The Silicon Valley Approach to Legal Autonomy in New Cities

Two recent articles illustrate the Silicon Valley approach to building cities. The first is by Eliezer Yudkowsky, which he wrote as a response to Y Combinator’s city project. The second is by Yury Lifshits.

The most interesting part of both articles is the discussion of creating a special economic zone for new cities. Yudkowsky writes, “whole city that negotiated a special economic zone with some state or country.” Though he is suspects the host country will violate any agreement to create a special economic zone if the new city is successful. Lifshits writes,

Neocities are more likely to be developed as privately managed, special economic zones as opposed to traditional cities led by democratically elected officials. A neocity model should include a high-level plan for governance structure and key policy innovations.

He takes it as a given that new cities should have a degree of legal autonomy from the host country.

One thing missing from both discussions is what might be called base law. Will the zone use common law or civil law? Will private arbitration agreements be respected by the courts? Given both articles imply the cities will be built in developed countries, there is an implicit assumption of functioning courts. Nevertheless, there should be discussion around how to improve commercial law.

The second missing aspect is technology regulations. I am a bit surprised there is no discussion in either piece. A new city could allow experimentation with drone technology, for example, which is currently prohibited under US law. Given the difficulty of attracting people to a new city in urbanized countries, creating a regulatory environment to attract tech innovation seems an obvious step.

A third thing to take note of is city location. The vast majority of urbanization is occurring in the developing world. It would be a shame if Silicon Valley only focuses on developed countries.

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