July 27, 2010
One of the biggest problems with the world is that we’re bound by so many legacy systems. For example, it’s hard to deal with global warming because there are so many entrenched interests. It’s problematic to get power from where it can best be generated to where people live. The tax system is a mess. Banking is a hodgepodge of regulations and products glued together. I could go on. The point is that anything that has been around for awhile is a complicated and inconvenient mess compared to what its ideal form could be.
My idea for today is that established nations could launch startup countries within their own borders, free of all the legacy restrictions in the parent country. The startup country, let’s say the size of modern day Israel, would be designed from the ground up for efficiency. Buildings and cars would be so energy efficient that the startup country could generate all the power it needed from sun and wind. The extra power created during the day would be stored as heat in molten salt, or maybe by pumping water up to a mountain lake. (Both energy storage methods are already being used in places.)
The entire banking system would be automated. There would be no cash in the start-up country. You wouldn’t need to “apply” for a loan because the virtual bank would always have a current notion of your credit-worthiness. If you need a mortgage, just type in the address of the home you want to buy and your pin code. The bank automatically checks your income and expenses from your bank account records, along with your employment status and credit background. You have your loan in less than one second. And you don’t need to sign anything.
The tax code in the startup country would be simplified to the point where residents might forget it exists. I won’t argue the flat tax versus sales/use tax here, but the point is it could all be collected automatically by the virtual bank. There would be no such thing as an accountant or tax auditor in this new country. (I have argued before that the government could be the only insurance company, for every sort of risk, from health to fire to auto, with its profits substituting for taxes. That’s another discussion.)
The Fire Department would be tiny. You can design modern homes to be virtually fireproof. And let’s say cigarettes are banned, because we can, to further reduce the fire risk.
In my book The Dilbert Future I imagined a world with cameras in every room, and on every street corner, recording all the time, but encrypted so that literally no one could view the video without a court order. You wouldn’t need much of a police force in that scenario because every crime would be on video, along with the entire escape route, all the way to the criminal’s bedroom. Maybe that’s too Big Brother for you, but if you reflect on how much privacy you’ve already given up to technology, it’s not that much of a stretch.
Most of what is scary about the government having power is the lack of transparency. The startup nation would have full transparency. Any citizen could log on to his computer and see what court orders had been issued for what videos and why.
Campaign contributions would be eliminated because all campaigns would happen on the Internet so that running for office would cost next to nothing. Once elected, any citizen would have access to the elected politician’s full banking records, including investments.
I could go on, imagining every element of the startup country as an optimal design, from its local government to the layout of its streets, to the livable nature of its homes. The point is that the startup country could be awesome. And only the most employable folks would be allowed in at the start, so the economy would be blazing, mostly from IT jobs and light industry.
Arguably, China accidentally performed a variant of this experiment with Hong Kong. Oversimplifying the history, Hong Kong was part of China and leased to the United Kingdom for 99 years, like a startup country within a country. When the lease expired, China presumably made a fortune by getting it back in a far more robust form than it could have generated within the Chinese system.
A startup country designed today could, in fifty years time, become a tax-generating windfall for the parent country. And it would also test a lot of concepts for building, banking, economy, energy, and lifestyle.