The city-state of the future

Justin Marinelli, Senior Writer

A friend of mine sent me an article recently, which ended up saying something interesting. It was a piece in the “National Review” that suggested that Boers in South Africa should retreat from their current habitations and build their own independent, Singapore-style city-state on the coast.

Words themselves are insufficient to describe how much I support ideas like this. I love city-states. City-states will be the hallowed ground on which our glorious cyberpunk future will be summoned to Earth, and nothing saddens me more than the knowledge that the high-tech neo-Futurist world we deserve will likely not come to pass within my lifetime. It crushes me to admit it, but the most likely scenario is that the next 50 or so years end up looking just like the present, complete with obnoxious teenagers texting away on their phones and getting on Tumblr or BuzzFeed or any other of a million asinine websites built to waste valuable time and productive energy.

It is because the future will look much like the present that I suspect we unfortunately will not see a proliferation of city-states any time soon. Though the inherently chaotic and destabilizing nature of technologies like hyper-encrypted communication networks and crypto-currencies will exacerbate the breakdown in the global Westphalian order that we see today, and that needs to happen to bring about such a future, these effects will not come quickly enough to promote the conditions necessary for the proliferation of new city-states.

There is a brilliant argument against city-states, of course, which is that they were out-competed by larger political units on the field of battle and forced to incorporate themselves into larger political entities. This is why I agree that it will take a significant undermining of the nation-state in order to breed more dynamic and innovative city-states like Hong Kong, Singapore, and certain cities of the Emirates (mainly Abu Dhabi and Dubai) that comprise the United Arab Emirates.

In our current context, there is an easy solution. Set up quasi-independent special economic zones, independently administrated but under the aegis of a larger political unit. The nation-state reigns supreme, and will continue to do so for the remainder of the foreseeable future, but we are entering into a world in which alternative arrangements will have the opportunity to emerge and prove their viability. There is no reason we cannot jump-start this process while leveraging the advantages of our current status quo.

A city-state is a political unit inherently more responsive to the needs of its charges, and it offers the opportunity to reach standards of living and levels of economic productivity matched only by major global centers of finance and trade. This is reason enough to give city-states the chance to prove they can work as units of governance, and investment into the development and creation of new city-states has the potential to pay off tremendously.

A well-ordered city-state has the potential to be a wealth-generation machine of massive output (just look at the GDP numbers for Hong Kong and Singapore). A nation-state with designs of economic supremacy would be remiss in not seeding a few of these economic engines. Furthermore, a large corporation or a group of angel investors with enough capital, ambition, and imagination could stand to profit exponentially from such a venture. Imagine how much money you could make if you owned a city-stateIt would not surprise me if the next 100 years bear witness to the rise of the world’s first corporate city-state, and that is a future I would very much like to make a reality.

 

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