Nonproprietary cities

Not sure if it’s a trend, but I’ve recently noticed what seems to be a shift in terminology from “charter cities” to “proprietary cities.” I’m also not sure whether these terms are supposed to be synonymous. Nevertheless, it seems that a charter city or a proprietary city is an attempt at an end run around territorially defined constituded authority, intended to produce proof of concept for, if not anarchy, at least polyarchy. The proponents of such cities by either name seem to be pro-capitalist libertarians ranging from ultra-minarchist to anarchist.

This raises the question of whether creation of ungoverned local communities ex nihilo is a tactic deserving the consideration of anticapitalist (i.e. antilibertarian) antistatists. For ecological reasons, I have deep reservations about breaking ground to create alternative communities. Reorganizing existing communities along ideological lines seems like a type of hostile takeover, unless the agenda for change originates in a broad (if not unanimous) consensus of the residents of a community. In the case of charter cities, one of the most frequently-proposed sites of late has been Honduras, which has suffered(?) the convenient disaster of a coup d’état. It’s quite reminiscent of the 9/11 (1973) coup in Chile that created a power vacuum conveniently made available to be filled by free market principles. A leftist attempt to create a non-statist city should reflect leftist values, which means less opportunism and a need to work within existing normative constraints. These constraints, like it or not, include the institution of property, but there may be a way to turn this to our advantage.

I propose referring to the left wing alternative to the proprietary city as a nonproprietary city.

I suggest we work within capitalism’s rules when establishing the territorial boundaries of our nonproprietary city. This means the nonproprietary city will be built on privately owned land acquired in the real estate market, which is paradoxical, but consistent at least with the idea of “Building the Structure of the New Society Within the Shell of the Old”.

I imagine a crowdsourced (and of course crowdfunded) effort. Participants in this swarm are understood to be playing a unicoalitional game. The object of the game is to acquire

  • as much land as possible, and do it in a way that is
  • as geographically concentrated as possible, and
  • as contiguous as possible

Think of it this way: Each swarm participant is looking at the real estate market as a whole (eventually converging on one geographic area, per nonproprietary city, anyway). Each available property has surveyed boundaries and therefore has geometric properties such as area and perimeter, and distance from other parcels. At any given time (starting with the first land acquisition), the swarm has an already-acquired portfolio of land holdings that can be mapped. For each available additional parcel, we can calculate certain properties of the portfolio assuming the addition of that parcel. These parameters would include:

  • total land area of the portfolio
  • radius of the smallest circle that circumscribes the entire portfolio
  • total perimeter of the parcels, minus whatever portion of each is the boundary between two adjacent parcels

In terms of minimax (or maxhi schema) approaches to optimization problems, we’re looking to maximize the first of these parameters and minimize the other two. In a lot of ways this has the look and feel of a Dan Gilbert style urban land grab, and may or may not run afoul of the law. One huge difference is the nonproprietary nature of a nonproprietary cities project. A defining feature of a nonproprietary city, as I see it—as I am defining it (as of this writing a Google search of the quoted phrase yields no results)—is radical transparency.

For starters, a nonproprietary city building swarm is not a secretive cabal. Its existence is to be a matter of record, and so is its agenda. More to the point, it is to treat all data as nonproprietary, along the lines of a “T corporation.” This is important.

At some point, the development of the nonproprietary city will proceed from establishment of geographic extent to development. Since breaking new ground can be expected at the very least to promote sprawl, and is generally not the most responsible type of land use, this will probably involve more renovations than erections, with any of the latter hopefully occurring on sites of dismantled buildings beyond repair. In keeping with the principle of extreme transparency, the blueprints will be released into the public domain in either case.

One approach to urban planning might be the “pubwan” model that I described many years ago. It is based on a mixture of proximity modeling, preference ranking and Parecon-style assets/needs assessment.

Since the nonproprietary cities movement is working against both statism and capitalism, independence is needed not only from the services of local government, but also those of the private sector, at least when it comes to infrastructure. I propose a decentralized grid of local utilities, with each building, perhaps each household, being both a producer and consumer of such services as electric power, sewage treatment, solid waste handling, perhaps combustible gas from sewage and/or solid waste. Electrical and internet hookups could be house-to-house, resulting in a peer-to-peer network. Sewage treatment might take the form of septic tanks, only with outflow into the larger grid instead of dispersion into the ground as in low-density or rural areas. Another alternative might be a rotating biological contactor. Implementations of this technology are as small as filters for home aquariums and as large as installations in sewage treatment plants, so it seems plausible that the output of a household or small shop should be within the technology’s range of scalability. I’ve heard claims that water treatment systems based on living organisms can process all the way from raw sewage to safe drinking water, but I’m a little disappointed to see that the top search result on that topic is indeed a proprietary system.

Anti-statists sometimes refer to something we call polycentric law, or pluralism in creation and perhaps enforcement of laws. Nonproprietary cities might draw on polycentric infrastructure, as well as polycentric law. To the extent that polycentric utilities are metered, it would be at least as much for system tuning purposes as for billing purposes. Meter readings (probably automated using some form of “smart meters”) would be dumped directly into the public domain, in keeping with radical transparency.

Going beyond infrastructure into production and distribution of goods and services, I would suggest planning the local economy using the methodology of angel economics.

Aside from all this, it remains the case that the nominally private property comprising a nonproprietary city is still under the jurisdiction of one or more cities, townships, or counties. Taxes to those entities will necessarily be a drain on the local economy. This introduces another paradox in the site selection process in that there may be reason to prefer real estate in jurisdictions whose level of city services and corresponding level of local taxation is low. We may have to act like right wingers to live like left wingers. Such is life.

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Quotebag #111

It’s funny how quickly the opposition will hide behind automation being a threat to replace low-end wage labor in relation to minimum wage laws, but then suddenly when we offer a different idea, they need those workers and the workers need their bosses.
One of the main reason “cloud” everything is being pushed is specifically because it makes things less secure. Always remember that.
It is hard to come up with a simple rallying cry – although Death to the Market would do me.
Cathy O’Neill:
Since programming and mathematics themselves are not accessible to the average person, simply making the code available does nothing to prevent a black box.
lucy mendes:
First they came for the manufacturing base. Then they came for equity held in homes. Then they came for benefits and government pensions. Now it is subdivision of autos and spare rooms, and those hours spent underemployed and nervous, subordinated to task rabbit-ing.
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Is earning an absolute prerequisite to giving?

I revisited a post at my other blog from a little more than a year ago. I also re-visited the Google Blogs search it’s based on, and I’m happy to report that Google Blog Search isn’t quite dead yet. I’m also pleased to find that the search (which I hadn’t visited for a few months) returned a couple of actually-relevant results I hadn’t already seen. These are:

  1. Case series – why and how to learn programming by Ryan Carey

  2. 10 Secrets You Should Have Learned with Your Software Engineering Degree – But Probably Didn’t
    by Andy Lester
  3. Philosophy vs. programming by Dr. Chris “Uncredible Hallq” Hallquist

The post by Ryan Carey is frankly a testimonial for yet another of those “coding boot camps” that have been popping up like toadstools in the last year or so,and should probably be taken with the number of grains of salt appropriate to folks out to sell you something. The post by Andy Lester is about pedagogy, not job hunting per se, but it seems useful as a guide to assembling a marketable portfolio of skills. The post by Chris Hallquist is actually interesting. The question is, is it interesting in a way that is relevant to my situation? Is it “news I can use?” From Dr. Hallquist’s post:

One thing to emphasize is the contrast in the job prospects of the average programmer vs. the average philosophy PhD graduate. I started my first programming job less than a month ago, and I was by no means any employer’s ideal job candidate, with no experience and an irrelevant degree. Nevertheless, I managed to land a quite high-paying job in San Francisco. It took four months of searching, which felt like a long time, but that’s nothing compared to the job search troubles many philosophy PhD graduates have. There’s nothing particularly special about me that got me here—it was mostly a matter of my having any programming talent at all (which, admittedly not everyone does).

I find this quite shocking. I went through a period from about 1990-2000 of trying to break into programming with about a .100 batting average for resume-to-interview and literally .000 for interview-to-offer, over easily hundreds of interviews. More recently, I have decided again to attempt to penetrate Fortress Employment, IT Division. I haven’t yet kicked my current job search into high gear, so I have no statistical sense of how much interest there is in me. So far I’ve mostly been building a portfolio and trying to learn what I can about the overall climate of the job market. I’m trying to figure out what factors might account for the differences between my experience with the J.O.B. market and Hallquist’s:

  1. Could the main difference (or even clincher) be the fact that Hallquist went to San Francisco? Almost all my job hunting has been local. Add to this that my home state (Michigan) has ranked in the bottom one or two states for employment statistics for decades, independently of the economic cycle.
  2. Is a PhD in philosophy a far more powerful credential than a BS degree in math?
  3. Could it be something like Chris being much younger than me? (which of course may or may not be the case)
  4. Is Chris significantly less introverted than I am, which is to say, less likely to “freeze” in J.O.B. interviews?
  5. Did Chris put all his eggs in the networking basket and none in the “help wanted” basket (closely related to above)

My best guess is that the first item on this list is the absolute clincher, but it could be a combination of factors not even on this list. As they say, your mileage may vary. The last item is also plausible as an absolute clincher, much to my dismay. For what it’s worth, surveying the job boards and the equivalent today has exactly the same look and feel as it did ten years ago or twenty years ago. One gets the distinct impression that entry level jobs in programming jobs either (a) don’t exist, period, or (b) are filled exclusively through non-published venues.

What’s even more interesting about Chris’ post is the rationale behind choosing a career in programming. In my case it’s simply something I enjoy doing, although the embarrassing fact of not yet having done it professionally leaves me wondering whether there’s something inside the black box of programming careers that I’d prefer not to know about. Chris is a philosopher; specifically an effective altruist. Basically, Chris has decided that making and donating money is a more effective route to changing the world for the better than doing whatever it is that professional philosophers do. This approach to change agency is reffered to as “earning to give.” Curiously, the appeal of earning to give is also one of the selling points in the salesy blog for the coding boot camp. I’m still not 100% sure I want to go into coding, but I know I’d better do something for money, and soon. I’m 100% sure I enjoy the subject, have a deep interest in the concepts involved, and a firmly held belief that programming has the potential to provide real solutions for real problems. But I have reservations, and my poor philosophical background notwithstanding, they at least seem to my untrained mind to be philosophical in nature. It seems apparent even from my outsider perspective on the world of commercial software design and web design that virtually all monetization strategies are based on assumptions that seem to be downright cynical. Maybe that means I’ve lived an overly sheltered life and just need to get over myself. But too many software or web monetization strategies look to me like the moral equivalent of stealing candy from a baby.

The “earn to give” principle, whether called that or not, is a subject I’ve been struggling with for a few years now. Few things in the media mock me as effectively as the Wall Street firms’ ads for retirement products (I watch a lot of golf on TV). The ones that feel the most like an indictment, not only of my life strategy, but even my life philosophy, are the ones that depict someone retired from being some kind of yuppie or professional/managerial elite, and who now has the luxury of pursuing an “altruistic” vocation or avocation such as teaching or the arts, and I think one commercial even referred to “ski bum” (altruistic because ski instructor to differently abled folks or something). Maybe the true nature of life is accurately depicted by the old right wing-ish saw about having to fill your own cup before being able to add to others’, but I can’t seem to shake that sneaky suspicion that “earn to give” is more about “buying one’s soul back.”

I’ve only taken two undergraduate courses in philosophy, but to the extent that I’ve glommed onto a philosophical faction (or “school”?) it would be negative utilitarianism. Maybe I should look into this effective altruism. Maybe it would be less self-paralyzing for me and then I would be able to achieve some comfort in life, if nothing else.

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Quotebag 110

Every society in human history has been a meritocracy, with “merit” and “achievement” defined in terms of how well one serves the interests of the structure of power.
Kevin Carson

The only people who can afford to be apolitical or “above the fray”, after all, are the solid political winners. But until one is in that camp, one simply cannot afford to take that delusion on.
Michael O. Church

Act erratically and the potemkin village falls to pieces.
Ryan Carboni

The upper levels of society will always organize themselves around “seeing ‘em jump” since, as Tom Wolfe pointed out, that is the ultimate goal of privilege.
S. Carnahan

You would almost think that there was a relation between Google paying Mozilla large amounts of money and Google’s desire to get as much information from users as they possibly can.

Making it in our economy really does look like gang initiation rights when you think about it.

It should be on economists to prove where externalities do not occur rather than cases where they do.

Every time we hit even remotely close to full employment, it bombs out to 8-10% again. Markets are unreliable and insufficient in and of themselves at making sure everyone has enough.

What we wanted to do was to build a tool that made it easy for everyone, everywhere to share knowledge, opinions, ideas and photos of cute cats. As everyone knows, we had some problems, primarily business model problems, that prevented us from doing what we wanted to do the way we hoped to do it. What we’re asking for today is a conversation about how we could do this better, since we screwed up pretty badly the first time around.
Ethan Zuckerman

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Which is a more potent accountability mechanism? Competition or transparency?

I would say transparency, by orders of magnitude. The two are of course not mutually exclusive. I wouldn’t be surprised if competition advocates such as left-libertarians and anarcho-capitalists would like me to believe that competition is a prerequisite for transparency. If so, I’m not buying it. If anything, competitive markets are far more contingent on market transparency than vice versa.

Certainly competition does contribute to accountability. Competitors keep each other, if not honest, at least efficient and responsive. Certainly monopoly is the antithesis of accountability.

Certainly transparency contributes to accountability. If anything, accountability is a weak version of transparency. Whenever accountability is discussed, it is necessary to ask: accountability to whom? Who is enough of a stakeholder to be entitled to which accounting report? That sort of thing. Transparency as I understand it (at least “radical transparency”) entails the release of actionable information into the public domain. Transparency is simply another word for “accountability to everyone” and is thus the ultimate facilitator of accountability.

Since competition and transparency are both conducive to accountability, I propose a tiebreaker by asking: Does competition contribute to transparency? If so, it follows (by way of transitivity) that competition contributes to accountability. I believe that “playing one’s cards close to the vest” as a business strategy is a side effect of economic competition, just as surely as state secrets are a side effect of geopolitical competition.

If the people who hate the state but love commerce ever get their way to a substantial degree, no doubt I will be more politically free than ever. I may or may not be more economically prosperous. If I work on my persuasive skills I suppose I might even be able to wrest a modicum of economic security from a freed market situation. But even in a freed market scenario that is anti-state/pro-commerce, I will be pro-Wikileaks, in the sense that if anyone in such a society decides to “leak” their employer’s trade secrets or strategic data, even in breach of “contract,” I will support such persons’ efforts to whatever extent I find myself able.

Image contains registered trademarks. Used without permission. Fair use, etc.
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Role of competition in the anagora

If we go with so expansive a definition of market as “all things voluntary,” then of course only tyrants occupy the non-market ideological space, and in that case anagorism, despite the name, is a market-based ideology.

If competitiveness is a defining feature of markets, then that is at least one criterion in addition to voluntary association. If not, then a non-competitive markets would be a non-oxymoron. If voluntarism and competitiveness are both essential qualities of markets, then people who don’t voluntarily engage in competition don’t exist. There’s a place for competition in anagorist society, but it’s more in the realm of amateur athletic competition than economic competition. If economic competition simply must be a feature of society, let it at least be competition over luxuries and perhaps non-fungible types of status. A competition-optional society is amenable enough.

Here is a list of qualities that are often associated with markets:

  • accountability
  • voluntary association
  • voluntary non-association (i.e. non-entitlement, and ultimately expendability)
  • barrier-free entry and exit
  • competitiveness
  • unique qualification at efficient allocation
  • the profit motive

Pursuant to social conditions that are livable for a person of my temperament, it would be good to have the positive features of markets (voluntary association, barrier-free access, efficiency), without (or with a muted version of) those aspects of markets that make them a stressful “truck and barter” type experience, such as expendability, competitiveness, and the necessity of profit seeking or even profit maximization. At least, the luxury of at least some fraction of a human lifespan during which body and soul can be held together without the need to look at every situation with the attitude of “where’s the opportunity in this.” A little opportunism, like a little competitiveness, may be salutary, but hopefully it need not be a cradle-to-grave obsession, just to tread water. Ideally it will someday be something for those bizarrely imprinted biots who actually enjoy such things to do on their own time.

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Quotebag #109

“Due to vast disparities in power and wealth, people will be aggressively clamoring for any moment of time or spare dollar from the wallet of the elites — [Tyler Cowen] uses the analogy of a billionaire rolling in a limousine through the streets of Calcutta, and anyone who has stepped off the plane in a poor country and been immediately inundated with salesmen and con artists can relate (except those people will now be us).”—escapefromwisconsin

“When soldiers go to die in Iraq and say ‘We are going there to defend our freedoms’, this doesn’t mean that Iraq is threatening their freedom of speech or [of] conscience directly. It means that they are fulfilling their part of the bargain where the state guarantees them these freedoms and they are prepared to die when the state needs it.”—Clarissa

“Try reading some of John Young’s correspondence, particularly his exchanges with journalists. There you will learn how to be more concise and pack a lot more meaning into a lot less words…He has left me open-mouthed at times, … ”—Todd Judge

Ethics Unwrapped’s Concepts Unwrapped Series, CC-BY-SA-3.0 by Soniamelendez

“I think I will coin a phrase. It is an historical fact that gov’t embrace of ‘pro-market’ policies always means (1) more bureaucrats, (2) more complex regulations, (3) larger zones of human life that fall under rubric of state regulations, and hence, violence. I propose to call this ‘the libertarian paradox.’ Or should I call it ‘the liberal paradox’? Is that too antiquated a usage now?”—David Graeber

“Indeed, more money is being poured into AI research by Goldman-Sachs alone than by the top five academic centers, put together, and all of it helping to engender systems with a central ethos of predatory opportunism and parasitic amorality.”—David Brin

“Lotto of yotta-payments next: ‘Spotify (on-par with other streamers) pays only .00065 cents per play.’ ”—

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