Review: How To Start A New Country

My thoughts on “How To Start A New Country” by Balaji S. Srinivasan

Balaji S. Srinivasan is a prolific writer, founder and entrepreneur. His article from April 9, 2021 proposes starting new countries as digital communities:

The network state is built cloud first, land last. Rather than starting with the physical territory, we begin with a digital community.

Generally he can be depended on to expound at length on widespread topics in what some might call informed forward thinking, and others derisively label as science fiction, wishful thinking or technopositive propaganda. What is propaganda though?

“communication that is primarily used to influence an audience and further an agenda, which may not be objective and may be selectively presenting facts in order to encourage a particular synthesis or perception, or using loaded language in order to produce an emotional rather than a rational response.”

I would argue that this piece on a rather bold topic IS in fact communication being used to influence an audience, and to FURTHER AN AGENDA. I would not agree that it fits the definition beyond that, as it takes great pains to present facts clearly, perhaps anticipating such accusations and heading them off at the pass.

The article encourages both an emotional AND rational response, and in fact encourages rational thinking as it lays out the thinking behind the initially eyebrow-raising premise – starting a new country.

What case is it trying to make?

The author works to point out and get consensus on the concept of ‘a fresh start’. Why “new” is attractive, beneficial and feasible, comparing the rationale of a new country to that of a new company, new canvas or an empty page. This comparison escalates quickly, to buying vacant land with the idea of development, to new cryptocurrencies being created despite hundreds of perfectly sound ones already being in use.

Why Start a New Country?

Spanning ancient history and modern day events, Balaji quickly and compellingly lays out the “Why”, and moves on to “How”, detailing the specific ways new countries have come into being historically: Elections, revolutions and war. Next up are several modern additions to that toolbox: Micronations, Seasteading and Space. While these are interesting and worth keeping an eye on, his focus is on the concept of Cloud Countries.

Our idea is to proceed cloud first, land last… we start with the digital community… people interested in founding a new virtual social network, a new city, and eventually a new country… we organize our internal economy around remote work, we cultivate in-person levels of civility, we simulate architecture in VR, and we create art and literature that reflects our values.

Again, the language implies that every objection to this premise has been captured and countered, including “but, but countries have physical land, and measurable imports and exports, and quantifiable populations!”

Physical land need not be contiguous, and country-scale leaderboards already exist that track the population, solvency and outputs/inputs of countries across the world – so what’s the big obstacle again? Balaji feels path towards building a country lies in a reverse diaspora: a voice into a trickle into a chat room, then a recognized few enclaves in the physical world that correlate to digital communities – call them neighborhoods or call them what you will, the progression seems feasible.

Shared belief as a concept is identified as the fundamental mechanism in how currency works in general, with cryptocurrency specifically as an example of consensus belief, and that other measures of belief include voting with one’s feet, wallet, or even one’s mind via editorial content creation. Beyond simple belief though, the case is made that all the ingredients for this shift are already in place.

… the cloud country concept takes the most robust existing tech stack we have – namely the suite of technologies built around the internet – to route around political roadblocks, without waiting for future physical innovation.

Defining what a country truly is boils down to both quantifiable and societal elements. A country must have numbers, from how many citizens live there and contribute/benefit from statehood, and what it consumes and produces – these things define the impact it has on the global stage. A country must have recognition and representation on that stage, and be able to govern itself effectively.

Comparisons are made between Bitcoin and a new cloud country’s formation – the slow onramp, the gradual building of legitimacy and stored value, and the eventual societal acceptance and financial institution buy-in of Bitcoin we’re seeing in recent times. Another comparison case is made between digital networks like Facebook and Twitter, their longevity and robustness, and the size and robustness of actual nation states:

20% of existing countries have a population of less than 1M and ~55% have a population of less than 10M. This includes many countries people typically think of as “real”, like Luxembourg (615k), Cyprus (1.18M), Estonia (1.3M), New Zealand (4.7M), Ireland (4.8M), Singapore (5.8M)…

Wrapping Up

Everything that has been laid out here makes sense, on the surface, but the question of scale and timeframe seem the most pertinent. How large will these cloud nations be, and how long will they take to manifest effectively in the world we’re living in now?

If you don’t believe they’ll manifest at all, the question is really of no concern. However if you see the promise, the potential in this concept – the question is vital, as are the implications.

What can you do to prepare for this? How can you contribute to its inception and guide its evolution? I believe it’s by learning everything you can, keeping an open mind, sharing your insights, hopes, and doubts. Participating rather than standing by, pointing out flaws and looking for solutions, and choosing to have hope for the future rather than assuming things will only get worse.

Read the article, and post your thoughts online. Let’s talk.

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