By William R. Collier, Jr.
Public trust in government is at an all-time low thanks to widespread mismanagement of the COVID-19 response. This presents an opportunity not only to reform failing institutions, but to build new ones with greater accountability. In this dynamic new environment, the concept of Free Private Cities (FPCs) popularized by Dr. Titus Gebel is gaining traction.
FPCs are special economic zones – territorial carve-outs with favorable business regulation and tax policies – that feature a new city construction and a government-as-a-service model uniquely suited to the 21st century. Citizens are essentially customers who enter into a contract with government to provide basic services.
By creating a FPC within its borders, a host country gets needed investment and infrastructure. In exchange for having a space to operate a FPC, the operator also provides specific investments or resources to the surrounding area. Additionally, the government of the host country gains a revenue stream that doesn’t add to its overhead: the operator of the FPC provides the needed services and infrastructure.
The entrepreneur who wants to trade regionally or globally with minimal red tape and under a reasonable tax policy will be able to put more time, energy, and capital in their business. This will result in a favorable environment for the entrepreneur and innovator, which benefits society at large.
The workers who come to these locations will find good jobs, good working conditions, and more opportunity to become entrepreneurs and innovators themselves. Because of the concept of government as a service, these workers will be more empowered and have a real voice, through a free-market mechanism that protects individual freedom and affords equal opportunity to all.
The environment will benefit. Starting with a “green field” approach, all the latest innovations and technologies that mesh with environmental goals and sensitivity to climate change can be used. Starting on this basis is less expensive than merely retrofitting existing systems or whole cities. A FPC can be built intelligently to be carbon neutral without a massive disruption of existing habits and dependencies and in a truly cost-efficient manner that makes sense.
FPCs are the radical necessity of our time, but the idea of building new cities on new frameworks is not new. Visit Brasilia or Abuja for stunning examples of new cities that grew out of a green field!
If the idea of starting a FPC in the wake of a pandemic seems daunting, consider this:
- It can begin small and grow in a more organic and natural manner suited to the land and its residents.
- It is built dynamically through an interdependent and lightly managed dance between end-users, providers, and individual residents. The operator provides core infrastructure and governance as a service, but lightly manages and coordinates a series of private contracts and agreements between providers and users. The city’s clients, be they people as individual or business or other entities, build the city.
The operator is the expert at providing infrastructure, city planning and design, trade and commercial contracts and mediation, and other essential services that serve the clients of their city. But the dance between workers, residents, entrepreneurs, investors, the host nation, and various business or other entities is played out in a much more organic and natural way that is suited to the 21st century.
A FPC is to urban life what Space-X is to space travel and exploration. Just as prior to Space-X only governments launched into space, now it can no longer be said that only governments can build new cities.
William Collier is a partner at Intellz and the President of The Capitalist League.