Digital societies: A new market for citizenship?

Citizen

Noun: a legally recognized subject or national of a state or commonwealth, either native or naturalized.

Citizenship has become a hotly-debated subject in the 21st century: what does it mean to be a citizen, what does it entail and how does one become a citizen of a society? These questions are fundamentally important for the startup societies paradigm, as citizenship is an indispensable part of the startup society’s value proposition. The bottom line is that a startup society needs to win over citizens through competitive advantages – be they regulatory, financial, geographic or otherwise.

Defining citizenship is the #1 imperative before a market in citizenship and governance can begin to emerge. Professional literature from the 1950’s defines citizenship as the “right to have rights”. This alone takes unpacking, but suffice it to say that stateless persons warrant only basic human rights (such as property over their body) and the right of association with societies that establish and defend rights. Once a human person has these rights, only then can the person enter into a relationship with a society and establish political rights (such as the right to education, voting, work etc.).

 The population of stateless persons worldwide is estimated at 3 million.

The population of stateless persons worldwide is estimated at 3 million.

This may sound like a pitiless reduction of human rights, but it is in fact a first principle from which other, greater liberties and rights may be extracted. All persons are stateless by default: it is only through association with a society that we gain political rights. The fact remains, however, that the rights of property and self-determination are intrinsic to all people.

The Citizenship Market

A trend can be noted in the last 50 years, since the creation of such organizations as the United Nations: The number of global citizens is on the rise, and the legal/regulatory infrastructure of the current societal system struggles to keep up. Global citizens are persons who travel, work, and reside in a wide range of environments worldwide – in different nations and economic blocs. This trend has been followed by the no less prevalent trend towards competitive governance, even among the existing nations of today.

There are several prominent examples worldwide of citizenship as a service that can be acquired through means less conventional than naturalization. Marrying for citizenships and other loopholes has been in use for most of the 20th and 21st centuries, but we won’t be focusing on those situations. What interests us is the transparent, welcoming attempt on the part of innovative nations to attract citizens. The following examples stand out:

1. Limassol, Cyprus

Limassol is the second-largest city in the Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus. Cyprus had been famous as an offshore banking paradise, though this aspect of Cyprus has been dying down somewhat. Given that the Cypriots are a tenacious people, they decided not to give in to worsening economic conditions. They instead decided to adapt the same principle (competitive governance) in a different way. Instead of merely being a tax haven for opaque business dealings, they began applying a strategy borrowed from the Caribbean: The Golden Visa.

 Much of this real estate is owned by ex-foreigners looking for a golden Visa.

Much of this real estate is owned by ex-foreigners looking for a golden Visa.

A golden visa allows for the bearer to have a passport of the issuing country under a condition – this condition is usually financial in nature. Cyprus, for example, requires that a property in Cyprus with a value of 2 million Euros be purchased. This is hardly an obstacle for interested parties that mainly stem out of Russia and China. After all, once one bears a Cypriot passport, one gains travel rights to the EU – something non-EU persons would be perfectly willing to pay.

2. Estonian E-Residence

The Baltic nation of Estonia has looked past its grey, centrally-planned history and chose to become one of the most innovative and forward-thinking nations in the world. This is exemplified with the Estonian E-Residency project, where foreign nationals can register in Estonia for the purposes of incorporating businesses; opening checking accounts, sign documents, and most importantly pay taxes under Estonian law.

 Yes - Estonia really does make it that easy.

Yes - Estonia really does make it that easy.

Over 30,000 people worldwide bear an Estonian e-residence, and the system is organized in a transparent Blockchain architecture. Healthcare, identification and other aspects of citizenships are registered in this way in Estonia, which attracts income and quality human resources through doing what no other nation has been successful in doing – moving citizenship into the present, if not the future. For the future, however, we’ll have to look at an even more unusual seller of governance services.

3. Blockchain nations

Such solutions seem almost inevitable: everything is getting uploaded to the Blockchain. What, then, can it mean to be a member of a Blockchain society? It would mean bearing a unique user registration code which places one in the ICAOPKD – an overly long acronym that means “international passport directory”. The only problem is integrating the current system (which is cryptographically locked) – but once the system is integrated with Blockchain, 100% privacy and zero-knowledge proofs can be established in a system that is notorious for privacy invasion.

“This must be an in-joke for programmers and hackers; there’s no way things like this can work in real life!”

The reader has a point: it seems ludicrous to establish new independent states that are fully digitalized, even by our standards. This perhaps means a lack of creativity on our part, but we find it much more probable and suitable that current states use their existing sovereignty and extend it to the digital realm. Hereby the states creating such programs would attract capital from overseas, with little to no loss. The people using these services are rarely if ever a strain on governmental resources, as these are computerized and scale infinitely.

What this can mean for startup societies

If digital societies can indeed command sovereignty, this changes the game from its foundations. This means that government and governance is no longer pinned to the archaic ideas of land, country or flag. The accident of birth will no longer be the sole determinant of one’s rights – humanity will be one step closer to true freedom. However, even without true sovereignty, digital startup societies can change the face of the world.

Simply deriding their patronage from existing nations (like Estonia’s e-government does) will suffice for competitive pressures to kick the dormant governance market into high gear. If the powers-that-be wish to stop the advance of digital government in their own right, less scrupulous competitors will not. Digitalization and competition amongst governments is a practical certainty in the decades to come, and SSF for one cannot welcome it quickly enough.

Aleksa Burmazovic

Aleksa is an undergraduate student at the University of Belgrade in Serbia, working on a degree in finance and insurance.

He was involved with European Students for Liberty as a local coordinator in 2016, but has since retired from the organization of ESFL events.

Aleksa is fascinated with the idea of establishing new societies, competitive governance and new regulative structures.

An avid supporter of cryptocurrencies and free trade, he joined Startup Societies Foundation in the summer of 2017 while volunteering for the Startup Societies Conference in San Francisco.

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