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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Citizens of the Cloud

An Interview with Susanne Tarkowski Tempelhof

Susanne is an international entrepreneur, tech investor, and writer. She has worked in Sweden, France, Brazil, China, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, the United States, Libya, Egypt, and Indonesia. In 2008, she started Wise Strategic Communication, the first Afghan strategic communication company, which she sold in February 2011 to a US contracting firm.

In the wake of the Arab Spring, in 2011 she started Shabakat Corporation in Egypt and Libya to support local grassroots movements. After Libya’s civil war ended, she turned Shabakat into a technology company to provide cryptoinvestment consultancy, currency mining in Indonesia, and other frontier applications. She’s the author of the forthcoming book The Googlement — A Do-It-Yourself Guide to Starting Your Own Nation (and Changing the World) from Nortia Press. We sat down with her to talk about rapid global change and cloud governance.

The Freeman: What do you think about electoral politics?

Tempelhof: It’s sad that people think they have any impact when voting. It’s also sad that they’re expressing their consent to an attempted geographic monopoly on violence through voting. Voting is immoral.

If it weren't a monopoly — or oligopoly, in the case of the nation-state system as a whole — it would still be a bad decision-making platform. Why should any group have the right to decide over other people, simply because the others are outnumbered?

The Freeman: You would seem to be on the side of those who embrace relatively new thinking that says entrepreneurship drives social change. Do you agree? And if so, why is it better than, say, education or activism?

Tempelhof: I agree entirely. Action is always better than rhetoric.

Take bitcoin: when people trade with bitcoin, they are engaging in an act of anarchy. The user may not be liberty minded; they may use it simply because it’s more convenient, as in countries whose economies depend on remittance payments. But when they do so, they come to realize that a private, voluntary alternative provides a better service than the government provides. That alone is huge.

To that end, I believe we’ve already achieved a lot of success. We organized a wedding on the blockchain, and a blockchain ID pilot based on a concept by Chris Ellis from the World Crypto Network, which got a lot of attention from mainstream media such as the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Wired, etc. And in November, we will conduct a blockchain land registry and deed pilot. Every time we roll out something new, people say, “Wow, I thought bitcoin was a currency! I never thought it could be used for that sort of thing!”

A common social science saying is, “Behavior shapes perception to a greater extent than perception shapes behavior,” and that’s what I believe as well. Naturally, down the road, the two mutually reinforce each other.

The Freeman: What is Bitnation and how can it drive social change?

Tempelhof: Bitnation aims to be a collaborative platform for do-it-yourself governance tools and services. We aim to set the precedent for people who want to create their own decentralized borderless voluntary nations (DBVNs) — and start a trend. Ultimately, I would like to live in a world where thousands or millions of governance service providers compete for their “citizens” through providing better services than their competitors, rather than through using physical force and arbitrary borders.

Most people in the world seem to want governments, because they cannot fathom a world without governments — nation-state governments. You know, the famous “But who will build the rooaaaads?” type arguments. We want to show people that they can have the same services governments offer, but better and cheaper through free-market service providers.

Another reason why people like governments is because they aggregate services, that is, it’s a one-stop-shop solution for a broad range of services. Many find the thought of choosing their own provider for every single service government offers a confusing and frightening thought. I tend to agree. I like full-stack solutions, as well — for instance, I prefer to buy a ready made laptop, rather than building my own PC. Hence, being able to aggregate technologies and services from many different providers is an important part of the service proposition — and deliver it with superior UI/UX [user interface/user experience] to some of the greatest markets in the world, the emerging and frontier markets, through our Ambassador Network.

The Freeman: What’s the Ambassador Network?

Tempelhof: The Ambassador Network consist of bitcoin enthusiasts around the world who are both socially conscious and entrepreneurially minded, and who want to, in a very hands-on type of way, impact their communities through building and offering governance 2.0 do-it-yourself tools. The ambassadors are really the heart of Bitnation, the most important component. They’re the real drivers of change.

We believe the choice of governance service provider should be voluntary, and not tied to the geographical area you happen to be born in, or happen to live in.

The Freeman: What kinds of services does Bitnation provide?

Tempelhof: We aim to provide most of the services traditional government offers — from law, that is, identity, dispute resolution, marriage, wills, land deeds, etc. — to insurance, security, and diplomacy.

The Freeman: Who are likely to be first adopters of Bitnation?

Tempelhof: We’re targeting the so called “System D,” meaning people who are unbanked, nontaxed and nonincorporated in emerging and frontier markets. It’s a $10 trillion economy where people have no access to governance services, either because a government doesn’t exist or because the government is too corrupt and bureaucratic to make it a viable option. Yet, these people need a lot of these services in order to increase their social and economic mobility.

We firmly believe that these self-regulating governance markets will drive the change in the world when it comes to adoption of new technology and voluntary governance solutions.

The Freeman: Can you tell us a little about your background and how it helped you get to this point?

Tempelhof: I grew up in Sweden, but I never felt particularly Swedish. My father was a political refugee from Poland who was stateless for many years. My mother was a French immigrant. We traveled frequently, and most of our family friends where medical scientists who worked and lived internationally. To me, the nation-state was never anything but an annoyance, a rigid collectivist sociological expectation, and a bureaucratic nightmare.

Hence, I started writing about competing, nongeographic governing entities in my early 20s — but more from a globalization perspective, rather than from a libertarian perspective at the time. I didn’t discover the whole libertarian take on the subject until my mid to late 20s.

The Freeman: That’s quite an intellectual journey, along with your international experience.

Tempelhof: Well, in the meanwhile, I spent seven years working as a government contractor in various conflict zones, witnessing the processes of building as well as overthrowing different governments. I became progressively more cynical towards the way it worked — or rather, didn’t work. I saw how anarchy actually worked in rebel-controlled territories where mass volunteer movements did everything from security to trash collection, and how service deteriorated the more layers of governance were added to the area. I saw never-ending war by factions fighting for central power in countries that traditionally had been governed through polycentric legal systems. It kept breaking my heart. The system was in need of total replacement, not just marginal improvement.

The Freeman: And after the war zones?

Tempelhof: I left contracting about two years ago and started writing a book, The Googlement — A Do-It-Yourself Guide to Starting Your Own Nation (and Changing the World), which will be published in 2015. I traveled the world visiting various libertarian communities, as part of the research for the book. I thought it would be very complicated to actually start a functioning alternative to nation-state governments, but when bitcoin and the blockchain technology — decentralized public ledger — came along and worked, it didn’t seem as farfetched anymore. That’s when I decided to start Bitnation, rather than just write about the concept.

The Freeman: As you’ve said, you’re someone accustomed to living “stateless.” Where are some of the places you’ve lived, and why?

Tempelhof: Sweden, France, Brazil, the United States, China, Afghanistan, Egypt, and Libya, to name a few. I’ve mostly moved around for work purposes, in various frontier markets, doing research on, among other things, local perception on governance.

However, I do call Brazil home, although I’m only there about six months a year. I would like to spend more time at home and travel less. I miss my house and my dog, Barbie Dog, when I’m away.

The Freeman: How can Bitnation help more global cosmopolitans find governance structures?

Tempelhof: Bitnation provides cost-efficient services for people, regardless of where in the world they’re based or what passport they hold. Hence, it makes it ideal for people who live international lifestyles — they have one go-to provider for their governance needs, which connects to local service providers like hospitals and security services — service is estimated start sometime between late 2015 to early 2016 — regardless where in the world they may be.

The Freeman: Thank you, Susanne.

  • The Freeman is the flagship publication of the Foundation for Economic Education and one of the oldest and most respected journals of liberty in America. For more than 50 years it has uncompromisingly defended the ideals of the free society.