such terms. Life within a village, town or city is often described by its location, weather, resources, culture and people. Together these elements create a unique community with its own quirks and personality. Such traits denote the way of life within an area and define where it sits on the spectrum of desirability and livability. New York, Paris, London, Milan, Chicago, LA, Tokyo, Dubai; Every city in the world- each bearing their own trade-offs and each in competition with one another. Whether local governments believe it or not, they’re participating in this marketplace where citizens are – more or less, notably less these days – free to choose where they set roots.
The standard arrangement for living and participating in a small town or a megalopolis adopts a “like it or leave it” mentality. Locals vie for control of the local government and do what is politically palatable to increase local power and reach for one purpose or another. Generally, if a local government and its staff know people will move to their city seeking opportunity, they are willing to increase drawbacks but not exceed the positive attributes individuals value in the city. By living there you’re along for the ride yet also have the opportunity to shape the cultural environment around you.
New York City and LA are prime examples of this envelope pushing dynamic. San Francisco, in my opinion, has already crossed into the abyss of authoritarian hellholes (with both NYC & LA trailing close behind). Choices made by local politicians, voters, and staff directly affect all inhabitants of their city. This local decision-making process resembles a pseudo-pure democracy where rights become malleable, often at the minority’s expense. You can stick around and put up with the bullshit, or you can pack up and go where you believe the good outweighs the bad.
US citizens (currently) have the option to move freely around the country from one city to another. The saying “voting with your feet” is a trope used to illustrate US citizens moving from place to place across state lines. This flux of movement around the country changes the cultural and political landscape. Just ask any native Texan, Arizonan, or Idahoan about their new California brethren. People born in westernized countries experience a higher quality of life largely in part because of the opportunity to choose where they live. Those born in poor countries or under despotic regimes (the unfortunate circumstances of the majority of humans on the planet) do not share that opportunity.
Being born in the US is merely an accident of birth in this regard. Alex Gladstein has published several fantastic essays documenting the lives of individuals around the world who are less fortunate and showcasing how bitcoin is turning the tide against incumbent, oppressive governments.
What if there was now a different option for how and why you choose a place to live?
An option to opt out of a traditional, coercive, government-run city for a free privately-run city. A place where your rights and responsibilities (and the city’s limitations) are written into a bilateral, enforceable contract adjudicated by a third party where all the terms are known up front. A city where your association with the private managers, and vice versa, is voluntary. Like an ancient city-state or late-19th century monarchical principality.
Well, folks, the future is now.
Free Private Cities explores the concept of voluntary, contractually-based citizenship with a city operated by a private entity. The book, published in 2018, was written by Dr. Titus Gebel, a German-born resources entrepreneur. Free Private Cities explores the frameworks of various interlacing facets of people living together in a city. Gebel discusses the topics of culture, law, religion, states, business, security, immigration, and past and present organizational models for cities. Cities are complex ecologies and there is much ground to cover.
The breadth of topics covered in Free Private Cities demonstrate Gebel’s international business experience and thought-provoking philosophy as to how a city exists on the basis of voluntary association. The chief concern being how a free, private city (or region) would be legally protected by the host country. Rules can change rapidly. A long-term project such as Free Private Cities must have legal stability over a long period of time to attract people and capital. It may take decades for such a large product to bear fruits. The Free Private City must exist unhampered and undisturbed from the host state. Would-be citizens who voluntarily contract with the city’s private management company must know the host country will not reverse course overnight. Too much is at stake for even a whiff of backtracking.
Living and participating in a city, what Gebel calls “a marketplace for living together,” means one must create value for one’s fellow citizens without coercion or violence. Forming a business to provide value for your fellow man is highly encouraged. Polluting your neighbor’s yard or committing crime - not so much. The terms and conditions of your association with the Free Private City are known in advance. The city’s management company is also prohibited from treating you differently than agreed to. It is a bilateral contract after all, and there are not infinite resources to waste on attorneys (or destroy the city’s perceived reputation). The rules for setting up a business are simple – possibly the simplest in all the world. Parameters for social behavior are set forth and enforceable.
With voluntary citizenship the goal of Free Private Cities is to provide an alternative to the current marketplace(s) of living together. Today’s cities are a far cry from voluntary association. If you don’t like your city, move to another – if you can. In all likelihood you’re trading one marginal living locale for another until your utopia is found, or until you capitulate. Not ideal.
Similar to a Free Private City are “special economic zones.” Special economic zones do exist around the world but do not entail the necessary scale for the level of autonomy desired. As an organization, Free Private Cities has worked for nearly a decade with the government of Honduras to provide and guarantee such an opportunity within their borders. Action over time has begun to yield results - and what a result it is!
Próspera is the first ZEDE (Zonas de empleo y desarrollo económico) on the island of Roatan, Honduras. The Próspera website contains a wealth of information about the steps to open a business, wages, the legal system, residences, and an overview of how Próspera functions as a Free Private City. And, of course, you can apply to become a citizen.
A free, private city as described in the book is a novel concept. There are many willing to put themselves on the line to try something new and untested. Something which upsets the status quo.
A better option.
Not only a better option - but options. Próspera is only the beginning. Cuidad Morazan, also in Honduras, is currently in the works. The Free Private Cities organization is focused on education and awareness while their entrepreneurial counterpart, Tipolis, develops new and different free private cities. Each future city is an experiment and thus an opportunity to try different methods, processes, and requirements for planning, aesthetics, and building materials. Tinkering with the underlying rule sets creates competition and reveals best practices for other free private cities to contemplate.
Sound like anything you might know about, dear reader?
Yes, let’s talk Citadels.
A (Bitcoin) Citadel has many meanings. It’s a place where self-sovereignty is the greatest virtue. A space in one’s mind free of coercion or censorship where voluntary association reigns supreme. Natural Law and/or Common Law are the rule sets to live and play by. A Citadel could be a small homestead in Wyoming, an entire building in Montreal, or – now – an entire city. A Citadel is wherever a Bitcoiner finds their ideal living situation to be (the Citadel origin story is a treat). More importantly, one’s Citadel is a representation of a marketplace for living together without a coercive government - because it’s simply not wanted and not needed.
Bitcoin starves authority of its main source of power: the power of violence. To project force and follow through with violence, a government must be able to pay the cost. Without the ability to spend money printed into existence, coercive governments have limited capabilities.
I am inclined to state that Gebel has illustrated the basic framework to show that even with the little responsibility granted to governments under a bitcoin standard, governments can become entirely unnecessary. Don’t like one city? Don’t renew citizenship. End your current contract. Sell your seat. Purchase a new citizenship or make your way elsewhere.
Combining Free Private Cities with a decentralized, immutable, uncensorable, finite, programmable money, a la Bitcoin, stacks the deck in favor of voluntary association and increased prosperity for all humans. Money is the technology that enables voluntary, peaceful trade and cooperation between people. Over time money has changed in form but not in function. Changes in form have increased money’s usefulness up until governments adopted easy money. Easy money creates problems like seigniorage, inflation, excess credit creation, and distorted price signals. Adopting the US Dollar, more aptly described as the petrodollar, brings with it hegemonic baggage that countries cannot avoid by adopting a neutral base money instead. Bitcoin is the digital equivalent to a Free Private City.
Bitcoin’s code is open source. Anyone can download the software, review the code line by line, and run the program on a wide array of devices. Users voluntarily adopt Bitcoin and by doing so are opting out of the fiat monetary paradigm. If you don’t like Bitcoin, see a psychia…then delete the program, and move on. Send me your bitcoin first though (DM me for address).
Importantly, a new Free Private City is not limited by many of the age-old requirements for settlement. During the age of westward expansion in the US, mining towns – actual picks n’ shovels operations - popped up wherever gold or silver was found. Some mining towns survived the transition away from mining (Park City, UT) and others only live on in memory and for tourists (Tombstone, AZ).
Future cities will pop up for mining of a different variety: mining bitcoin. All that’s needed to set up shop is an energy source to generate power. The consumption of energy is directly correlated to human flourishing. The more energy we’re able to harness and direct to productive uses, the quality of life humans can enjoy increases. There’s no need to bootstrap a Free Private City with the focus of developing one specific industry or good over another. Start with energy and the rest will fall into place.
Let the first Free Private City be powered by bitcoin mines, drawing together the like-minded, and providing a physical space where Bitcoiners may gather and prosper.
Build a bitcoin mine and they will come to Free Private Cities.
I recently appeared as a guest on the Free Private Cities podcast with the President of the Free Private Cities Foundation - Rahim Taghizadegan. The episode Unsustainable Cities: Is Bitcoin the Answer? was hosted by fellow Saifedean.comstudent and Free Private Cities’ Digital Media Coordinator Peter Young. I must say it was quite an honor to be on the podcast with Rahim and Peter discussing the built environment as it is developed today and how bitcoin can potentially improve cities for the better - especially Free Private Cities. Titus’ book has also opened a new door of possibilities for myself and hopefully you - my readers. Speaking with like-minded people such as Rahim who are actively working to make Free Private Cities a reality is a real honor. Now I must do my part to help the dream come to fruition.
I hope you all enjoy the episode!
Lastly, Free Private Cities is also putting on a conference called Liberty in our Lifetime. Be sure to check out the website and purchase a ticket if you’re so inclined.Livestream (and on-demand) tickets are also available. The above is not an affiliate link and you can pay using BTCPay.