Author: marklutter

Free Cities Initiative

I have enjoyed writing for the Mitrailleuse and want to thank Jordan for encouraging me to write and giving me the opportunity to post. I have decided to focus my writing on free cities and launched a blog, Free Cities Initiative to do that. If you’re interested, I hope you continue to read. Below is an excerpt from the first post.

The Free Cities Initiative is dedicated to understanding and advocating for free cities. A free city is a city with partial or complete autonomy. This blog believes that free cities can rapidly improve governance and spark economic growth in the developing world, as well as offer pockets of innovation to accelerate technological development in the developed world. While many organizations and blogs focus on cities, few consider legal autonomy, administrative organization, or the user experience of residents. Themes of this blog include trends of free cities, the autonomy of free cities, administration of cities, the history of free cities, and the user experience of city residents.

Why not a Vox for the Grey tribe?

Scott Alexander, in one of the best essays I have ever read, differentiates the red and blue tribes, before acknowledging the rise of a Grey tribe.

There is a partly-formed attempt to spin off a Grey Tribe typified by libertarian political beliefs, Dawkins-style atheism, vague annoyance that the question of gay rights even comes up, eating paleo, drinking Soylent, calling in rides on Uber, reading lots of blogs, calling American football “sportsball”, getting conspicuously upset about the War on Drugs and the NSA, and listening to filk – but for our current purposes this is a distraction and they can safely be considered part of the Blue Tribe most of the time

Pax Dickinson further defines the Grey tribe.

Greys are a libertarian-minded tribe of live-and-let-livers. They tend to dwell online, often adopting shifting pseudonyms and communicating with each other on forums and anonymous imageboards. Amongst the Grey Tribe one would expect to see higher levels of internet savvy, fondness for tech gadgetry, and disillusionment with traditional politics. They support privacy and anonymity, and oppose the NSA surveillance regime. Edward Snowden is a Grey Tribe hero. They revere open source, strongly support an open internet, and it is by no means exaggeration to describe them as free speech fundamentalists.

Many of the Grey Tribe self-identify as Blue, agreeing with Blues on many social issues while feeling disagreement with the Blues in areas economic and opposing Blue efforts to enforce political correctness. A few self-identify as Red, strongly agreeing with small government and 2nd amendment rights, but usually feeling strong antipathy or at best ambivalence toward Red social issues like opposition to gay marriage and abortion. Other Greys adopt the libertarian mantle, and many Greys disavow politics entirely. Despite their own failure so far to self label as such, the Grey Tribe does exists as its own independent culture, overlapping in areas but remaining distinct from the Red and Blue cultures.

So, my question, why isn’t there a news source catering to the Grey tribe? The Red tribe has Fox, the Blue tribe has MSNBC.

Vox offers a useful model of how to build a modern, semi-reputable news source catering to a tribe. However, the Grey Vox would cover different topics than traditional news sources. Economic analysis would be non-ideological, data driven and trustworthy, think Scott Alexander. Grey Vox would be strongly critical of government surveillance, thinking of Snowden as a hero. Silicon Valley and the tech industry would be heavily covered. Social issues would be approached through a live and let live philosophy, a distrust of the Red tribe for wanting to ban gay marriage and the Blue tribe for wanting to punish the Red tribe for wanting to ban gay marriage. Foreign policy would be covered less than most other sources, but would be geared toward non-interventionist realism, think Chris Preble.

Other aspects of the Grey Vox would be self-awareness, interactivity and rationalism. Grey Vox would acknowledge their biases, and try to correct them. Grey Vox would cultivate quality comments and be open to revising articles if the comments show a factual error or misleading narrative. Grey Vox would identify not with the positions it took, but by the process used to reach them

If you think this is a good idea, comment or tweet at me (@marklutter) so I can gauge the reaction to see if creating a Grey Vox is something I want to dedicate time to.


Refugee SEZs op ed round up

My attention was recently drawn to several op eds which promote special economic zones aimed at creating jobs and opportunities for refugees. Here’s a round up of those op eds.

Peter Sutherland: Special economic zones could be established in frontline countries to attract investment and create jobs for refugees, with the G-20 offering preferential trade status.

George Soros: EU also should help create special economic zones with preferred trade status in the region, including in Tunisia and Morocco, to attract investment and generate jobs for both locals and refugees.

Anne Marie-Slaughter: Individuals seeking refuge from a toxic and deadly environment could be welcomed not into camps, but rather proto-cities where the “global community,” represented by international institutions, NGOs, governments, and citizens, can encourage hope of a different, more secure life by nurturing positive seeds of knowledge, capital, and liberal self-government.

Emma Bonino: Special economic zones that benefit from preferred trade status with the EU and the United States should be created, in order to generate investment, economic opportunities, and jobs for refugees and locals alike.

Markus Brunnermeier, Harold James, and Hannes Malmberg: Where possible, the EU should work with countries currently hosting refugees to establish development zones where displaced Syrians are allowed to work legally.

Alexander Betts and Paul Collier: Refugee camps and some urban areas could be reconceived as industrial incubator zones, where displaced Syrians could gain access to education, training, and the right to work.

Reiham Salam: Betts and Collier offer a more sustainable solution: Instead of herding refugees into camps where they are forced to subsist on aid, they call for the creation of special economic zones.

Paul Romer: To see what a real solution would look like, you need only remember three things: 1. It takes only a few cities, on very little land, to accommodate tens or hundreds of millions of people. 2. Building cities does not take charity. A city is worth far more than it costs to build. 3. To build a city, do not copy Field of Dreams. (“Build it and they will come.”) Copy Burning Man. (“Let them come, and they will build it.”)

Brandon Fuller: The zonal approach is a practical and politically realistic way to offer job opportunities to refugees—Syrian or otherwise.

Naguib Sawiris: I’ll make a small port or marina for the boats to land there. I’ll employ the people to build their own homes, their schools, a hospital, a university, a hotel.

Mark Lutter: To create a sustainable, livable city, where refugees want to move, there must be jobs, and for there to be jobs, there must be enterprise, and for there to be enterprise, the law must encourage it.

Mark Lutter: Create a semi-autonomous city in the Mediterranean for refugees. Importantly, the refugees would be allowed to work and own property and businesses, producing value and thus ensuring the city did not become a giant refugee camp.

And lastly, Refugee Cities and Refugee Nation are two non-profits which are promoting the idea.

H/T Michael Castle Miller and Brandon Fuller


Refugee city op ed

My op ed that no one wanted to publish.

After the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, France closed her border. Broader anti-refugee sentiment in Europe is increasing, leaving four million Syrian refugees in a vise grip, with Assad and Isis on one side and Europe’s closed borders on the other. Innovative solutions are needed now more than ever.

Here’s an idea: startup cities for refugees.

Seventy years ago millions of refugees fled the Chinese civil war for the relative safety of a rocky peninsula called Hong Kong, which welcomed 1.5 million of them. Europe could learn from Hong Kong’s success and help create a startup city, a beacon of hope on a Mediterranean island, beckoning refugees from Syria and elsewhere by offering opportunities for a better future.

Hong Kong’s success demonstrates that a small plot of land combined with institutions that protect economic freedom is an attractive destination. A startup city for refugees could be a lasting solution to for refugees fleeing a seemingly intractable civil conflicts. Instead of refugee camps crowded with tattered tents, a startup city would offer refugees proper homes, education, and jobs.

A successful startup city would need some autonomy from its host country: first, a simplified immigration process and, second, sufficient economic freedom to ensure that refugees want to move there. Without such autonomy, refugees would be unable to legally enter or work.

A startup city would welcome those fleeing war and persecution. However, refugees would need a streamlined process to get work permits and legal residency. At the same time, travel outside the city to the rest of the EU would be restricted. Refugees would gain a new legal status, but would not be closer to legal entry into Europe. The immigration process would need to screen refugees to ensure extremist elements are unable to enter.

The startup city would also need economic freedom. It would compete with Europe as a destination for refugees. To appeal to them, the city would need jobs, housing, and schools. Only with the ability to trade, start businesses, invest, and enforce contracts, will those opportunities exist. For example, business licensing must be simplified, approval of construction permits expedited, tax rates lowered, and restrictive regulations such as minimum-wage requirements eliminated.

A special economic zone is the easiest way to speed immigration and simplify regulation. The host country could create an autonomous regulatory body to govern the zone while private investors provide the infrastructure. The investors will reap profitable returns through the increased value of the land on which the infrastructure is built.

A startup city could also contribute financially to host country. Economic freedom and the migration of refugees would generate wealth. Taxes, albeit low, would continue to be paid. Given the dire fiscal conditions of Southern Europe, any windfall would be a boon.

Of course, there would remain complex logistical issues. Refugees would need temporary food and shelter when they first arrive. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees could help coordinate temporary aid. Also, constructing power and sewage in a short amount of time would be an engineering feat.

Luckily, however, the private sector is meeting the challenge. Naguib Sawiris, an Egyptian businessman, has pledged $100 million toward buying a Greek island to build a startup city for refugees. He has stated that he will provide them with schools, homes, hospitals, and jobs.

Currently the barrier to action is Greece and the EU. It is up to those governments to allow Sawiris and other private individuals to take action. Greece and the EU should commit to creating a special economic zone to help refugees and set a date when such a zone can be established.

What texting 911 tells us about governance innovation

Innovation is the driving force of economic growth. However, most governments remain unable or unwilling to innovate. They operate with a decades old mentality which lowers living standards for their citizens.

Consider police departments. According to the FCC, “most consumers cannot reach 911 by sending a text message from their wireless phone.” So, ten years after texting is commonplace, most police departments do not have the capacity to respond to texts.

Responding to texts does not require thinking outside the box or large investment. It should be viewed as integrating a new technology in the provision of an expected service, such as using email instead of snail mail. The fact that ten years after the introduction of the technology, widespread adoption still does not exist suggests a failure of innovation in police departments.

Such failure is likely not restricted to just police departments. Amazon, for example, decided to test their drones in Canada because the FAA could not issue regulations quickly enough. People volunteer to 3d print prosthetic limbs because accepting pay would run afoul of the FDA.

However, police not accepting texts points to a more fundamental problem. Reacting to new technology at the pace of Silicon Valley is hard, but integrating new technology for customer service should not be. Government should be more responsive to the needs of the people.

In the Republican debate Marco Rubio implied he would shoot down Russian jets over Syria

Last night during the Republican debate Marco Rubio and several other Republican candidates argued for a no fly zone over Syria. Part of the context of the no fly zone was standing up to Putin. Imagine this conversation between President Rubio (or Hillary or any of the candidates supporting a no fly zone) and Putin.

Rubio: Hi Putin, we’re going to establish a no fly zone in Syria

Putin: OK…?

Rubio: Please remove any air support you have been giving the Syrian Army. From now on, coordinate with American forces if you want to bomb ISIS

Putin: We will continue flying our planes

What does Rubio do? Does he threaten to shoot them down? Does he actually shoot down Russian planes? Does he back down? Rubio is leading in the prediction markets for the Republican nod. Hillary is leading for the Democratic nod. The people most likely to be president next year are saying they would enforce a no fly zone in Syria, implying they would shoot down Russian planes to do so. This should scare you.