Since my controversial post last week, 2.4 million more babies were born into this world, 97% of them into places that lack certain freedoms. Opinions vary on which of these freedoms are more important than others, but the fact remains -
No one is born into a perfect place.
Add a few more layers to the controversial mix and we could easily paint the whole world red. And that all covers just the “being born” part - the one we don’t have control over. Now lets get into what we can actually do about the rest.
When the environment is (or turns) difficult, you have a choice between adapting or moving. There’s a third choice as well, but I’ll get to that later.
Both adaptation and migration are common in nature. Adaptation in fact explains most of the diversity of animal species we see today (It just so happens that I’m posting this from the Galápagos Islands). Be it a furry coat or the ability to hibernate to survive winters, evolution has found means to increase the odds of survival. We humans are great at it too – look at our skin color or our ability to bend over under authoritarian regimes. We do what it takes to survive.
The second choice - migration is found in all major animal groups (birds, mammals, fish, reptiles, insects and even crustaceans). The Estonian national bird – the barn swallow - only spends a few months a year in Estonia (which in itself is amusing). It’s among the 18% of bird species that migrate long distances, mostly to escape winters.
Humans are no exception when it comes to migration. There are a quarter billion people in the world who now live permanently in a country other than the one they were born in (3.2% of world population), 7.6% of them are qualified as refugees. Looking back at the history of migration, if you’re not in Africa right now, then you’re at least a descendant of people who have moved continents (maybe something for racists to think about?).
The big difference between human and animal migration is that we humans often limit our freedom to imagined communities - socially constructed, artificial groups, imagined by the people who perceive themselves as part of them. That’s essentially what nation states are – imagined - since they are not based on face-to-face interactions between its members like actual communities.
Pangaea (Pangea) – a supercontinent
300 million years ago, a supercontinent called Pangaea was formed, that later broke apart into continents that we inhabit today. Modern technology has turned the world back into Pangaea – a world where everything is connected. You can have a live video call with someone across the world in seconds (you’re welcome!) or you can find yourself on the next continent in 10 hours if the need be. Yet we’ve built these imaginary borders around us that limit human potential. These borders are a direct result of historic military conflict. And allowing your fate to be determined by things that took place before your birth feels like accepting defeat before you even get started.
It is the magic of nationalism to turn chance into destiny” Benedict Anderson
This all brings me to the third option of what to do when the environment is not favorable – you can change it! As weird as it sounds, one of the means to cause change is actually also to migrate (for those who already have that freedom). As opposed to a slow democratic process of giving your marginal vote every four years in the hope of changing something you care about, you can vote with your feet already today. You have a choice between expressing your needs at a popularity contest twice a decade or putting constant pressure on places.
Not only will you find yourself in a place where your problem is already fixed (remember – that’s why you moved!), you’re also putting real budget pressure on the old place by taking your taxes elsewhere (will hurt every month). With enough people doing that, the competition for taxes forces incumbent states to fix their environments.
In positive political theory, this is described as the Tiebout hypothesis. The basic argument is that competition between governments reduces their ability to redistribute wealth, since whoever is being taxed to pay for the redistribution can just move to somewhere with lower taxes. These effects of course are not only limited to taxes.
Though the suggestion to “Just move!” from the pen of the affluent might come off as insensitive toward the 3rd world citizens (who might be lacking the freedom to move), there is however one major thing that injects endless hope in me - the advances in technology.
Call me a techno-optimist, but I see technology as the greatest equalizer (of all time) that can help bring more and more people along. Software is eating the world, because Mobile is eating the world. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 70% of the population is now under cellular coverage. Another 1B people are coming online and 80% of adults on earth are expected to have a smartphone by 2020. These are all people connected to the global market.
Legacy free environments with low resources are also quite conducive to innovation. It is likely that African countries will see more success with online education, bitcoin, 3d printing, drones etc. They lack the legacy that would slow them down and the latest technology is often the only practical/affordable solution to problems (online learning in remote locations, doctors 3d printing prosthetics in remote locations, drones stopping poaching, micro transactions on mobiles the only affordable option etc.).
Though not exactly a shift from the third world, but nevertheless an example of how a clean sheet and technology can make a difference - Estonia (1.3M population) has created two unicorns (Skype and TransferWise) since regaining its independence from the USSR. A fresh start with the latest technology has enabled the country to quickly catch up. The states e-services in fact have been so successful that Estonia is now offering them to the residents of other countries through the e-residency program.
It’s not hard to imagine the invention of blockchain (the core of Bitcoin) having remarkable implications in the developing world through enabling micro-transactions and possibly helping eliminate corruption through blockchain based electronic voting. There’s stuff coming that we haven’t even thought of yet.
Technological innovation is finally making it possible to meet the assumptions of the Tiebout model (mobile consumers, complete information, abundant choices, telecommuting etc.). Bringing transparency into the world of basic freedoms, taxes, government services, public goods and reducing the cost/pain associated with moving will be the way to give us a future, where every nation state will have to compete for every citizen. Can you imagine that world?
- A world where every country (or every city) is utterly committed to make itself the best environment for the people (not just corporations)
- A world where every citizen has a complete picture of what they get for their taxes compared to every other citizen of the world
- A world where people already on the move spark the change in even the most hopeless places
- A world where transparency through technology is making it harder and harder for states to limit freedoms or get away with non-optimal governance.
- A world where isolation is not a viable option for any state
- A world where free people move!
Rest assured, there are many challenges on the way and this vision might raise more questions than it provides answers to, but I certainly would like to see this future.
That’s why we’re building Teleport and that’s why we want to invite you along for this ride. Go ahead, install the Teleport for Startup Cities app (Android and iOS) and give it a try! See how even the 100 startup friendly cities differ. You guys are the first! You guys are already the most mobile. You guys are the future of everyone else!
I’ll leave you with Russell Brand’s pun on anti-immigration practices for the sceptics among you:
Keep still on this spherical rock in infinite space. Keep still on this spherical rock with imaginary geopolitical borders that have been drawn in according to the economic reality at the time. Do not pause to reflect upon the fact that the free movement of global capital will necessitate free movement of a global labor force to meet that demand. That is a complex economic idea and you can't understand it! Just keep still on the rock!
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