Innovation in governance is needed to solve many of the world’s problems. But innovation requires entry. 200 years ago, America was the world’s most important startup. It disrupted the thousand year dominance of monarchy and created an innovative and valuable governance package. But that was 200 years ago. Now America is a lumbering giant with more laws than anyone can count, sclerotic bureaucracy, and exploding debt without much to show for it.
There are some modern efforts to stimulate the market for governance. There have been a few independence movements in the 21st century, but these serve mostly to change the ethnic preferences of a government rather than to innovate in the services it provides. The real push for innovation is coming from ideas like charter cities and sea-steading. These movements try to break into the highly restricted governance market by starting small, on the city level. These new ventures usually compete with existing governments by being liberal, consistent, and cost-effective.
Interland: The Country In The Intersection
Say you’re starting a new country or city state and you want to improve on democracy. How could you do it?
Simply creating another democracy but with a smaller tax code and an abridged cannon of common law would help for a while, but the same forces would push towards cronyism and sclerosis.
Following the legislature of another, larger country like the US would help somewhat because domestic interests would find it difficult to exert power in competition with the more powerful groups in the other country. But you’d still end up with an inefficient and ever growing set of laws that reflect the interests of powerful groups, they would just be the powerful groups of a different country. Prospera, a fledging semi-autonomous micro nation in Honduras, takes a similar strategy but expanded to a union of many countries. On a wide variety of issues from healthcare to construction to civil aviation, residents can choose the laws they want to follow from a large list of “best practice peer countries,” as long as they can get insurance for their activities. But allowing any law code from a large group makes enforcement and arbitration expensive and inconsistent.
Instead of taking the union of many countries laws like Prospera, Interland takes the intersection of the law codes of a large group of nations. This will produce a minimal reasonable set of laws which is highly resistant to lobbying and growth.
Anyone who wants to add a new agricultural subsidy, building height limit, or immigration restriction has to convince everyone in this group to add it before it passes in Interland. This makes the institutions of the country consistent and durable.
Durability is only good if the thing that’s lasting is also good. We have several reasons to expect this to be the case for Interland’s institutions. First, Interland will have a shorter list of statutes and regulations than any other country in its group. This isn’t unconditionally good, but since the mechanisms of democracy are likely to overproduce rules it’s the directionally correct adjustment. Even better is that all of the laws that Interland does have will be more universally supported than most of the laws in other nations, since they are by definition the set of laws that many nations agree on. As more countries are added to the intersection, Interland’s law code would be further distilled into human universals. Finally, Interland will be the freest nation on earth. Anything which is allowed by any member of the intersection will also be allowed in Interland.
Importantly, Interland’s constitution will be positively constructed. This means it will be a list of all of the things the government can do, and anything not listed is not within the government’s authority. This is in contrast to parts of the American constitution and Bill of Rights which define government authority by tracing the negative space that its authority cannot cross, but there was significant debate over which method was best during the drafting of the American constitution.
So what sorts of laws would Interland have? All nations share a lot of their basic criminal code. Murder, theft, and rape are all illegal in every country so they’d be illegal in Interland. Abortion, homosexuality, multi-family, and multi-use construction would not be illegal although many countries outlaw them. Nuclear power construction would be much easier thanks to the laws of France and South Korea, and almost all drugs would be legal or at least decriminalized.
Similarly, trade and immigration in Interland would be very free. The intersection of immigration restrictions with Germany, for example, is none at all. Germany is in the Schengen Area with Austria (and many others) so zero is the only point where all of the immigration laws of the world overlap with respect to Germany. If Interland were at the intersection of just the OECD, it would still have relatively strong immigration and trade restrictions with India, China and all of Africa since all members of the OECD share some non-zero limit on trade and immigration with these nations. The more countries comprising the intersection, the fewer of these international restrictions that Interland would have.
Interland’s taxation and spending would be minimal, mirroring nations like Hong Kong, Singapore, and Luxemburg. But by all accounts these nations have effective and comprehensive public services. Unfortunately in the eyes of some and thankfully for others, Interland would have a state police force, a public road network (although toll roads would be allowed), public parks, and libraries.
Interland will need a judicial and executive branch to arbitrate their laws, and execute their public services. These need not be democratic institutions. Interland will be a new country, competing for residents and tax dollars with existing nations. Since Interland will likely not start with a large population or natural resources, this competition will be a better constraint on Interland’s government than democracy would be. Interland could be run by a corporation. Corporations generally have very high “state capacity” in the sense of accomplishing their goals, and they already have well developed arbitration courts.
Intersecting the laws and institutions of many nations is a powerful recipe for distilling durably efficient and widely supported governments.
This recipe is just an idea and the implementation is not at all straightforward. As I mentioned earlier, the law codes of most large nations today are far too large for anyone to comprehensively catalog! Even if you could collect and translate the law books of several nations, figuring out what laws they all share is not easy either. They will all be written in their own unique legalese, with much of the meaning of an entry contained in references to other entries which themselves reference a court opinion from a hundred years ago. This will probably create significant ambiguity in what laws countries share and therefore what laws Interland has. Room for interpretation is a huge problem because it would allow whoever decides what’s in the intersection to effectively legislate by divining new shared laws deep within law codes that no one has time to read anyways.
A possible solution to this might be training a natural language model to read and simplify law codes and intersect the outputs of the model. Another might be to start with a reduced list of areas of law that Interland needs, like immigration, crime/policing, etc, and only search for intersections there, leaving the rest laissez-faire.
Another problem is that Interland free-rides on the law making of other countries. If the Interland model somehow becomes wildly successful there could be a sort of Grossman-Stiglitz paradox: Intersected laws are efficient because they distill universals from many countries, but if lots of countries law codes are just intersections then the number nations actually determining the laws shrinks so they become less efficient and universal.
It’s impossible to think about politics for too long without discovering some mindboggling inefficiency or injustice. Most people today accept democracy as the final governance model, so they suggest within-the-system advocacy like voting and campaigning as the the only and preferred path to change. However, this is not how democracy itself came to be. Democracy was a disruptive startup that exited the existing system entirely. Democracy is more open to new ideas than monarchy was, but it is naïve to believe that policies like free trade or open immigration which go against voter biases and concentrated interests will ever pass in a democracy, even though they could more than double the world economy. The structural incentives of democracy inextricably push towards sclerosis, cronyism, and the 4 biases of the apocalypse.
The only way up is out. Solving these problems requires exiting the current system and competing with a new governance model. The Interland model has serious implementation challenges, but it certainly seems worth at least experimenting with. Unfortunately, almost no one is willing or able to experiment with new institutions. A first step towards changing this, is changing people’s minds. If you’d like to help, please share this post and share your ideas in the comments!
Interesting! This reminds me of what Prospera wanted to do, where someone in a traditionally regulated category could choose to be regulated by any OCED country of their choice. In general, I think I agree that this approach has lower risk of having bad unknown-unknown consequences than most other approaches I've seen that would achieve the same level of libertarian-ness.
Some significant game-theoretic risks that immediately come to mind:
* If Interland gets into a strong rivalry or cold war with another country, that country could try to attack Interland by legalizing something terrible that happens to have negligible impact in the other country for situation-specific reasons but has a big impact in Interland. For example, Iran could legalize murdering Korean people. This would have a very small impact to Iran itself, but it would make Interland permanently useless as a cosmopolitan business and culture hub in addition to severe one-time costs on Koreans even if there's a waiting period before the law propagates.
* Texas-abortion-law-style strategies. Another country that wanted to affect Interland policy could avoid banning X, but instead legalize private individuals doing some really harmful thing to people who do X.
* There are lots of poor countries that are probably very easy to corrupt but also not really worth corrupting because not much (in dollar terms) is happening there. But if Interland law is tethered to the weakest one of those countries, then people could corrupt those countries in order to legalize terrible things in Interland.
* Instead of using a total-intersection rule, use a 90% intersection rule. Something must be illegal in 90% of reference countries to be illegal in Interland.
* Have a judicial body define a legal category of "private punishment behavior" (basically, selectively going after people with the goal of disincentivizing a particular act), and require that behavior to follow the opposite rule (it must be _legal_ in all or almost all reference countries to be legal in Interland). The definition of "private punishment behavior" intuitively feels similar to categories like "hate crimes", so there's probably precedent that you can carry over.
* Allow the legislative body to remove a country from the reference country list if something terrible happens as a result of that country being on the list, and constitutionally rate-limit the use of this mechanism. In addition to the self-correcting property, this creates an incentive alignment: countries know that if they screw up and influence Interland law in bad ways, they will lose their influence over Interland.
very cool thought experiment