Setting a fire is easier than putting one out.
And sometimes the people who fail to put out a fire are persecuted by the ones who don’t show up at all–or worse yet, fan the flames.
A recent Gizmodo article basically criticizes a volunteer fire department. No, not literally. This has nothing to do with actual fires of fire-fighters.
This has to do with an article called, “Some Crypto-Capitalists Just Want to See The World Burn.”
Conspicuously lacking in the article is… how exactly the “crypto-capitalists” want to see the world burn?
The article tears apart all the ways the attendees of the Startup Societies Summit are trying to put out the fires of the world. It tries to torch innovative ideas about how to end poverty, clean up the environment, stop government abuse, feed the hungry, and advance modern medicine.
The author of the Gizmodo piece, Bryan Menegus, is like an arsonist saying, “awfully suspicious that every time there’s a fire, all these firefighters are on the scene…”
If Menegus had a superpower, it would be the uncanny ability to find nefarious motivations for even the most innocuous solutions to serious problems.
Summoning his powers, he first cherry picks two sentences from a 15-minute presentation on how to solve the refugee crisis using Special Economic Zones (SEZs).
Among the most extreme examples of expanding SEZs was Michael Castle Miller’s presentation on “refugee cities”—a proposal to turn refugee camps into their own Shenzhens. “We can actually convert refugees into economic assets that drive us towards the economic and social progress we want to achieve,” he says. Through one lens it gives those stuck in political limbo a semblance of normalcy; through another it sees immigration as a problem in need of solving and turns refugee camps into company towns running off the labor of the displaced. “It’s an investment opportunity because now all of a sudden there’s a huge labor force out there of untapped skills that nobody else can access.”
Maybe in the utopia in Menegus’ mind, immigration is not a problem in need of solving. But in the real world, millions sit in camps not allowed to work for their own economic benefit.
Apparently, governments setting up camps and then funding them without end fits into the Savior Complex of Gizmodo and associates. Instead of freeing and empowering individuals, they think of people as weak, in need of constant nurturing by mother government. Yet these refugees are being smothered by their matriarchal providers. Governments don’t let them work and refuse to let them integrate into economies surrounding the encampments.
You might think allowing someone the opportunity to work and provide for themselves and their families would be a good thing. All Menegus sees is exploitation. Somehow, he casts company towns as worse than the literal prisons in which refugees now live.
When he wants to criticize, Menegus has no difficulty conjuring up images of a burning world, ripe for greedy capitalists to take advantage of desperate victims in need.
Yet all these troubles evaporate when he questions the suspicious actions of the event’s speakers.
When asked what he’s running from that requires a man-made island on the ocean, Joe Quirk says “pretty much all the governments that exist.”
Menegus had countless examples of how the naive attendees, refugees, the poor, and others would be taken advantage of by greedy capitalists. But suddenly the scary world in need of government protection disappears. What’s so bad that you need to run?
I don’t feel like rehashing the genocides, wars, exploitation, nor the racial, gender, and religious discrimination perpetrated by various governments. From Jim Crow laws to Ruby Ridge, from the Tuskegee experiments to torture at Gitmo, there is plenty to run from in reference to the U.S. government alone.
But also, why ignore the failures? The failure of the government to end poverty, the failure to solve crime, the failure to restore the environment, heal the sick, and so much more?
As much as Quirk runs from the psychopaths in government, he tackles the problems they have never been able–or willing–to solve. I suppose Menegus would just have us wait for our saviors to get around to rescuing us poor helpless souls.
But the people involved in Startup Societies prefer to take matters into their own hands.
Let’s Talk About Failure
Don’t all the people at this conference know how many times these ideas have failed, the article suggests.
If only we could all be like Edison, The Wright Brothers, and Einstein, who all got the lightbulb, the airplane, and the theory of relativity right on their first try.
Of course, failure alone does not mean you will eventually succeed. But Menegus has to ignore the mountains of evidence in order to pretend the projects discussed have no future.
And ignore the data, or twist it, is exactly what he does.
The hope, for those like Strong, is that these experiments will not only alleviate global poverty, but show otherwise oppressive nations a better way forward—a concrete oasis that paves a path to more liberalized future governance—but it’s unclear if that’s been the case in any of the dozens of countries currently hosting an SEZ. If wages and conditions improve in one zone, what prevents corporations from packing up and finding a new crop of foreign bodies to run the machines?
It’s only unclear if you haven’t bothered to look into it.
Read another way, here is what Menegus is actually asking:
A special economic zone could improve the lives of workers and residents so much that companies no longer have cheap labor in the SEZ. Now that their former workers have the economic freedom to choose other options, what’s to stop a company from finding new crops of foreign bodies to lift out of poverty with the same methods?
Imagine the horror! What if these companies just bop around the world creating wealth, and empowering individuals until there is no one left to exploit!? Then who will Gizmodo and Bryan Menegus save with their snarky articles and sassy critique?
Relevant comparisons are ripe for analysis.
Why do South Koreans live in a normal wealthy nation, while North Koreans have not advanced since the two countries split? Before the Korean War, the populations were equally matched economically.
What’s the difference between China and Hong Kong that makes Hong Kong one of the wealthiest places on Earth? What about Singapore’s rapid development after their independence in the 1960’s?
Joe Quirk’s book Seasteading: How Floating Nations Will Restore the Environment, Enrich the Poor, Cure the Sick, and Liberate Humanity from Politicians, highlights how experimenting with government could lift people out of poverty, solve overcrowding in cities, feed the masses while reducing the environmental impact of farming.
And yet he is likened to snake-oil salesmen. Menegus doesn’t miss the opportunity to take a shot at Quirk’s hair–which I think is lovely–and “frat boy” attitude.
Ironically, some of these experiments that Menegus is so quick to torch as libertarian fantasies, are not very libertarian at all.
Sure, economically speaking Singapore is very free. But Joe Quirk points out in his book that it also has universal health care and an annual government budget surplus. On the other hand Singapore has no minimum wage and 2% unemployment.
Hong Kong requires no licenses for any business. They also boast “no sales tax, no capital gains tax, no goods and services tax, no value added tax, no annual net worth tax, no inheritance tax, and no estate tax.”
Yet 50% of the residents of Hong Kong live in a form of subsidized housing and every resident receives free emergency medical care. The top 8% of Hong Kong residents shoulder 60% of the tax burden, and the bottom 60% of residents pay no income taxes.
So why is Menegus so quick to rule out these projects, when some of them resemble the progressive dream?
Quirk’s point is not that progressives are wrong and libertarians are right. He says “While the West argued, the East experimented.” There simply have not been enough modern experiments in government to yield any concrete data. We need more experiments.
No Thanks, I’ll Take My Business Elsewhere
Menegus dismisses one of the clearest signs that the “exitarian” strategy is viable.
Peter Thiel helped found the Seasteading Institute. Among other things, they promote the idea of islands or ships hosting medical tourism offshores from restrictive or expensive countries.
Offshore medical research is something Thiel is already engaged in, and which has been described as “patently unethical.”
What the Menegus refers to is the testing of a herpes vaccine. You know, the thus far incurable virus.
Instead of being thwarted by the costs and bureaucracy of the FDA, or waiting 20 years and hoping the “valley of death” doesn’t scare off investors, Thiel took action.
So some shmucks connected to the U.S. government call it unethical. Big surprise.
Volunteers with herpes are getting a chance to be cured, without having to wait 20 years for the FDA to–maybe–approve it. What’s so unethical about skirting an agency known to be corrupt, which derives a big chunk of its revenue from being paid off by pharmaceutical companies?
In truth, Menegus’ Gizmodo article reads like a Newsweek article from 1995 triumphantly declaring the internet would never catch on.
This is, of course, laughable now. In a few years, it will be laughable to think we should have continued another 1,000 years of government identical to the last 1,000 years of government.
Startup Societies are primed to revolutionize the way government works. Singapore, Hong Kong, countless special economic zones, and even innovative cruise lines stand as clear signs of times to come for anyone paying attention.
In 1995, the internet was sometimes more hassle than it was worth. It didn’t do any of its functions particularly well. There was still a lot of experimentation needed to flesh out the proper applications.
Twenty-two years later, it is hard to imagine the world without it.
Everyone has an Agenda
I don’t want to be misleading here. The event organizer, Joe McKinney, who Menegus trashes in the opening of his article, is a friend of mine. I don’t like to see my friends maligned, especially when they are working their asses off to seriously improve the world. And yes, that is going to make me somewhat biased.
But the idea that Menegus is a neutral journalist is laughable. He, and Gizmodo, have an agenda.
They promote the idea of helplessness. They sell a victim mentality. If someone’s making money, someone else must be getting screwed. If someone aligns with a particular political agenda, then everything else they say should be ignored.
Of course, their political beliefs are altruistic and legitimate. They are just trying to fight Nazi’s and help the poor. But when Joe Quirk talks about how to help the poor, he’s just a used car salesman trying to make a buck.
Menegus assumes the worst of any business and assumes government has the best intentions. But people are people. Some are motivated by greed, and others by altruism, regardless of whether they join the government or the private sector.
But you can disengage from businesses. Menegus didn’t have to be at the Summit, and he doesn’t have to join any Startup Society. No one does.
Yet all 7.5 billion people on Earth must choose between 195 countries. And in reality, most of them can’t choose to leave or enter any particular country at will.
All the Startup Society Foundation is saying is that we should have more options. Let’s get more experiments going, and we can see what type of government works the best.
Menegus can start or join one with a universal basic income and censorship if he wants.
The people at the Startup Society Summit are looking for peaceful solutions. Yes, some of them want to exit, and no longer consort with the type of people who read Gizmodo. How crazy to want to disengage from people who say things like:
These people are so entrenched in a helpless victim mindset, they can’t think of any way to solve simple problems of security without government. But they do highlight the biggest threat which faces Startup Societies: violent governments enabled by angry, hateful voters.
Why exactly do these people want to see everyone with differing views murdered by terrorists and governments?
Other commenters were quick to point out the similarities of Startup Societies to the video game Bioshock. The attendees of the event preferred history and science to inform their comparisons.
But the best comment has got to be this one:
I feel that we would get a lot more realistic and useful tech and vision from these people if we shipped them to a government-free island for a few years. Then when they come back they should have at least a basic understanding of what the government is here for, for better or worse, and how to get what they need they will need to work within the current system because it’s not possible to just exclude themselves and create another – they are wholly dependent on it.
This comment reveals the clear misunderstanding between the Startup Societies project and the uninformed critics.
First, the people involved in Startup Societies are attempting to put themselves on “islands” without traditional government. They are begging to not be attacked by governments for simply trying out their own forms of governance. If the critics aren’t afraid of the results, why are they so violently opposed to the experiment?
Second, the Startup Societies may be critical of typical government, but they aren’t opposed to any governing structure whatsoever. Every project proposes mechanisms for how to govern the territory. It is just that the methods of rule-setting don’t involve coercion, theft, and violence.
The truth is they would never come back from the island. But plenty of people would be begging to come join–just like in Singapore and Hong Kong.
This won’t be the last hit piece on Startup Societies as the ideas catch on. But who cares? The whole point is to disengage from people who want to control us, who thinly veil their violent aggression with altruistic excuses and a Savior Complex.
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