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QuickStart Communities: How You Can Alter Government At The Local Level

In this article, the team from Startup Societies explores how to quickstart communities by providing the means for a place to start developing new ideas and approaches to governance and government.

Government: A very poor product

The World Bank claims that just over half of all wealth in the world is intangible: and that intangible wealth is in trust and the rule of law. This allows people to work and trade without worry of violent recourse; they know that contracts are enforced by a civil government. However, even with this knowledge, almost nobody except a select few nations is satisfied with their governments.

We all agree that governments, more often than not, fail to meet the expectations of their users: citizens. Thus, a range of different opinions are brought out that attempt to rectify that – solutions such as privatizing government-offered services, empowering local democracy through blockchain, and even more ideological solutions such as ethnocentric fascism, Marxist communism, and innumerable others.

There are few in the world who can say to know the legal, economic, political, ethnic, and other sciences well enough to unilaterally implement their ideal system on an unsuspecting population through the government. Whenever something like that is attempted, massive problems are the result (see the Great Leap Forward, Venezuela today, etc..)

So, we’re unsatisfied with the services offered to us by the government, but we can’t join the government and reform it effectively from the inside. What’s to be done? To answer this question, we refer to one of the finest inventors of the past 100 years, who is also an exquisitely pithy speaker: Buckminster Fuller.

Buckminster Fuller Quote

We have to build a new form of government in order to make the existing ones obsolete. That would be just fine if there were land-based territories where we could start afresh! We can’t create a new country because all of the world’s territories are already taken, and thus this dream fails. But does it?

Reform an inch wide and a mile deep

Perhaps there’s another way to change the governing functions that we’re all so unsatisfied with. One of the main problems with governments is that their jurisdictions are so massive as a result of the population that they cover. As a result, only the most general and popular policies can be effectively implemented. What if that weren’t a requisite for policy?

Enter special economic zones! These are small areas within countries that are legally separate for certain categories. For example, a special economic zone in China would be an area of the country where taxes are not levied, and where certain restrictions on hiring were not enforced. These zones most often function to attract investment from foreigners into a country, but they can mean much more.

Such zones effectively put in place a precedent for governments worldwide (special economic zones exist in almost every nation in the world). This means that almost any government will be legally able to perform experiments where regulations are able to work best at a local level and that don’t have to be implemented through elections.

Shenzhen China Transformation

Before an argument is made that such zones would be a seeding ground for civil oppression, we must be aware that only those who explicitly agree to the regulations contained in such zones may move into the zone. Let us imagine a nation that has a number of such zones, and experiments with different policies in each.

All other things being equal, the most effective policy system will attract the most investment from within (or outside) the country. With correct metrics, the policymaker will then be able to understand which policies are most effective and would result in the best results for citizens elsewhere.

How you can implement it

There are pioneers out there that have created communities completely outside the reach of existing governments. Such experiments are an interesting matter in international law: are they allowed to govern themselves? You can also attempt to create such a project, which can be initiated through the model we’ll explain below.

However, if one wants to create a special jurisdiction within an existing country, it is necessary to work with existing governments. In order to do that, we’ll explain the gift method.

The Gift Method

Back in the age of bronze shields and swords, the Phoenicians were known as excellent traders. They were a seafaring people that understood how to establish a relationship with people. When exploring the seas and finding a new settlement, they’d leave a gift of fruit and cloth to the newly discovered area.

Boat Voyage

If the gift was brutishly taken or a similarly violent and selfish response was given, the cartographer would make sure to mark the area as unsafe for trade, which fellow seamen would soon learn of. If a gift was left in return, then a fruitful and profitable relationship could begin.

This way, generosity at the outset guarantees a clear understanding of the treachery (or lack thereof) of persons or communities you do business with. With that in mind, let’s turn to how you can improve a local community:

Specific steps towards Quickstart Communities

If you’re interested in affecting the policy that a specific community uses, then there are a few ways to approach this issue. If the community is autonomous, the process is made even easier. If it is not, the method that we outline should help to solve that issue regardless.

Providing an incentive is one of the most important tools in an entrepreneur’s tool-set. Think about the well-known balloon experiment sponsored by DARPA in which a cash prize was given to any group who could locate 10 red weather balloons spread throughout the USA. The winner was not a highly technologically advanced project, but rather one that relied on a system of referrals and social networking.

Instead of trying to solve a problem top-down, the winning team from MIT created an incentive structure that allowed the problem to “solve itself”. A promising method for policy change in small communities may rest in this counter-intuitive insight into problem analysis.

What SSF advocates for is an approach in which local communities are offered grants in kind (introductions to investors, access to best practices, design solutions, arbitration, and metrics) that increase the competitiveness of their communities.

These grants should be made with the caveat that further cooperation will only be possible once certain metrics are met and proven to the provider of the metrics. The provider can then further cooperate with what is now known as the “QuickStart community”.

Tools for improving societal metrics should be given to communities. Those metrics that can be improved by the tools provided are those that should be measured. And the process should incrementally increase the ease of doing business and overall security of any community.

Can I really do something like that?

Naturally, such an approach is available only to those that can provide the grants to communities. However, those who attempt to help communities are of two stripes:

  1. Young and idealistic
  2. Experienced and well-to-do

The first have the time and effort to put into such projects, and the latter has the resources and contacts to do the same.

For anybody reading this article, know that improving a community is as simple as providing incentives for the community to improve itself. The rise in property value, more business opportunities, increased security, and reduced inequality are all first-level incentives that will keep communities improving and implementing such tools.

Only through the dissemination of these first-level incentives through the QuickStart community will the partners feel the power of further reforms. Once these metrics are seen, even governments begin to loosen their grip on communities that offer better results all-around.

Do you think this method works?

Aleksa Burmazovic
Aleksa is the Executive Director of the Startup Societies Foundation, a US-based non-profit that focuses on local experiments in governance. His insights primarily focus on incentive systems design, geopolitics and economic theory with the goal of increasing the competitiveness of the governing industry. He is an avid reader, reading one audiobook every day and reviewing them on his online journal.
Photo by Allison Wopata on Unsplash
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