The different kinds of libertarian municipalism

I’m going to talk about more in depth over the different kinds of libertarian municipalist models, both socialist and free market, and how each can fit the wants of all libertarians (Georgists/geolibertarians, anarcho-capitalists, minarchists, etc.). For simplification and clarity we’ll call the former models as “communial municipalism” and the latter’s as “corporate (republic) municipalism”.

If you haven’t read my previous post, here’s the link to it.

Communal Municipalism

Utopian Socialism

Robert Owen was a Welsh cotton industrialist who tried to set up a socialist commune in the United States. He was the founder of the 19th century movement known as “utopian socialism”. Owen’s socialist philosophy began in 1817 where he published his report on how a utopian socialist commune would function.

Communities of about 1,200 people [would] be settled on land from 1,000 to 1,500 acres (4 to 6 km2), all living in one large square building, with public kitchen and mess-rooms. Each family should have its own private apartments and the entire care of the children till age three, after which they should be brought up by the community; their parents would have access to them at meals, however, and at all other proper times.

The ideal number of residents changed over time in Owens’ thought but he generally favored starting a community between five hundred to a little over a thousand people. These small municipalities were primarily agricultural, they looked for the most advancement machinery for production, had to provide employment and benefits to all its members, and most of all they had to be self reliant.

He put his ideas to the test and bought the town of New Harmony in Indiana (on the [poorly made] graphic on my Instagram post, I accidently called it New Haven, Connecticut). The project failed in two years. Abram Combe was inspired by Owens’ ideas and tried to set up his own commune in Scotland known as Orbison, which failed quickly as well. Two other utopian experiment were tried in the UK, one in Tytherley and the other in Ralahine. The former failed almost immediately and the latter lasted for three and half years before the owner went bankrupt. Many scholars assert that these “utopias”  could not function to do the free rider problem.

Social Ecology

The term “libertarian municipalism” was coined by Murray Bookchin who envisioned a confederacy of independent sovereign cities. Bookchin used libertarian municipalism as a component for his ideology of social ecology.

Like utopian socialism, social ecology abolishes private property (with exemptions to personal property) and money. Unlike it though, social ecology puts more emphasis on solving social and environmental problems (hence the name) by taking down the kyriarchy rather than just promote the welfare of workers. They hope to replace individual self interest and unite the public in one common social good.

Both social ecology and utopian socialism are primarily agricultural and they tend to be sparsely populated, but the former does not care about material gains and improvements in production like the latter. Instead social ecology prefers simple living. Neither does social ecology attempt to make communes completely independent and self sufficient but rather all the communes work together in a “global web of economically interdependent and interconnected small local communes” (Wikipedia).

There are only a couple of examples I could find of social ecology: Auroville in India, a spiritual town with a population of 2,400. And Nimbin, Australia; a small village of 420 people that mainly houses psychedelics and cannabis hippies.

Corporate Republic Municipalism

Corporate Monarchy

Corporate monarchy originates from the northern Italian city states of the medieval ages. Historically these societies have been characterized as merchant republics and elective monarchies. Usually the merchant class in the form of guilds held all political power and would elect a monarch as a leader; the king didn’t wield much power and in some cases it was just a ceremonial role.

Richard Goldthawaite in an Economist article calls the Republic of Florence the “Cradle of capitalism”:

Florence became one of medieval and Renaissance Europe’s great industrial cities. Its principal resource was the river, the fast-flowing Arno, which provided power and water for industry and access to the sea for imports and exports. But an even greater source of strength was the enterprise and ingenuity of its merchants, who set about transforming a healthy local wool industry into an international business by importing large quantities of better-quality wool, from England and later Spain, to manufacture the fine, light worsted woollen cloth that was in demand all over Europe.

The Republic of Venice is described as:

[Playing] a major role in reopening the Mediterranean economy to West European commerce and developing links with Northern Europe. It created an institutional basis for commercial capitalism, made major progress in shipping technology, and helped transfer Asian and Egyptian technology in cane sugar production and processing, silk textiles, glassblowing and jewellery to the West.Venice was the most successful of the North Italian city states in creating and maintaining a republic dominated by a merchant capitalist elite. Thanks to its geographic position and willingness to defend itself, it was able to guarantee its autonomy and freedom from exactions by feudal landlords and monarchs.

It created political and legal institutions which guaranteed property rights and the enforceability of contracts. It was a pioneer in developing foreign exchange and credit markets, banking and accountancy. It created what was effectively a government bond market, starting with compulsory loans on which interest was paid regularly. Its fiscal system was efficient and favourable to merchant profits and the accumulation of capital. The revenues came from excise levies and property taxes based on cadastral surveys.

It was a tolerant and fairly secular state where foreign merchants (Armenians, Greeks and Jews) could operate as freely as locals

(The World Economy)

The city states also had formed the Lombard League; a military alliance to protect themselves from Italian kingdom in the south and Holy Roman Empire in the north.

Corporate Democracy

Corporate democracy is a very new movement that tries to tackle urban problems with institutional change. Its characterized by it’s application of entrepreneurial culture to further urban development and solve socioeconomic problems.

When you look at political reform, you start to see that both reformers and entrepreneurs share the same problems: too much complexity, too little feedback, and huge risks for making small errors. Startup Cities is a new approach to reform that uses small, highly autonomous municipalities to pilot reform projects before they are scaled to the national level. Startup Cities are politically neutral. They can be broad with innovations like independent courts, a different legal system, radical transparency, new social services, or their own municipal police force. Or they could be focused on a specific area like reforming education. (Virgin)

Corporate democracies come in the form of startup cities. Cities that are entirely privately owned that compete for residence and commerce. These cities use this business model to circumvent traditional bureaucratic political process that prevents bad laws from being repealed and good ones from being enacted.

One of the coolest things coming out of corporate democracy is the use of blockchain technology. For those of you who are unfamiliar with cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, the blockchain is a decentralized database where a digit ledger keeps track of all transactions and it is transparent  and open to everyone to see; thus removing the need for third parties and middlemen. It can be applied to any transaction like goods and services, and in our case for taxes and land.

Etherum, a cryptocurrency and company of the same name, use this revolutionary power to create the DAO, Decentralized Autonomous Organization. This is something that I am very hyped about (most probably overly hyped). According to their website the DAO works like this:

The way this particular democracy works is that it has an Owner which works like an administrator, CEO or a President. The Owner can add (or remove) voting members to the organization. Any member can make a proposal, which is in the form of an ethereum transaction to either send ether or execute some contract, and other members can vote in support or against the proposal. Once a predetermined amount of time and a certain number of members has voted, the proposal can be executed: the contract counts the votes and if there are enough votes it will execute the given transaction.

Another cool democratic concept that the DAO has is liquid democracy, you can think of it as a democracy that synthesizes representative and direct democracy.

In this kind of democracy, any voter can be a potential delegate: instead of voting the candidate you want, you just say which voter you trust to handle this decision for you. Your voting weight is delegated to them and they can in turn delegate it to another voter they trust and so on. The end result should be that the most voted account is one that has trust connections to the largest amount of voters.

Honduras a few years ago passed a law that would set out zones for investors to create startup cities, they can create their own laws (except criminal), institutions, and public services. BitBastion is a project to create a DAO startup city. According to their site:

Bit Bastion will be a state with rules catered to blockchain technology and it will be the global hub of this tech. We will be able to design the very laws in the jurisdiction to fall in line with our ideals, no state in the world will be more forward thinking and technologically sound then our city. Tech companies and workers will flock to us to take advantage of our friendly rules. The main priority for the 1st Bastion is to create one of the most libertarian and free states in the world. We are trying to utilize the Honduras ZEDE (Zone for Employment and Economic Development) program to accomplish this.

While this all may seem far fetched, corporate democracy out of all the different kinds of models in this article, is filled with plenty of successful examples. In my last post I mentioned Co-Op City and Sandy Springs but there are many more we can look to from all over the world and throughout history.

Some other modern day examples are Lavasa, India; a $30 billion dollar project built from scratch by billionaire industrialist, Ajit Gulabchand. The goal of the city is to be a “smart” city by tackling typical urban problems such as sprawl and transit. Oranjemund in Namibia is an African mining town owned by De Beers. The town houses 3,000 people who enjoy swimming pool, cinema, restaurants, bars, and free water and electricity. It’s also governed by an elected mayor and town council with seven seats.

Robert Owen before his socialist turn also had a successful company town know as New Lanark where the welfare of the worker residences was as high as the companies profits. Company towns in fact were very popular in the United States and the UK during the industrial age. The Pullman community in Chicago, IL owned by the Pullman Car Company had one of the highest standard of living for workers in the country:

Many critics praised Pullman’s conception and planning of the company town. One newspaper article titled “The Arcadian City: Pullman, the Ideal City of the World” praised the company town as “the youngest and most perfect city in the world, Pullman; beautiful in every belonging.” (Wikipedia)

Although with due to the severe recession from the panic of 1873; layoffs and wage cuts lead to a strike. The federal government investigated the principle causes and found that the excessive paternalism, while good for increasing the quality of life, was “inappropriate for a large-scale corporate economy and thus caused the town’s downfall”. So there is such a thing as too much welfare.

Heathian Anarchy

“Socialism, monarchy, democracy, do you have something that’s not statist?”

Of course my fellow anarcho-capitalists, Heathian anarchism is what you’re looking for and is basically anarcho-georgism so if you’re a geolibertarian you might like this too. Unlike the typical anarchist model by Rothbard and David Friedman where you have private defense companies protect you individually, Heathianism has a private defense company protect the entire community. That’s because the defense company is the corporation that owns the property but leases it out and so that puts them in charge of providing community services.

They collect revenue through ground rents which is basically a land value tax, except its not a tax but it’s technically a voluntary transaction between the tenant and landlord. This anarchism is by Spencer Heath and his grandson Spencer H. MacCallum and the argument is that it would promote “individual autonomy, entrepreneurial opportunity, and quality of community life”. The startup city institute has their books on the subject which you can read for free.

Rothbard like the idea, he recommended their books in the Libertarian Forum pg.654 and said it would “disquiet Noam Chomsky.” He also describes it like this:

The Heathian goal is to have cities and large land areas owned by single private corporations, which would own and rent out the land and housing over the area, and provide all conceivable “public services”: police, fire, roads, courts, etc., out of the voluntarily-paid rent. Heathianism is Henry Georgism stood on its head; like George, Heath and MacCallum would provide for all public services out of rent; but unlike George, the rent would be collected, and the land owned, by private corporate landlords rather than by the government, and the payment therefore voluntary rather than coercive. The Heathian ‘proprietary community’ is, of course, in stark contrast to the scruffy egalitarian commune dreamed of by anarchists of the Left.

Seasteading

I don’t know if you guys heard but Elon Musk has sponsored thing called Seasteading. Everything right now is completely theoretical so I wasn’t sure where it would fit on here much less if it even belongs. It’s basically you have a boat, and you can use it to travel to any “floating city” on the ocean. There’s a seasteading institute which I would go check out if I were you. I think it’s pretty cool, maybe transhumanists would really like this idea.

I think thalassocracy (rule of the sea) best describes what this would like; you’ll probably have a bunch of floating island states I guess. I don’t know it hasn’t been tried yet but they’re planning to give an attempt soon.

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Published by

Manu Belmonte

Senior Editor at The Credible Hulk Magazine and writer at my personal blog learninghayek.wordpress.com

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